Over the last few weeks I have spent more time revising my fellowship application personal statements than I would like. While my attendings have been a great source of feedback, it’s hard to know what fellowship directors would like to see highlighted. But going through this process, I have realized even more palpably than I had previously thought before, that two things have been important in bringing me to this point: supportive mentorship and “junior attending” experiences.
Let’s start with supportive mentorship and the definition of mentor. The word Mentōr derives from the Greek name of the friend of Odysseus and advisor to his son, Telemachus, in Homer’s Odyssey. Therefore, first and foremost, a mentor is an advisor: someone who is more expert and who guides you. But what I’ve found is that a professional mentor is more than a mere advisor.
I have been extremely blessed and grateful when it comes to my mentors. Not only do they advise me but they also think of me when opportunities arise such as a possible research project or publication or to be a member of their CAP lab accreditation team that inspects another institution’s lab. Besides building up my CV, these activities also help me to acquire skills that I will need in my future professional capacity. I at first didn’t necessarily think of including some of these experiences on my CV but after a talk with a fellowship director, realized that these are the types of experiences that they would like to know about – if I’ve had previous experience where I gained a skill, then they feel I will be faster to train in terms of skills that build on that initial skill.
This brings me to my second point: the importance of “junior attending” experiences. What I mean by this term is the opportunity to participate in patient care or directorship duties in as close to a capacity as your attending would have. This could mean initial sign-out without direct supervision (of course, attending review has to occur prior to true verification) in terms of patient cases, whether it be AP or CP cases, or the initial preview of a frozen section. In terms of lab management, this could mean participating in preparation for a CAP inspection or serving on a CAP inspection team that goes to another institution. And in terms of most CP rotations, serving as the primary consultant for primary physicians about lab tests and discussing evidence-based and cost-effective ordering of appropriate tests or developing, troubleshooting, or validating a new assay.
Whatever the attending does in the course of their daily workload is where we should focus on acquiring skills. While writing my personal statement and CV, I talked with fellowship directors, and this became clearer to me. It’s all about having the proper attitude. Yes, there can be a lot of “scut” during our training but in comparison to other specialties (and those who have to do an intern year), we are fortunate to have less of it. Either way, the work has to get done, “scut” or not, so might as well learn from it and you might be surprised how it helps you later. Our attendings are not free from “scut” in their daily work either. If we think of the “scut” as attached to a patient who is waiting for their diagnosis, it makes the work go easier and faster in my opinion.
Having a positive attitude, working hard, and becoming known for certain qualities and skills only help in terms of developing strong relationships with mentors (who will one day be your colleagues) and being given those “junior attending” opportunities. Strive to be the first person they think of in those situations. Remember we are no longer in school and the faster you acquire the characteristics, knowledge, and skills of an attending, the better off you will be when it comes to progressing to the next phase.
-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.