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GUEST POST: Happy Graduation and in the words of Dr. Seuss, "Oh the Places You'll Go!"

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dr. Candice Chen (pictured here) writes:

Oh the places you'll go. To be completely honest, when I got into medical school, I had no real idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I wanted to do something. I did a pediatrics residency and still I knew I wanted to do something more. I did a community pediatrics fellowship and still there had to be something more. Well, still uncertain what that something was, I became clinical faculty at an academic center and the options seemed to stretch out and blur in front of me. I enjoyed taking care of patients but how could I make a bigger difference?

About 6 months in to my new faculty position, a mentor from my fellowship offered me a 50% time position on a project looking at the social mission of medical education. I paused – clinical medicine is what I knew and honestly, studying medical education isn’t where I thought I was headed. But the pause was brief and I at least recognized the opportunity for something more.

And this is what happened (highlights):
  • We worked on 2 pieces of legislation that passed with the Affordable Care Act.
  • We published an article ranking medical schools on their social mission output that sparked wide public interest and was featured in articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times
  • I joined another project looking at medical education in Sub-Saharan Africa that has resulted in international travel and work with international medical education experts
And the lessons I learned are:
  1. Be open to opportunities. I’m not saying every opportunity is the right one, but change is scary and don’t let fear keep you from trying something new. On the issue of whether medical education was the right issue for me, once I was into the work it quickly became clear that we were focused on the role of medical education in meeting the health care needs of the nation - about how to achieve access and equity for everyone. It was exactly the issue I wanted to work on.
  2. A good mentor can make the biggest difference. It took me a while to find the right person and develop the right relationship, but, to be completely clear, my highlights reel is a direct result of being in the right place at the right time, with the right mentor. He was willing to put me forward and that is the characteristic in a mentor that I didn’t realize was important until I found it.
  3. While we can’t necessarily do it all, we can do a lot. There are choices we all have to make along the way. I’m down to 1 day a week seeing patients, and that’s not what I thought my career would look like. But I’m glad to have that time and now I work to maintain it.
So the oddest thing to me now is when students or residents come to me for career advice. I don’t feel like I should be in a place yet to give this advice. But those are the lessons I tell them. And I’m amazed by the people who come to me for advice. They have more experience and vision than I ever had at that time – I, who walked around with a big question mark above my head for years.

But I’m not writing this for those individuals necessarily. Rather, to all of you who don’t know yet what you want to do, just that you want to do something more, I hope you hold on to that feeling because, well, you never know the places you'll go.

Dr Candice Chen received her MD from Baylor College of Medicine and her MPH from GWU, with a concentration in Community Oriented Primary Care. In addition to serving her patients in southeast Washington, DC, she conducts ongoing research on medical education (here and abroad) and on developing a socially responsible physician workforce. And I can attest that she is an incredibly socially responsible physician and person herself... I was fortunate to work side by side with Candice Chen at a community health center a few years back.


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