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20 Questions: Linda Pollack, MD, OB/GYN

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Dr. Linda Pollack is an obstetrician/gynecologist with Kaiser Permanente in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from University of California, Berkeley, (1993) and attended Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, where she received her MD (1997). Dr. Pollack completed an internship and residency in obstetrics/gynecology at Harbor-UCLA in Torrance (1997-2001) and became board certified in obstetrics and gynecology in 2003. She has worked at Kaiser Permanente since 2001, where in addition to seeing patients, she also co-directs the Breast Lump Clinic and provides leadership in Critical Events Training.
When did you first decide to become a doctor? Why?
I decided as a college student after taking pre-medical classes and exploring different options, such as working with a physician for a summer and volunteering at a botanical garden. I went with medicine because I liked the idea that you could use biology to help people directly.
How/why did you choose the medical school you attended?
My undergraduate school had an impressive service for pre-medical students that provided a lot of comparative information about different programs and feedback from previous students. That helped me narrow down my choices, but my final decision to attend Tulane was influenced by a family friend who had gone to medical school there and spoke highly of his experience.
What surprised you the most about your medical studies?
The realization that most people’s medical issues have a substantial social component, as well as biological, and that addressing the social component is often the biggest challenge.
Why did you decide to specialize in your field?
Because I get to do everything. OB/Gyn is primary care, it’s delivering babies, it’s surgery, it’s the full scope of practice and the whole range of life, from birth to death.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still specialize in your field? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Generally, yes. But there have been a few days when I felt like it was impossible to meet everyone’s expectations, which can be particularly high in obstetrics.
Has being a specialist in your field met your expectations? Why?
Yes, in terms of the scope of practice. But one thing that is changing dramatically is how surgery is being done, with the rapid advances in minimally invasive techniques, which I didn’t really expect but do see as generally a good thing.
What do you like most about being a specialist in your field?
I like that I don’t do the same thing every day. Some days I’m in the hospital doing surgery, other days I’m delivering babies or seeing patients in the clinic. Some days there’s a bit of each.
What do you like least about being a specialist in your field?
The inability, at times, to simultaneously satisfy the expectations of both patients and hospital administrators. In very general terms, hospitals prefer standardization when possible, whereas patients often have their own ideas about how they would like things done.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
I looked at options in private practice and HMOs, and found myself more comfortable with the HMO approach. It allows me to focus on medicine, which I’m trained to do, rather than business, where I have no background. I also grew up as a patient of the HMO I now work for, and which my father worked for, so I was familiar with their style of medicine.
Describe a typical day at workwalk me through a day in your shoes.
Arrive at the hospital at 8:15 a.m. Answer some patient emails and phone messages, deal with prescription refills. Round on any of my patients that are in the hospital. Then, depending on the day, either do surgeries, see patients in clinic, or work on the labor and delivery ward. Throughout the day, answer more patient emails, phone messages, and prescription requests as time permits. Usually have an hour for lunch, often a lunch meeting. Scheduled work usually ends about 5:30 p.m., and then on clinic days it’s a matter of finishing up any charting or record keeping that needs to be done.
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 50 hours a week plus usually one call shift, so closer to 60 hours. I sleep about seven and a half hours per night. I take about four weeks of vacation per year.
Are you satisfied with your income? Explain.
Mostly satisfied, particularly when one considers the health insurance and retirement benefits. Especially from a global perspective, we are incredibly fortunate.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Explain.
I think student loan debt understandably influences the choices many medical students and young physicians make. These impacts should be considered carefully, both by individuals going into medicine and by society as a whole in terms of broad-scale effects, such as the number of primary care doctors.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you started your medical career?
As a medical student, don’t let old school surgeons intimidate you. And watch “Scrubs.”
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your medical studies?
That despite all the big stress points, from MCATs to board exams to residency interviews, it usually all works out.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
I don’t know if it’s the biggest problem, but a problem I see is that generally people don’t want any limits on the health care they receive. For example, if someone thinks they ought to have an MRI, it can be very hard to explain to them that, in their case, an MRI is not going to be helpful. So how do you reconcile people’s desire to leave no stone unturned in the treatment of their loved ones with the reality of limited resources? The question of resource allocation is a very difficult one.
Where do you see your specialty in five to 10 years?
More minimally invasive surgical techniques will be developed and the desire for elective primary C-section will continue to increase. In the long-term, the field will have to deal with how to balance increasing specialization with the primary care component of OB/Gyn.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
At work, I devote a portion of my time to the breast lump clinic as well critical events training. I hope to find the time to do actual volunteer and outreach work, as I think such activities are important, but it’s a matter of hours in the day at this point.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life outside of work?
Having enough time to spend with family is a challenge for almost everyone, and physicians are certainly no exception. I’m not sure I’ve figured how to balance work and life outside of work, but I certainly know that doing so is very important. It’s hard to be a good physician if you’re really unhappy, so balance is important both personally and professionally.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Don’t neglect people skills. Most of health care depends on talking to people. And if that isn’t your forte, either try to develop those skills or look for areas that have less focus on clinical practice, such as research. Also, take care of your own health and fitness. Not only is it a good idea in general, but medicine can be more physically demanding than you might think, particularly if you’re doing a lot of surgeries or procedures.