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Pursuing Cardiology As a Medical Student/Resident

As an Early Career blogger for the AHA, I wanted to write my final blog post on advice for those interested in pursuing cardiology. My interest in cardiology began during my first year of medical school, and now as I am applying to become a fellow, I wanted to look back at the last 7 years.

 

Medical school

As a medical student, it can be difficult to know what field you would like to pursue. Although some may know from the beginning what they would like to specialize in, the majority of students must use their time during their clinical years to explore different fields. Given this, I would advise students to focus on getting a good background in all aspects of medicine during medical school. Take as much in from your exposure to each field. Do well on your boards, take ownership of the patients you see and read as much as you can.

So as a first or second year how can you know if cardiology is a field you should consider? Well, what made me interested in the field during those years was the physiology behind the mechanics of the heart.  It made intuitive sense. The time I spent reading Lilly’s Pathophysiology of Heart Disease did not feel like studying. This inspired me to sign up for electives in cardiology later on in medical school. During third and fourth year, rotating on a cardiology consult service or a CCU service can help you see the day to day life of cardiologist. It exposes you to the common consults and admissions in the field. It also allows you to get to know the type of personalities in cardiology. If you are interested, get involved in research projects.

 

Internal Medicine Residency

In the beginning of my residency, my advisor told me that before one could become a great cardiologist, they must become a great internist. This is something that I heard echoed by cardiology program directors during this past year’s AHA Scientific Sessions. A passion for patient care and an understanding of the intricacies of internal medicine are paramount in the path of a future cardiology fellow.

Be a good citizen in your program. Complete all your administrative duties on time. Be the one that chiefs can rely on when scheduling difficulties occur. Residency is not just about being smart but being reliable and hardworking. This makes you stand out.

While on the wards, incorporate the use of ultrasound in your daily practice. Try and volunteer for procedure and make it a goal to become comfortable with central and arterial lines.

Depending on your interests in cardiology, as a medicine resident it is worthwhile to get involved in a research project. It is important to truly have a passion for the research topic you decide to study. Whether it is because a patient you saw was affected by what you are researching, or if you have background in that topic, it is important to have a connection with the research topic. This is what drives you to spend your time outside of the hospital working on the research project. Attempting to work on a project in the name of “just having research” is a recipe for burnout and you will likely not complete the project.

Show case your research either through presentations at the AHA Scientific Sessions poster session or the American College of Cardiology meeting. Recognize that the deadline for abstract submission for these conferences are months before the meeting. Besides presenting, networking and sitting in on lectures important topics in cardiology. It is inspiring and will further your aspiration to work hard.

Finally, make sure to begin working on your application, specifically the personal statement early.

 

What was your experience applying to cardiology?

 

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How Does An Intern Become Burnt-Out In Residency?

The transition from medical school to residency is abrupt, yet exciting. We begin the year so eager and enthusiastic. The rush of adrenaline as you place your first order… the validation you feel as the attending physicians agree with your plan… the first time you make the correct diagnosis in the ever-elusive morning report cases… all of it is new and challenging.  The patients refer to you as doctor and ask you questions about their care. The nurses ask if you can evaluate a sick patient because they want your opinion. You spend hours after sign-out making sure your notes are perfect, which your academic mind considers a daily writing assignment that you MUST ace every time. You try your best to read that article on UpToDate before you fall asleep. You are the first one to get to the hospital, and last to leave.

You have been given trust and responsibilities. You want to meet these expectations.

The first few months pass and you find a rhythm. The feelings of excitement fade and you begin to feel efficient. You start to recognize what you need to do to keep your attending physicians and the upper levels happy.  You are finishing your work faster than before.

You start to feel more comfortable, but little day to day things happen that change you without you even realizing it. A patient passing away, a picture of your family together for dinner without you, a burnt-out consultant yelling at you over an improper consult. When these things occur, you ignore them and try to move forward. You feel as though you have easily brushed them away, but in reality, they affect you.

January and February become the hardest months of the year. Burnout can present in many different ways. It can present itself subtly like having difficulty getting up in the morning to go to work. You may think to yourself, “this is normal, tons of people have a difficult time getting up in the morning.” Yet, it is like a stepping stone. Your lack of sleep turns into you finding nursing calls annoying. All of the time spent on documentation, hours spent in front of computers taking away from patient care begin to change how you view your work. The combination of working twelve hours a day and trying to learn more about the pathology you see becomes difficult. You may even find your work uninteresting. And yet, with all of that said, even though you are fully aware of burnout and have heard the term multiple times, you believe that what you are experiencing is normal.

The first step to tackling burnout is to recognize it. Self-reflection is an important aspect of residency, but at times, it is your friends and family that point out the subtleties of burn out. Once you have recognized it, then it is easier to track and find what exactly is causing you to feel stressed.

Have you experienced burnout? If so, how has your experience of burnout affected you?