Ben sits down with Christine – a Pediatrics Resident in San Antonio TX – to reflect on the residency experience. They discuss the journey in residency of figuring out who we are, what makes us happy, and being open to unforeseen pivots in our career trajectories. Ben brings up the assumption that medical education is viewed as a deficit of knowledge instead of as a formative process of virtue and character. Plus, Christine shares the one place in her life she gave up on after intern year that might surprise you!
Mentioned in this Episode:
– “The Gift of Imperfection” by Brene Brown
Hey y’all. Welcome back to beyond surviving residency, the podcast dedicated to helping residents like you find more rest, fulfillment and clarity amidst the chaos of residency. I’m your host Benjamin long MD. Through this series, I hope to equip you with practical tools to move away from just surviving residency and toward flourishing despite. Today’s conversation kicks off our series highlighting residents stories, and I’m so excited to introduce y’all to my friend, Dr. Christine Park. She’s a third year pediatrics resident San Antonio, Texas, and will be starting an adolescent medicine fellowship this fall. She’s a lover of cats, Harry Potter and her adorable six month old daughter, Evie. This is a great conversation, y’all where we chat on the difficulty of pivoting our career trajectories, and the assumption that medical education is a venture to fill a knowledge deficit, rather than being aware of it as a formative process. And plus, Christine shares the one place in her life she gave up on after intern year that might surprise you ready to dive in? Let’s get started.
Dr. Christine Park, thank you so much for being on beyond surviving residency. How are you doing?
Good. Thanks, happy to be here.
Yeah, man. To be honest, this is the first interview I’ve done. And I’m a little nervous. To be honest.
I’m also nervous. I didn’t know that this was gonna be your first interview. I feel so honored.
Yeah, well, you know, I had thought of creating this podcast and this resource for residents. And I knew throughout this time, I wanted to interview residents to kind of get real life, you know, this is what residents are experiencing every day kind of perspectives. And I just thought of you. Okay, so I have told the audience a little bit about what I know of you, and that we work together in residency. And you have a new baby girl, and that you’re on your way to an adolescent fellowship. But maybe kind of tell us a little bit about yourself before residency? And kind of like what brought you to medicine?
Yeah. So I feel like speaking of having a baby maternity leave, kind of reminded me of the person that I was before residency, because I think that I’ve just been so absorbed with work that I kind of forgot, honestly, the things that I used to like, and all that stuff, but I am from Korea. My dad is in the army. And so I always knew that I wanted to go into healthcare and be in the military as part of that process. And my journey, I guess, if you want to call it that into medicine was kind of inspired by my brother, who has autism and just kind of growing up with him, I realized I wanted to stand up for other kids like him who may have disabilities that can’t stand up for themselves. I wanted to help be their advocate. So that’s really what inspired me to, to go into medicine.
Wow. I think I knew that. But I had forgotten. That’s so good. Oh, man. Okay, I want to dive a little bit into what you just said, as far as you’d kind of forgotten some of the things that you liked. I mean, a lot more than that. Yeah.
Like, I think that I’ve been so focused on this goal of getting to medicine, and now that I’m in medicine, doing things to be a good doctor that I forgot like, who I was the things I liked. So during maternity leave, I was able to kind of put work aside and you know, take care of a newborn baby, obviously, but I remembered Oh, I really liked I really like baking like I used to bake a time and Oh, I remember like I made I used to, like sew up all these little dolls from a little book. I was like, wow, I haven’t done or thought about any of this stuff since not like even before residency I feel like, like during medical school I put all that stuff in the backburner does to focus on the goal and school and all that stuff.
Yeah. So what would you say? Is your biggest roadblock or challenge kind of in residency that has prevented you from getting back to those things that you love?
That’s a really good question. What are, huh? I’m not really sure. I think it’s most of the challenge in residency has been me. Like my, my mental roadblock of wanting to achieve perfection, which is impossible or wanting to strive for being the best. And that hyper focused goal sometimes makes me sacrifice things like self care, and the other aspects of myself that are outside of medicine.
Yeah, yeah. No, I think I shared with you one time when we were working together that when I was an intern, I had dislike, thought of like, Okay, tomorrow, if I just know everything. Everyone in it will be. home thinking that was a logical thought.
Yeah, I’m laughing so much, because I’ve definitely been.
Yeah. Oh, okay. Yeah. And the more people that I’m talking to about residency, just in preparation of getting started for this to make sure like, I’m not crazy, right. It’s your inner life during residency, unless you’re intentional about continuing to feed that you just put on pause or try to, I feel like, and so many times, we’re just like, like you said, so focused on our goals, and trying to learn medicine and be a good doctor, that we forget that that’s an important part of who we are kind of a thing, right.
And I feel like being a whole person, and acknowledging all those other aspects of ourselves is actually, ironically, part of being a good doctor, you know, being well rounded. And, you know, acknowledging all the parts of yourself is so important. It’s just funny that a lot of that goes to the wayside during training.
Yeah. And I mean, I don’t know, why do you think that is? I mean, I, I’m not being good hosts. Why do you think that is?
Oh, what do you mean, like, why do we push things aside?
I guess why this happens in residency, that there’s no avenue for, of keeping that inner life in the forefront.
Yeah, I think a lot of it is cultural, or just what’s been done in the past and what’s been expected of our profession for a long time. And I’m hopeful that it’s beginning to change. But I think that it’s one of those things where you have a group of people who are compassionate and dedicate their lives to helping other people. And so it’s very easy, I think, to get this population to not think about anything, themselves, just work tirelessly to support other people. And we’re just like the perfect population, right? Because the first thing that people say when Oh, why did you want to do medicine is I want to help people. And so you Yeah, I don’t know. I kind of lost where I was going with that. But I think that that’s part of it.
Yeah, no, I that really resonates with me as well. Okay, so shifting gears a little bit. So you talked a little bit about your brother who has autism. So just for me, personally, knowing you, I know that you were originally kind of going down the path of go into or developmental behavioral pediatrics and now you’ve kind of shifted and are pursuing adolescent medicine. You can talk a little bit about that journey and how you’ve changed during your time in residency.
Yeah, I was pretty sure that developmental behavioral pediatrics, or “Devo”, is where I was going to go. Just because I had, from the onset had this focus on working with other kids with autism, like my brother. And honestly, it was hard to let go of that goal after having had it for so long. But part of residency also has been figuring out who I am and what makes me happy. And when that’s with like, the support of my husband too, he helped me realize, hey, you know, residency has been really hard for you. But I noticed that you really light up, when you’re working at the Adolescent Clinic, you really seem to enjoy your days and come home full of stories and really excited about how it went. So that was intern year. And that kind of planted the seed then of maybe this is what’s right for me. And I think that, you know, throughout the course of my training, I also realized that I don’t completely have to give up my goal of working with, you know, kids, like my brother, I just kind of modified it a little bit. So I still plan on working with people with disabilities or chronic complex medical conditions. And addressing a gap that I saw growing up with my brother, which was, when he transitioned to adulthood, there was like, nobody that felt comfortable taking care of him, because he has autism. And, you know, pediatrics is well equipped to talk to even you know, something as simple as talking to a patient with autism and getting good information out of them, making them feel comfortable in their doctor’s office. And that’s just missing in adult care. I think in general, I’m sure there’s clinics that do a really, really good job of it. So yeah, all that to say my goal is still with the extra training and adolescent to work with these kids with developmental disabilities with complex medical conditions as they transition from childhood to adulthood. So that sweet spot, adolescent, young adult area, and, you know, kind of help them figure out how they’re going to keep getting care and keep getting cared for as young adults.
Wow. That is so good. Yeah. And I don’t know if I remember ever sharing with you, but my sister has Down syndrome. And yeah, yeah, really similar thing as far as her care and kind of transitioning and having people who are able to say, like, here are the resources for you and kind of, yeah, be comfortable with that is so important. And I mean, even now that I see for some kiddos in clinic that they’re like, knocking on 18. And we’re like, oh, there’s a lot of stuff that it seems like no one has talked about. Yeah,
we’re so protective of our patients, I think. And we like them so much that, you know, we want to hold on forever, but at some point, they do grow up.
Yeah, absolutely. Man, I want to circle back around to, I think that is so important, as far as you said, that your husband was helping you out with like, “Hey, I’m seeing this whenever you’re coming home from Adolescent Clinic,” like maybe to plant that seed of shifting towards adolescent. So it’s so hard when you’ve been running for so long. At “this is my goal! This is what I want to do!” And I experienced that third year residency and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m about to be a general pediatrician. Is this really what I want for my life?” And the answer was no.
And that’s okay.
Yeah. Yes. So talk a little bit about being okay with that pivot, because you’re right, it is a hard transition.
It did take a good amount of time and soul searching, if you want to call it that. And, you know, talking to other people in the field, both Devo Doc’s and adolescent Doc’s. I definitely Once my husband said, You seem happy, like, I think that you’re really enjoying this, I, you know, started paying attention to how I was reacting. And I agreed I agreed with him. Intern year was really hard for a lot of different reasons. But I do, I really think that I was happiest on that rotation for whatever reason. And luckily, we get to do it again, our second year. And so I paid attention then. And it was, you know, not just a fluke, I also really lit up and enjoyed it that time too. And then talking to one of the, like, my mentors at the Adolescent Clinic, she, funnily enough, also has a brother with Williams Syndrome. And she had the same kind of thought of maybe going into Devo, but also loved adolescents. So it was really nice to talk to somebody who had literally, you know, been through kind of the same struggle, and, like, validated that, hey, you know, your brother’s still going to love you. And your family is not going to be disappointed or anything, because you’re doing something else that then that what you had stated before. So yeah, I think it helped me feel better about doing what I knew in the back of my mind was right for me.
Yeah, same thing that really resonates with my experience and kind of pivoting as well. And so much of just like, well, I’ve said this for so long. Feeling it’s so weird that we feel like, I would be almost like I’d be lying. If I didn’t do this. Yeah, it’s definitely not. It’s a very large change. Yeah, and I think that goes back to, like you said, Who the kind of people that are attracted to medicine, and that were so like, goal oriented, and focused. And I think sometimes with that, it’s hard to be flexible, and that kind of long term planning, per se. I mean, at least it sounds like you’re kind of similar to me, like, from the time I was like, 12. I was like, I’m gonna be a general pediatrician. Just like my grandpa.
Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, whereas like, then I met people in medical school, and they’re like, “Yeah, I didn’t get into this other program. So I was like, why not medicine?” And I’m like, “What!?! You mean, you haven’t had your life planned out since you were 12. That’s crazy!”
But it is so hard. And the same thing like coming from medical school, choosing a specialty, you know, it’s like, really, the more confident that you get in choosing your specialty, I think comes with time in the specialty, right? But then you don’t have that time until you’ve chosen.
Oh my gosh, that’s so true.
Because same I, when I rotated on sleep, I was like, Oh, like this clicks, and I really like it. And I think this is like an important need that I can fill. And now as I’ve just progressed with through fellowship, and now starting on my own, just more and more, I’m growing more confident in that decision and thinking that it was the right decision for me for sure.
Okay, so maybe a little bit of a light hearted question. What would you say is a common stereotype about pediatrics? That isn’t true?
Have you sidebar seeing the doctor Glaucomflecken he’s like he has these Tik Tok videos where all the pediatricians like he does all the specialties but all the pediatricians always have like unicorn headband on and like stickers on their face and I just resonates with me so much and I love it. But I would say I would say that, “pediatrics is easy,” is a very annoying because they are healthy for the most part but when kids are sick it’s like the worst thing because kids are not supposed to get sick. So when you have critically ill dying children, I think that that is one of the hardest things that we deal with in medicine, and kids that are dying of cancer long term. You just have to kind of sit with that and know that and just feel how unfair that is. And I don’t think, you know, pediatrics is easy in that way at all. And kids are also changing all the time they’re growing up. And so the way that we treat them, not just as people, but you know, the medicine part too kind of changes and adapts as the kid grows. So anybody who thinks pediatrics is easy can just go away.
Yeah, exactly that point. I had a colleague I was talking to that she’s now morning administrative role. And they were in some meeting talking about like, utilizing different resources and putting people in different places. And someone’s like, well, we need good technicians in pediatrics. And someone pretty much just said to her, like, “Oh, you just play with babies all day.”
Ah, that makes me so mad.
Like, what? Just like this thought that pediatrics is this, like fairy land where we’re just like happy and just like saying, well, babies? No, no, not at all,
you know, calming down and getting a blood pressure on a screaming baby, because they’re admitted to your ward because they’re sick. And yeah, like, you have to poke them a bajillion times to get all these labs that maybe you don’t even need.
Yeah, right. And it’s like, you want very competent nurses and technicians, and people who have a lot of patience that can take care of this patient population, right? And pretty much doing a disservice if you’re like, oh, yeah, we’ll just give pediatrics the bottom of the barrel?
is that really what you want to do to your children?
Yeah, as far as some of the big questions that we’re trying to address on this podcast, one of them, which continues to be an issue for everyone is just like, how do I spend my time in residency and our relationship with time? So there’s definitely like a practical point of that conversation that I would like to get to in a second, but maybe more just on that more abstract, like how, at least for me, I felt for so long that I just was not in control of my time. And how that just kind of led me like, the Sunday night blues, and I’m like, Oh, I gotta go back to
My time is not mine again. This weekend was nice. Or this one day was nice.
36 hours was wonderful.
Oh, my gosh, speaking of which, I have to go into work tonight. But no, that’s okay. I just have the shift. And then I have the holidays. So Oh,
perfect. Yeah, I was gonna say so maybe speak on that, if that resonates with you as far as how time and your relationship to it has changed, the longer that you’ve been in residency.
I think that throughout the process of both medical school and even more, so residency, the time that you have that is not filled just keeps shrinking. And it’s even more when you have the baby just a little side note there. But I think you just get better somehow just by trial by fire, of prioritizing what’s important to you. And I think there has to be some intention there to to make time for Well, I guess this is a trendy term now but self care. Self Care Sunday. Yeah, but I think that you just by being forced to do it a little bit, figure out, okay, like my family is really important to me. And there’s going to be some sacrifices in my housework. So my dishes might not always be done. My laundry might be piling up forever, but it’s way worth it for me to spend time with my husband and my child, even my cat to like recharge myself so that I can go Back to work and be a functional person, just by the natural process of like being forced to do it. I kind of learned to prioritize like what’s important to me and let go things that maybe weren’t so important, even though, you know, as I’ve been saying it, it makes it sound like it was an easy thing. But no, it still still bothers me all those dishes in the dishwasher. Oh, that laundry piling up? Oof.
Yeah. And I think that expectation management is so important
Oh, my gosh. Yea
And, like, I think, yeah, like what you’re saying that we go through residency, and just more and more, we realize like, oh, that’s an unrealistic expectation for me to be able to continually keep, you know, this part of my life going in the same way, when I had all this time in my day, or for your margins, or things like that.
The other thing that I realized that I had to give up in terms of time was more time spent on medicine. Where I, especially in the new year, put a lot of pressure on myself to keep, you know, doing questions, reading, looking things up, what have you, when I got home, when I also had to give that up a lot. And I am still struggling with that as well. But you can trust the process a little bit of you’re going to see a bunch of patients you’re going to learn and you’re going to you can be a good doctor, even though you don’t know everything. I feel like that’s a theme that’s come up multiple times. But I yeah, that was I think that was even harder to some degree of letting go of that need or that fear almost, that I wouldn’t know enough to take care of my patients if I didn’t also spend time outside of residency like doing residency things. That is another, I guess, time factor that I’ve consciously had to let go of a little bit.
Yeah, yeah. And I think so much of that comes from other people’s expectations of how we should use our time, you know, like, you always have this sense that I could always read more know or study more, do all these things and exactly what you’re saying that we can trust the process, that there’s a reason that you’re in residency, usually for three to five years, and doing all of these different experiences, to kind of get that broad exposure. I do remember a couple of times, and like, feedback sessions of like, okay, you know, this is what you need to do, we can work a little bit more on this for your, like, projects, or research or things like that. And I remember getting so frustrated, because I was like, I’m already doing so many things. And like, you’re just sitting there and telling me I can do more. And I had to like take a step back and kind of put myself in their shoes, and also realize like, okay, they also see my potential and they want to push that. So I know they want like, my best as a resident too. So like holding that at the same time of holding that from a programmatic view, wanting, you know, like really high quality research and initiatives and things like that. And just because those things exist doesn’t mean that I need to necessarily pursue that.
That totally makes a lot of sense to me in terms of like, oh, that external pressure is there to you when you already are putting so much pressure on yourself. You don’t need that.
And I think a problem that I’m trying to address with this podcast too is exactly that, that we come into residency and have this expectation that it’s just like, I have a knowledge deficit, and I need to know all this information. And that will make me a good physician.
Ah, that makes me cringe thinking about it. But that’s 100% the way that I thought,
yeah, yeah, like, and I thought, like, okay, it’s just like black and white, I need to know, medicine, and science. And once I’ve uploaded all that to my brain, that a good doctor will come out, yeah, kind of, but then back to the central point of the inner life and who we are becoming and the choices that we are making the things that we were being exposed to in residency, that probably has just as big of an impact of the kind of physician that we’re going to be. Absolutely. And no one talks about that, for the most part.
Yeah, it would be so much easier if everybody kind of shared what they were going through at the same time. But I think we all kind of come to these conclusions on our own, which is really sad.
And not to sound dramatic, but a little dangerous. And that like, one of the things that I’m arguing on this podcast is that we can know what a good physician is based on an adequate amount of thought and experience. And central to the components of being a good physician is being a good person. And I think a lot of people have like knee jerk reactions when I talk about trying to become a good person, because we have a lot of things in our history, and lots of ways that concept has been abused. And so it’s been easier for us to say, that’s not part of becoming a good physician. I don’t know, necessarily like, overtly, you know, I don’t think anyone had a meeting, we’re like, we’re not going to talk about being a good person. So we kind of like tried to address that with professionalism and ethics and things like that. But it seems like through medical school, and residency, like talks on ethics, and professionalism, we’re more focused on not getting in trouble, or review. And just these kind of abstract, esoteric principles, that it’s like, well, I don’t really think about that on a day to day basis, like, Yes, I’m not I, I don’t want to harm my patient. And that’s definitely at the forefront of my mind often. But when I get into situations where I’m having to kind of weigh different things for this patient’s good, I don’t typically step back and like, Let me think about that ethics lecture that I had. So that relationship with time and who I am becoming, I think so much we get caught into it is a deficit of information issue. And I think part of the conversation is, I want to say deficit of virtue and character. As far as that being part of the conversation, not that like no one has character or virtue. Have lots of people who do. But when you come across things, especially in the hidden curriculum of kind of judgments, or things that are said about patients out of earshot, and it’s just, you know, you kind of like, twinge a little bit. But then it’s like, there’s no discussion of that. And there’s so many factors that are going into that too, as far as like, if it’s a person in authority and not feeling like you have that freedom to discuss that. But even to have some kind of critique or challenge of like, Hey, is that really part of being a good physician, but you just say like, I definitely never said anything like that in residency, but that did just kind of like sit with me a lot. I felt like that was part of the puzzle that was missing.
Yeah, like, why can’t you kind of speak up and be like, hey, you know, that wasn’t cool. Or, you know, something like that?
Yeah. So then maybe a little bit more grounded. More practical. Kind of go into what do your margins look like on kind of like your busier rotations and then I put in quotations your “easier rotations” because really easier rotations are just like normal workdays.
That’s insane. When you just sit there, think about it, like, Oh, I get weekends off, like every other working human. I guess on my busier rotations like pick you or any impatient really where you’re working like 1214 hour days, all I feel like I have time to is get up, maybe eat or bring something to eat, to go to work, work, come home, eat or get ready for bed and sleep. That’s really all I feel like I have time to do. It’s just like, not even only a time thing. It’s like an exhaustion thing where I don’t really have after taking care of really sick patients all day. I don’t feel like I have the I don’t have it within me to do much of anything else. But I think then it’s important to like use your weekends to fulfill those, you know, needs that you haven’t been able to get done during the week day. And I guess on the quote unquote “easier rotations”. When you’re like a normal person schedule. You can actually eat your breakfast at home a little bit more leisurely and get home and have time to read a book or watch them TV or do anything that that’s not related to work before you have to go to bed. But that’s kind of what I do. I don’t know about other people.
Yeah, no, I think that is a lot of people’s experience. And the reason why I’m interested in asking especially residents this question is, I think, because our margins are kind of one of the areas where we have the most control, it is an opportunity for helping us kind of move toward flourishing and residency, meaning that olding our expectations loosely of what time outside of work should look like. Because that’s not super helpful. And get Ellie’s got me down really easily. But what little things in our day can be helpful to keep us kind of grounded and connected to our meaning and purpose, even on busier rotations, where like you’re saying, like, I don’t have enough time, or energy or bandwidth to really like do anything. But maybe finding a way to shorten that. And even if it’s just like, I need a cup of coffee. So just being able to stop in the moment while I am actually like making my coffee to like do some deep breaths and just like be present in that moment. For some people that might be a needed anchor in their margins, that otherwise when we don’t have that like kind of intention, then you’re just feeling like you’re just trying to hang on, just so I think we’re kind of getting towards the end of our time together. So a couple of questions that I like to I say I like to end but this is my first interview so that I want to end every interview with his one. What’s one thing you’re doing to move toward flourishing instead of just surviving right now?
That’s such a good question. I think one of the things that made the biggest difference was when I was struggling in intern year, especially my husband made a book recommendation. And it’s called the Gifts of Imperfection. By Brene Brown, And side note, he’s like a psychiatry intern. So this is just like perfect and totally enough wheelhouse. But I am so glad that I made time to read that book and like one Once you kind of get started, it’s like, oh, wow, like so many of these things of like meeting to be perfect and imposter syndrome. And all the things that are mentioned in the book like really resonated with me and with the struggles that I was having in residency and tips for kind of how to work through that, or even just knowing that there’s like, a body of literature that is specifically dealing with the issues that I feel like I’m struggling with all my life, I feel like that made a big difference in just like, swimming endlessly in the deep end and struggling, versus like, okay, like moving through this, and I will get through this and other people are going through this too. So I feel like that was something that helped draw the line between like just being lost, doing more growth, I guess.
And that’s a great answer. And I’ve actually not read that book, so I’ll have to put it on my list.
Ah! It’s so good. Let me know what you think.
Sure. Okay. And then last thing is, tell me a story or an anecdote or something about a good physician, you personally know in medicine.
Man, when when I got this question I like was struggling to think of, because there’s so many good examples. I just have to pick one. I guess like the first person that I thought of when you pose that question is someone you know, actually, it’s Dr. Pelszynski, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say her name. But she’s like, the the hospitalist at our hospital, and has been doing what she’s doing for a really long time. And I just admire that even after all these years, she is still curious. And she still wants to know everything about all of her patients, not just the medicine, but also about them as human beings. She’s also got like, such a passion for teaching people. And I’ve come to appreciate that more, as I’ve grown as a resident of like, kind of now stepping back and being able to see her process and how she trains interns versus kind of how she trains you when you become an upper level versus like, how she treats you when you kind of like are at the stage where you’ve earned her trust. And I just admire that she’s been able to hone these skills as not just a physician, but an educator. And yeah, really just that her passion for treating children’s still is 100% evident in everything that she does all these years, like after her training.
Yeah, totally agree. 100%.
And then I guess one thing that surprised me was early on in my training, I went to leadership in medicine slash women in medicine conference, where she just, you know, happened to be one of the attendees, and she still said that she was struggling sometimes with imposter syndrome. And that just, you know, blew my mind of like, wow, even at the stage where like, I feel like from the outside, like, you know, everything and you’ve got to be so confident. She’s still feeling like she’s learning. And I, you know, I think that that’s so encouraging of like, You’re never done. And there’s no like, end point, like, you’re always going to be growing and striving and doing your best for your patients.
That’s so good. Yeah, but thank you so much for agreeing to come on. I really appreciate it and just wish you the best and your fellowship moving forward.
Thank you. I appreciate it so much. It’s been fun talking to you.
Man, what a great conversation to kick off reflecting on the residency experience. I loved Christine’s perspective on giving up on more time on medicine, in order to find the space to really rest and recuperate in residency, man, so good. Hey, I want to feature an array of residents on this platform. And that just might include you. So if you think you or even someone you know has a perspective you’d like to hear during this kind of resident stories segment, then email me at the wholehearted firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know! otherwise, that’s it for this week. Thanks for tuning in y’all and I’ll see you next week. Bye everyone.