Degree from Michigan: Psychology
Current location: Houston, TX
Year graduated: 1990
Student Organizational Involvment: Sigma Delta Tau
Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine (Pediatrician); Pediatrician, Director of Pediatrics at AmeriDoc
JS: I am a pediatrician and went to medical school at Baylor College of Medicine for four years. I completed a 3-year residency program at Baylor. I now work as a part-time assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in the Department of Academic General Pediatrics. In this department, I work with medical students and residents in a teaching environment. The residents and/or medical students see patients in the clinical setting, and I supervise them after their initial exam. I work in an underserved population; we see a lot of Medicaid patients.
KC: How did you get more into the educational component of medicine?
JS: I didn’t initially know that I would go into the academic part of pediatrics. When I began my residency, I thought I would go into private practice and do general pediatrics. I knew I did not want to pursue a sub-specialty within pediatrics, like cardiology or hematology.
In my last year of residency, I had my first child, and I realized I wanted to go part-time. Currently, there are many opportunities for part-time pediatrics jobs, but 20 years ago, there seemed like less options. One of the attendings offered me a part-time position in academics and teaching, and it felt like a great fit for me so I took the job.
KC: Did you take any time off after undergrad, or did you go straight into medical school?
JS: I went straight into medical school after graduating from Michigan and then finished my 3-year residency. I started to work right after I completed my residency. I worked as an assistant professor for 15 years. Then, I took three years off to care for a sick friend before coming back to the same job. During those three years I worked from home for a telemedicine company, which was really interesting.
Telemedicine involves doctors answering questions for patients over the phone or over video chat. Many people think this is a new way to care for patients who require urgent care but don’t want to sit in an emergency room for 10 hours. This company would text me, “Are you available for a consult?” I would respond yes/no, and if I said yes, I would call the patient to discuss their issue. I could even prescribe some medications over the phone. A lot of parents of patients loved it because they didn’t need to take time away from work, spend the money, etc.
KC: Are you glad that you went straight through, or would you have rather taken some time off?
JS: I’m glad I went straight through because I was young. Though I do tell some of my residents that I wish I had taken a year off. Do I wish that I had taken 5 years off? No. But I feel like I went through school to 12th grade, and then college, and then medical school and residency, and I feel like I never got a chance to just breathe. I was always in a stressful environment. If I had the funds, I would have maybe traveled around, or I might have even tried working (though some people say that if you do that, you never end up going back to medical school). I’m happy I went straight through because I don’t know if I would have ever gone to medical school if I had taken a year off. However, I do recommend it to other people, if they are able to.
KC: During your time at Michigan, what was it that made you want to apply to medical school and pursue this career?
JS: I can’t say it was Michigan that made me want to apply… my father is a physician, so I was always interested in medicine. I went on rounds with him when I was younger and grew up wanting to become a doctor. I always knew I wanted to go to medical school.
I did not major in a science, which I LOVED. I would definitely recommend that to students now – take all of your pre-requisite classes, but major in something else so you can get a different experience. Being a psychology major, I took a lot of child psych classes, which I really think “put the bug in my ear” about pediatrics. I loved the kids. I’ll never forget one of my classes at Michigan (I don’t know if this is still offered…), in which the entire class would observe a child through a one-way mirror at their daycare. We went to the daycare twice a week and were given assignments regarding what to look for. We had one child who we watched the whole semester, and we wrote papers about what we observed. That really sparked my interested in kids.
KC: What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
JS: My favorite thing is impacting young physicians – pediatricians, in my case, at the beginning of their careers. I love being a part of their lives, explaining what I do, and hopefully letting them know that you CAN do this – you can get a job that you love and also have a family and flexible hours.
My least favorite part is more of a frustration. I work with an underprivileged population, and we hit a lot of roadblocks; some of the patients are not insured. If I see a patient, and I’m trying to get him to a specialist, but he doesn’t have insurance, there’s no specialist where I can send him. Often a patient will have insurance that the specialist does not take, or there will be a very long wait time to get an appointment. So instead of getting him in for an appointment within three weeks, it will take 5 months. It can be very frustrating.
KC: When did you decide that this population was one you wanted to focus your efforts on?
JS: During my residency, I really enjoyed working with this population. I took Spanish in high school and at Michigan. I’m not completely fluent, but I can do a full interview, and I’ve picked up a lot of medical Spanish. In Texas we have a huge Spanish-speaking population. Anyone who can speak Spanish is desirable in any field, not just in medicine.
KC: I think some people are deterred from medical school because of the time commitment and finances. Do you have any thoughts on that?
JS: I think it’s a hard, long road. It’s not easy, but it’s extremely gratifying on the other side. If it’s what you want, it will be worth it. Even though I’m an MD and am a physician, I’ve done lectures to physician assistants (PA). For people who don’t want to go to medical school because it can take a long time with school and residency, maybe a PA program would be better. As a physician, I highly respect PAs.
My father is an OBGYN, and he HIGHLY encouraged me to go into medicine. I never wanted to be up all night delivering babies, so I knew I did not want to go into the same field of medicine as him. I grew up watching him on call and leaving in the middle of the night, and I didn’t want that lifestyle. The lifestyle is possibly why I ended up in academics; I do not work weekends or nights. Find what you like, and you’ll find a job that fits your needs.
KC: Do other specialties allow the same flexibility in hours that pediatrics do?
JS: I will preface this by saying that residency is HARD. You don’t get to choose your hours, but that’s only a 3-4 year (or 5 year for surgery) commitment, and then after that you get to make your own choices. (Unless you do a fellowship which is more specialized and can take more years to complete.) For example, a surgeon is not going to have the hours that I have, but I have friends who are surgeons, and they’re so happy.
After residency, there are certain specialties that are more flexible and offer a better work/life balance:
1. Internal and ER medicine: these also have academic tracks like pediatrics. ER positions are made up of shift work. A lot of people go into that field because when you are off and not in the ER, you go home and don’t necessarily think about work until you go back.
2. Dermatology: One of the reasons that dermatology is so competitive is that it tends to have a very nice lifestyle. There aren’t typically emergencies in dermatology, so dermatologists don’t usually get calls in the middle of the night.
3. Radiology: Nowadays, many radiologists can work at home and receive all of the X-rays via computer. I can’t even imagine what it will be like in 20 years.
KC: What advice would you give to current Michigan students hoping to pursue a similar career path?
JS: I would recommend that when they are in medical school, they pick their residency for the right reasons and ensure it’s in a field that they’re interested in. They’re going to do it every day. I would encourage people going in as pre-med to not have a pre-conceived idea of “I’m going to be a surgeon,” because you could change your mind or fall in love with something new in medical school. Keep an open mind, and you’ll find a job that works with your lifestyle!