John T. Sinnott, MD, FACP is the Director of the Division of Infectious Disease and International Medicine at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.
Recently, he sat down with SDN to give us a glimpse into his career as an Infectious Disease specialist.
Describe a typical day at work.
I don’t think there is a typical day at work for me. It seems that each day is full of something new and exciting and different. One day I may be teaching concepts of diagnosing illnesses to medical students, the next day working on a grant and the day after that analyzing an epidemiologic study. To me the best part of my job is that there are no typical days.
Why did you select academics over private practice?
Selecting academics was a relatively easy choice over private practice. While private practice allows autonomy, it also entails the responsibility of business. I prefer the academic pursuits of seeking new knowledge, teaching and academic patient care. Academics affords me the freedom to work at my own pace, study areas important to me and practice in areas that I am truly knowledgeable about.
What mix of clinical/research/teaching work do you do? How much power do you have to change that mix?
As a professor, I have a wide range of freedom in choosing my mix of activities during the day. There are some administrative responsibilities where organizational talents are required. But I can mix my ratio of clinical, research and teaching work in a manner that gives me the most professional satisfaction. It seems that some years I am more oriented towards clinical work, others to teaching, and yet others to research. There are advantages and disadvantages to academic medicine. To me the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
What are the advantages/disadvantages to academic medicine?
Advantages of academic medicine:
1. Atmosphere of lifelong learning.
2. Excitement and energy of the students.
3. Giving back to medicine through mentoring.
4. Having time to thoroughly understand a disease.
5. Being surrounded by smart people. Never being the smartest person in the room.
6. Dealing routinely with thought leaders.
7. Balancing a career and research and writing.
8. The thrill of “making a difference”.
None that I know of.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a doctor? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead)?
Being a physician is a dream come true. I simply can’t imagine pursuing a profession that did not care for and was not about people.
Why did you choose your specialty?
Infectious disease has a broad horizon and I like to take a long-term wide angle view on my profession. Furthermore, I had polio as a child and was always curious: “why me?” and “what happened?”
Did you plan to enter your current specialty prior to med school?
Yes. As a college student, microbiology fascinated me. I was lucky to do research with Dr. Charles Craig before starting medical school which helped solidify my goals.
Now that you’re in your specialty, do you find that it met your expectations?
Infectious disease and international medicine have far exceeded my expectations. Science, medical practice, exotic illness, diverse patients and uniquely curable patients make it quite fulfilling.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Of course I am satisfied with my income. Actually, I would probably do this job for free…but don’t tell my boss.
What do you like most and least about your specialty?
Infectious disease is constantly evolving as a specialty. New knowledge is discovered every day and it’s wonderful to have the skills to apply these spectacular advances. The paperwork is the least tasteful part of my profession, but it is hardly unique to medicine.
If you took out educational loans, is paying them back a financial strain?
I was fortunate enough to have financial support to attend medical school. This was supplemented with loans. Today, however, the financial climate is different. Unfortunately, perhaps tragically, education is increasingly expensive. It is not fair that our future students will face a burden of debt. It is also not in the best interests of our society.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work about 60 or more hours per week, if you want to call it work. Much of what I do is fascinating and gives a deep sense of fulfillment and professional satisfaction. I sleep about six hours a night but usually awake eager to go to the hospital or school. I spend two to three weeks fishing a year. Additional time is spent in healthcare in an international setting. I look at it as fun. I could take more time, but I don’t desire to.
Do you have a family and do you have enough time to spend with them?
I enjoy family life but it is, by my choice, secondary to work.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
10 years ago I would have told a younger John Sinnott to be less judgmental, more accepting and to pursue an agenda for personal growth with a good mentor.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were a premed? (What mistakes of experiences have you encountered that you wished you had known about ahead of time so you could have avoided them?)
My “pre-med” years were fortunately spent playing tennis, working in a boat yard and exploring life. My grades would not be acceptable to medical schools in this day and age. Fortunately, people tell me that standardized exams are my strong point so the MCAT helped. So did some admission committees less focused on grades. A mistake that current pre-med students seem to make is a bad blend of too many “difficult” courses at the same time and a lack of liberal arts experience.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
The main problem with medicine today is the paradigm of the iron triangle and the confusion of success with money. The iron triangle balances success, cost and quality. Essentially, you get only two of the three. It would not be incorrect to say we need a healthcare revolution. Secondly, some physicians confuse financial and professional success. Hopefully, our new generation of doctors will define success as being a great doctor in the framework of being a great human being. That the better “angels” of their nature will prevail over natural desires.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem within your own specialty?
Perhaps the greatest problem facing infectious disease is the consequence of emerging pathogens with a medical community that sometimes suffers from a failure of imagination.
What impact do mid-level providers have on your day-to-day practice?
Mid-level providers are an invaluable resource. They allow more time for complex issues and often bring a different perspective to our view through a sometimes mirrored prism.
Where do you see your specialty in 10 years?
There will be tremendous growth in the study of infectious disease and international medicine over the next decade. Overpopulation, globalization, new disease, antibiotic resistance and advances in medical science will change our calling completely.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any? Any international work?
Volunteerism is a key to professional satisfaction as well as to projecting a positive image of the profession. Volunteering can range from free clinic work to community board service to international efforts.
What’s your favorite TV show?
TV has, for me, some appeal in the history and learning channels.