As a 4th year medical student at Columbia University, I had done a rotation in pediatric ID, figuring it would be helpful for a career in pediatrics no matter what subspecialty I chose (and I recommend this to any pediatrics-bound med student or resident!). I had loved the rotation and done well in it, getting a great grade and evaluations. I was enthusiastic. I was polite. I did my homework regarding patients as well as faculty identified topics of interest. I was more than just a diligent student, I was a diligent citizen of their community, something your mom or dad probably always told you to do... Be nice, be polite, respect your elders, do what you’re told, work hard, etc.
After heading off to Mount Sinai for pediatric residency, I had not been much in touch with anyone from that med student rotation until that day I received a fateful email. It was one of my peds ID attendings from Columbia, wanting to know if I was still interested in ID. They had a fellowship spot that was still unfilled and, if I was interested and able to come interview, it likely had my name on it.
I was thrilled! Here was a chance to do pediatric ID without waiting a year, without delaying my plans. What’s more, it felt great to be acknowledged, to be remembered.
Needless to say, I interviewed, I accepted their offer of the fellowship position, I became a fellow, and here I am, now an assistant professor in pediatric infectious diseases. Now, who’s to say that wouldn’t have happened anyway? Maybe if I had waited a year I would have still done a fellowship there, or at a different institution. However, if I had waited a year to do fellowship, I wouldn’t be in the job I’m in now as the position would have been filled by the time I had graduated fellowship.
The lesson from this, for me, is two-fold.
- First, and more obviously, if an opportunity comes along that seems like it should not be passed up, don’t pass it up! Even with the Match, sometimes programs don’t fill and people don’t match, and certainly the post-training job market is less restrictive. If an opportunity that appeals to you presents itself, take it! You can always back out later (unless contractually obligated) but if you don’t take it when offered, it may not be around in the future.
- The second lesson is regarding how and why I earned this opportunity. Yes, I had gotten good grades in a medical student rotation, but it wasn’t my "numbers" that mattered, it was more of a "people" factor. I got offered my fellowship spot because I had made a personal impression on a group of individuals and they remembered me.
Sometimes when we are busy in medical school or residency it can be hard to take the extra time to, for lack of a better word, schmooze. It feels like it shouldn’t matter if you go to that cocktail party, or meet the chairperson, or go the extra mile on a rotation. But I have learned that it absolutely matters! I have had more opportunities for research, teaching, jobs, and many professional activities because of social interactions, because somebody introduced me to someone and I stuck around to chat with them, or better yet, because I introduced myself. This very blog post came about because I re-introduced myself to Dr. Kind at a conference after we had partially reconnected through social networking on Twitter. Never underestimate how far a personal connection, a recommendation, or a remembrance of a meeting can go in opening doors in your future training or career.
I have spoken to some who feel embarrassed, or even ashamed to take advantage of personal connections and contacts; we all want to earn things on our merits. To them I say this: who you are as a person, whether you are memorable and nice to someone, is a merit. It is a talent and a skill to be honed and used, like any other.
Remember why we are all here in medicine, we want to help people. And we’re not only here to help patients, but also to help each other, including you, our junior colleagues. But we can’t help you if we don’t know you and we probably won’t help you as easily if we don’t know you well. So remember who you are, an individual who can easily matter a lot to another individual. Use that; it may just land you a job.
ABOUT OUR GUEST POST CONTRIBUTOR: Saul Hymes received his MD from Columbia U and completed a pediatric residency at Mount Sinai. He then returned to Columbia where he completed a fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases, and is now an Asst Prof of Clinical Pediatrics at Stony Brook U. His current clinical and research interests include management of resistant bacterial infections, appropriate antibiotic usage, and development of novel antimicrobials. He is interested in the role of social media and online communication in healthcare, especially in helping disseminate accurate medical information. He blogs about infectious ideas and is a contributor to The Magazine. You can also find him on Twitter @IDDocHymes.