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The average ob/gyn might deliver 10 to 15 babies a month over a 30-year career-let’s say 4000 to 5000 in total. Inspire one medical student to enter our field every year by striking up a relationship during his or her clerkship, and you could influence the births of more than 100,000 babies down the road.
Dr. Copel is Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Reproductive Sciences, and Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut. He is also a member of the Contemporary OB/GYN editorial advisory board.
Ob/gyns work hard. Both academicians and private practitioners take on commitments that inevitably make demands on our time and energy. Some of us make successful clinical careers by being accessible to our patients regardless of time of day or day of the week. Others spend time creating new information and knowledge (that is, researching) and sharing it with colleagues (that is, publishing and speaking).
The critical component to success in medicine-or, for that matter, in business, law, or any career-is the willingness to work harder than the average person, mixed with a little creativity. Often it takes a bit of good fortune as well-meeting the right connection or recognizing a new opportunity before others do.
There is much truth to the saying, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” I have been asked why I do all the things I do: the professional association governance work, the committee meetings, the travel. It all takes up time that might be spent with family or pursuing a hobby or other things (for instance, I wrote this at 8 am on a Sunday). I believe that for many of us, the motive is leveraging ourselves.
“Leverage” is a term with a mixed reputation these days. Excessive leverage, after all, helped burst the housing bubble, and it has brought down banks, hedge funds, and investment houses. But I mean “leverage” as “using given resources to magnify outcome.”
Think about it. The average ob/gyn might deliver 10 to 15 babies a month over a 30-year career-let’s say 4000 to 5000 in total. Inspire one medical student to enter our field every year by striking up a relationship during his or her clerkship, and you could influence the births of more than 100,000 babies down the road.
One of the things I do to leverage is to socialize with our medical students. Instead of delivering a stuffy lecture in a dark seminar room each rotation, I invite all the students to my house to talk about careers, education, and anything they haven’t learned in their clerkship that they think is important. This often includes talking about residency selection, and gives me the opening to talk about the range of practice options available to ob/gyns. On a good night, I can almost see light bulbs appearing in cartoon bubbles above the students’ heads as they realize, “Maybe I really should do this.”
Our professional organizations have taken on some of this mentoring as well.
In mid-March, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) held its third annual retreat for first-year fellows in MFM. (In the past, these have been held in the fall, but Superstorm Sandy necessitated postponement of last fall’s event to the spring.) These events are held at a retreat center outside New York City, a location chosen to allow as many fellows as possible to get there cheaply (that is, by driving).
The retreats are free to all first-year fellows, thanks to support from the SMFM, the Pregnancy Foundation, and the Kenneth Gottesfeld-Charles Hohler Memorial Foundation (in the interest of full disclosure, I am the treasurer of this last group). In addition, this year’s retreat received some unrestricted educational grants from corporate sponsors.
The retreats have three major goals. The first is to instill a group identity in the graduating class of fellows. Many of us think of the colleagues we began our careers with-our contemporaries as residents and fellows-as a sort of professional family. No doubt all of us share special bonds with those with whom we worked so intensely and closely in our early professional careers. So, an important goal for the retreats is to leverage that group identity among the community of fellows graduating in the same year, to provide both friendships and opportunities for professional collaboration over a lifetime. We include many team-building activities during the retreats to help the fellows get to know one another.
The second goal is to jumpstart the fellows’ knowledge about professional life, especially how to navigate and fully participate in professional societies. The team-building exercises and discussions with the faculty also help them understand how to build their professional identities within their institutions.
Finally, by bringing in a large group of prominent faculty members and creating multiple opportunities for informal interaction, we give the fellows “face time” with leaders in the field and (we hope) inspire them to follow similar career paths.
These are ambitious goals, and all of us who attend believe it is well worth a couple of days away from home to leverage ourselves and help these young colleagues.
Another great example of creating opportunities for the next generation also comes from the SMFM, as an outgrowth of the creative thinking of several members and its affiliated Pregnancy Foundation, chaired by Thomas Garite, MD. Through the efforts of Contemporary OB/GYN Founding Editor John T. Queenan, MD, and Larry Platt, MD, we held a fundraiser at the last SMFM meeting to support a new program to be called Quilligan Scholars, named after Ted Quilligan, MD, who is known as a mentor’s mentor. The plan is to create opportunities for promising residents in ob/gyn who have the potential to be leaders in MFM, and provide them with early exposure to the best we have to offer in meetings and education. Again, this will help to leverage our specialty for the next generation.
But this isn’t something just for national organizations or ivory-tower academics to take on. Grassroots, everyday interactions are critically important in getting the most talented students into our field in the first place. There is nothing more disheartening to medical students considering our field than to hear us grouse endlessly in the locker room and physicians’ lounge about our miseries. Yes, we face challenges, but we have to show students what a great specialty ob/gyn really is.
The private physicians here at Yale spend a couple of afternoons each year teaching preclinical medical students how to tie knots. Clinicians in private practice may need to make more of an effort to connect with medical students, but it can be done. Try letting an undergraduate student from your alma mater shadow you for a couple of days to see what life is like in the real world, and why he or she should go into ob/gyn. Talk to students about their lives, and yours, so they can see what life is like beyond school and residency.
Find a way to leverage yourself and create your own legacy.