Interview with KC – First-Year Resident Physician (P.2)

KC is a recent medical school graduate, who is doing her transitional year and advanced residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Pennsylvania. She loves sports (both playing and watching) and is excited to be making a career out of treating athletes. In medical school, she played intramural volleyball, softball, football, and floor hockey—her women’s floor hockey team were the intramural champions for 2 years! KC is also a foodie and loves trying all sorts of new vegetarian foods. One day she hopes to open a restaurant, after being inspired by a cardiologist at her hospital who started a vegan restaurant focused on heart health. Despite her medical education on nutrition, KC still has a special place in her heart for Taco Bell. She loves all sorts of museums and often listens to an art history podcast called ArtCurious during drives to and from the hospital.

Part 1 of KC's interview is available here.

11. Becoming a doctor is a long path. What are your thoughts on the number of years it takes before you can actually start a career practicing medicine?

I wish there were more schools that had direct medical school paths. Eight years just to get to residency is a very long time. Many other countries have streamlined medical education, such that it can be completed in five or six years. Although I wish medical school could be shortened, I think the four years of preclinical and clinical training are essential. If anything, undergraduate studies should be shortened.

12. What area of medicine are you hoping to practice? 

I will be entering my residency to pursue a career in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). I hope to specialize in sports medicine in the future.

13. How did you choose your residency program?

When creating a rank list for residency programs, there are many things that I had to take into account. First, I looked at whether they had resident specializing in sports medicine and where they were going for their fellowships. Then I looked at whether the Program had robust research, as I am considering a career in academics. Finally, location was also important to me. I knew I wanted to live in a big city, but I also wanted to make sure that I would be able to afford living in that city given the meager resident salary.

14. How do you maintain balance in med school? Are you involved in anything on or off campus?

Maintaining balance in medical school requires a very important life skill – time management. Being able to allocate time to study and take care of your physical and mental well-being is very crucial. During my first two years, I discovered that I am definitely a morning person, so I would wake up around 4 or 4:30 in the morning and go to our study hall to get a head-start on the day. I realized that my concentration would dramatically wane after the afternoon lectures, so I would go to the gym following class and then come home to study or take care of club activities for a few hours before going to bed at 9:30 PM. I definitely know of some of my classmates who lived on Soylent and Clif bars to maximize study time, but that is not necessary to survive medical school. I was involved in many extracurricular activities during medical school including participating in research, leading several school organizations, participating in medical school committees, and attending national conferences. Many of the organizations I was part of and the research that I completed was focused on sports medicine or rehabilitation. I also conducted research on nutrition and exercise. I would say that I was able to do so many activities because I was genuinely interested in them, and I find that I am able to complete activities that I am passionate about more easily.

15. How do you define success in med school?

Throughout medical school my definition of success has changed many times. During the first two years, I would have defined success as getting a high test score. However, during my third and fourth years, I discovered that our evaluation was not only focused on our exam scores, but also on how we interacted with patients and the healthcare team. In this setting, success for me was defined as establishing rapport with patients or contributing to the treatment plan as a part of the team. One of my greatest successes in medical school during my third year was based on helping a patient receive the appropriate care. I was completing a shift in the pediatric emergency room when we had a mother and her four-year-old daughter come to the ER. The young girl looked very miserable, as she was covered in a rash from head to toe, had developed cuts around her lips from dehydration, and had a very high fever. The mother explained that she had taken her daughter to two other hospitals, where they treated her daughter’s pain with some Tylenol and sent her home. The attending physician who I was working with also assumed that the patient’s symptoms were arising from her rash due to a common childhood disease called roseola. However, I had this nagging feeling that this child might have Kawasaki‘s disease, which could be deadly if untreated. Without treatment, the patient could develop an aneurysm in her heart vessels, which could lead to a myocardial infarction or heart attack. As a third-year student, I often felt like I was at the bottom of the totem pole and would not speak up. However, that day, I decided that I needed to be a true part of the healthcare team and I brought my concerns to the attending physician. After insisting that she order some labs to check for some markers of inflammation, we found that she had signs of Kawasaki‘s disease based on her lab results. She was transferred to the inpatient floor of the very same day and was given the appropriate treatment. After her discharge, imaging revealed that she had a very small aneurysm that could have been fatal if untreated. I definitely consider this patient encounter to be my greatest success in medical school.

16. If you were a director of a med school, where would you focus your attention/resources?

I was fortunate to be part of a national organization of student representatives to the AAMC. This organization consisted of representatives from each medical school across the nation that would get together at a national conference that would be held twice a year. Our purpose was to discuss issues in medical education and find solutions through collaboration. One of the hot topics that has been identified by the AAMC is resilience in the face of adversity. Many medical schools are now focusing on how to improve the mental well being of medical students through mentoring and mental health services. If you look at statistics of suicide rates in residency, the rate of suicide or attempted suicide is much higher compared to the general population. It is important to create a culture of support and encouragement, as compared to the current culture. I recently read an article by the Boston Globe that summarized these concepts very well.

17. What advice would you give someone who is seriously considering med school? Who is on the fence?

I would tell every premed to be 100% sure that they are ready to pursue the medical field. It is very grueling and requires a great deal of sacrifice. As a medical student, I would always see Facebook pictures of my engineer friends going to exotic places or enjoying themselves at expensive restaurants because they were making 100 grand right out of college. That, unfortunately, is not something those in the medical field will experience until they are in their 30s. However, if you find joy in making someone else’s day better, even if it is at the cost of your own time and money, it is definitely worth it. I would recommend that each premed student spend time seeking clinical experiences that allow them to directly participate in patient care, not just shadowing. I find that to be a simple litmus test to determine whether medicine is the right career choice. As the famous physician William Osler once said, “The first step toward success in any occupation is to become interested in it.”

18. If you could turn back time, would you still choose to go to med school?

I would definitely go through this process all over again. Not only have I met some of my best friends in medical school, as we bonded over shared traumas (i.e. Step 1…), but also, I really think this is my true calling. Medicine is a field where I can combine my passions for research, teaching, and serving. I realized that I don’t mind the long hours or the night shifts because I am enjoying each moment of participating in patient care. To use another quote by William Osler: “The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a calling, not a business; a calling in which your heart will be exercised equally with your head”.

19. What book has been the most impactful on your life and/or on your med school career?

I started exploring the field of sports medicine during my junior year of college. This was the time when chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was brought to the forefront due to several lawsuits against the NFL by families of deceased football players who had been diagnosed with CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive blows to the head. This disease is prevalent in athletes and military veterans, as they face repeated traumas to the head. During this time, I discovered the book League of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru that explored the story of Mike Webster and his diagnosis of CTE. This book inspired me to consider sports medicine as a legitimate career choice and has definitely been a hot topic during my residency interviews.

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