Education Beyond Your Medical Training
“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”― Albert Einstein
We often obtain further education not for the degree, but for the skills we learn. This is vital in the medical field, more specifically in hematology-oncology since the continued trend is toward superspecialization.
With myriad paths one can take, it is essential to have an understanding of what field you want to pursue. A useful exercise modified from Stephen R. Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is picturing yourself at the end of your career, at your retirement party. In your professional life, what do you want to be recognized for? What do you want to have accomplished by then? What do you want your medical contribution to be? These questions are critical in deciding which advance degree/training you want to pursue, and will help you develop a roadmap to reach your end goals. Additional training comes in many forms and may include advanced degrees in clinical trial designs or translational research, business administration, or education. Extending fellowship training in a specific field is another way to further curtail your academic career.
I discovered early that there were educational voids that I would need to fill. I wanted to pursue a career focused in a unique hematology-oncology patient population — adolescents and young adults — which I delved deeper into while in my pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship. Since this cohort encompasses both pediatric and adult patients, I felt I could better cater to these patients with additional training in adult oncology. Additionally, to conduct clinical trials and to better understand published literature, completing a master’s degree in clinical trial design gave me the skills to design and coordinate clinical trials, collect and analyze results, and successfully apply for grants.
This is not a traditional path, but when I asked others about their careers, I discovered that many had forged their own paths. It is not uncommon for physicians to procure more skills that elevate them to a stronger academic career or to meet their growing needs, such as a focus in benign hematology, sickle cell disease, palliative care, thrombosis, and neuro-oncology.
Dr. Timothy Kubal of Moffitt Cancer Center describes his decision to obtain a master’s in business administration during his fellowship training, saying:
“My extra degree has driven my entire career. I really fell into it by accident (I didn’t think I was qualified without it), but it was one of my smartest accidents by a wide margin. There are few physicians with an interest in clinical medicine and the business side of medicine. Having both skill sets helps you translate between the business and clinical teams and allows you to exist in either group without seeming out of place. This dual function makes you a critical part of any organization moving into the future of medicine. I would highly recommend an MBA to anyone who has an interest in leadership of people and organizations.”
Dr. Rima Jubran of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles describes her decision to obtain a master’s in academic medicine/education, saying:
“I decided to get a master’s in academic medicine at University of Southern California because I wanted to have the tools to be a more effective program director. I felt that I needed to learn how to give meaningful feedback, and to develop curriculum, evaluation methods and program assessment. Everything I learned was immediately applicable in my position and I am able to continue use those skills to help other program directors at my institution and in my professional society. In addition the degree provided me with the opportunity to pursue a career in medical education.”
In summary, as cliché as it sounds, the opportunities are limitless. You can forge your own path and there are many ways to get there. Some advice in moving forward includes:
- Think about your interests and decide your ideal career path.
- Meet with your program director and/or mentor to discuss the best way to obtain the additional training or degree. Some programs have the opportunity to financially sponsor residents or fellows in their quest for further training.
- If you want to pursue further fellowship training or modify you current fellowship experience, try to set this up as early as possible.
- Reach out to the experts in your field with regard to doing a research year or training year at their institution. There are disease/population-focused fellowships that are usually not advertised and take initiative from the trainee to set up. There are also opportunities for electives at outside institutions.
- Most importantly, persistence is key. Sometime others can’t visualize your vision. It takes your perseverance to format your path, regardless of how rare it may be.