Halfway Through…and What’s Left to Do

I had originally started writing about a recent article I read on residents organizing as a collective bargaining unit for salary negotiations. But I’ll leave that for another day and give you a more informal blog post today.

So, for those of you who don’t know, I will be transferring to a program in my home state of NJ for personal reasons for my last two years. When I initially applied to residencies, I didn’t apply to any of the three programs in NJ because I wanted to be in a large (>4 residents/year), urban program that served a significant number of underserved minority and immigrant patients. Chicago was a familiar choice as I had attended college at The University of Chicago alongside my brother here many moons ago. It was also where I first began working with minority and immigrant community advocacy and grassroots organizing groups and my oppas (“older brothers”) and unnis (“older sisters”) then, are the leaders of these groups now.

But two years later, circumstances in my life change, priorities change, and the reasons to go home were more compelling than those to stay. It wasn’t an easy decision. My chairman and attendings here have been very supportive, especially of my extracurricular activities and research. I know that when I go to fellowship interviews, people will ask why I transferred. The reasons are innocent and legitimate enough but I do wonder if they may affect how programs will view me as a potential candidate when they hear my reasons. After all, fellowships are more competitive to obtain than residencies and any small possibly of negative perception, whether true or erroneous, can make or break whether you get those fewer positions available.

I took this week off to deal with moving tasks and my apartment is a mess of half-packed boxes. I need to get as much done before I’m back at our busiest surgpath site again next week until I leave for NJ. But the déjà vu act of packing, calling up moving companies for quotes, and selling items in order to lighten my load has put me in a contemplative mood. I realize that now I am almost halfway through this part of my journey to become a practicing pathologist.

Sometimes, I feel as if I have been weighed and measured and found wanting in terms of where I should be in AP. With my research and heavy science background, CP has always been a comfortable fit. I haven’t had any cytology rotations yet but I get to do four months in NJ. In terms of surgpath, I’m knowledgeable enough with the “bread and butter” that I see during sign-outs but not knowledgeable enough when it comes to unknowns. I know I should read more and often wonder why I don’t do as much as I could.

But now that I’ve come to this fork in my journey, moving back to NJ and thinking about applying for my first fellowship, I wonder what do I need to become the best pathologist I can with the time I have left? I don’t want to be cramming everything I should’ve learned in three years into my last year when boards studying fever hits. If anyone has some advice or anecdotes about their training to illustrate something that is working for them, please feel free to share.

And yet, even though our studies and service duties are, of course very important, how should we engage in molding our profession into the pathology of the next age? What are the most salient skills we need to acquire and how do we show the clinical care teams that are evolving within healthcare reform just where our place is within it? What are the most pressing issues for residents? Salaries, autonomy to influence our education, didactics, service duties, or clinical care? Where should we most focus our efforts?

 

Chung

Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a second year resident physician at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System in Chicago, IL.

 

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