When did you first decide to become a physician? Why?
I was a little late to the game, honestly—I only made up my mind a year after I had graduated college, and, if I’m being perfectly honest, I went medicine on the gut feeling that I’d enjoy it. I always was kind of a science nerd, but had majored in government in college and spent all my extra time playing music and being a cartoonist. After college, I decided to take a couple of years to explore a career in art and entertainment. By the end of my two years off, I was a production assistant at The Onion News Network. It was incredibly fun, but I missed the world of science and academia. I’m lucky enough to have several family members who are doctors, so it felt natural that medical school could fulfill that missing piece.
Why did you decide to specialize in general surgery?
Again, I was late to the game in deciding on general surgery. I never really knew what I wanted to be “when I grew up,” but the one thing I knew for sure was that I never wanted to be a surgeon. My aunt, who is like a second mother to me, is a trauma and vascular surgeon. I had grown up seeing her work almost every weekend, come home for dinner after 9 PM, fall asleep at the wheel while driving, and spend a lot of time on the phone talking to (or yelling at) people (whom I only later realized must have been residents of hers). But when I finally rotated through surgery as a third-year med student, I realized that what I had witnessed as a kid was just half of the story, as if I had been hearing just the harmony track of a song and had been missing the melody the entire time. I finally understood the satisfaction of connecting with new patients almost every day and quarterbacking their care from the ER, to the OR, to the wards, to the clinic. I experienced the joy of doing tangible work with my hands. I felt like I belonged on the team. Of course, applying into general surgery was still a difficult decision—residency is hard and training is tough. But every single minute has been worth the effort; I feel myself developing not just as a doctor, but as a more empathetic human being.
Why did you decide to be a fellow in the Grey’s Anatomy Surgical Communications Fellowship?
Doing this fellowship was a no-brainer! Communicating science an incredible challenge. But as physicians, we have an obligation to every single one of our patients to educate them about their health. No operation is complete until the patient understands what is happening to them and why. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to learn from master storytellers and writers and understand how to convey complex ideas in interesting and engaging ways.
How long did you work as a fellow? How many hours per week did you work?
I spent two weeks with the writers and producers (because I had to continue on with residency, I have been spending vacation weeks doing the fellowship, rather than a several month block as I originally intended).
What was your favorite part about the fellowship?
My favorite part of the fellowship by far was that I got to hang out with a group of writers and producers who were all wonderfully kind, incredibly talented, and totally hilarious. Yes, sharing my stories from residency was a lot of fun, and coming up with interesting medical storylines to fill in medical blanks in the show was very gratifying. But honestly, watching the writers create an interesting story from scratch was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
What was it like? Walk me through a day in your shoes as a Surgical Communications Fellow.
I would get to the studio at about 9AM (a much-needed reprieve from my usual 5AM hospital arrival times). I would meet up with one of the former fellows and a current medical advisor, Dr. Naser Alazari. We would go over storylines that needed medical details and work on some research before the writers gathered in “The Room” (what a story!). Then we would listen to them break down story lines, doing on-the-fly research for medical developments or case scenarios that might be relevant to the stories the writers were creating. I also had the chance to spend a few days on set during the shooting of Dr. Zoanne Clack’s episode this past season (an incredibly powerful episode about gun violence and the Black Lives Matter movement). It was an unbelievably cool experience to be behind the scenes of one of my favorite shows.
What is the one contribution that you made to Grey’s Anatomy as a Surgical Communications Fellow that you are most proud of?
My story about an ECMO transport gone disastrously wrong was reproduced on screen in very dramatic fashion—seeing that story translated on screen was surreal.
How has your time as a Surgical Communications Fellow impacted your work as a physician?
Right now our country is struggling under the weight of our own health illiteracy. Just the other day, one of my patients asked me how to eat spinach—at age 55, she had only recently started to understand that the food she ate directly impacted her struggle with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. She had never considered eating raw, uncooked vegetables, but had seen something about the health benefits of spinach on TV. Television has the power to be an incredible teaching device and can help us greatly improve health literacy. As my career moves forward, I fully intend to use television as a tool for reaching large numbers of patients, hopefully as a writer and producer. The Grey’s fellowship has shown me that this dream can be a reality.
What advice do you have for a resident who is interested in the Surgical Communications Fellowship?
Apply! Take a shot and go for it, even if you’ve never done anything like this before. Think about how much better your life as a future surgeon could be if all your patients could present to clinic well-informed about their own health. This fellowship will give you an unparalleled opportunity to learn how to impact the lives of patients far beyond the operating room.
You can apply to be a Grey’s Anatomy Surgical Communications Fellow! The job offers opportunities in medical consulting, medical writing and research. Fellows serve as consultants in the writers room, sharing their experiences as a surgical resident, researching groundbreaking surgical procedures, and guiding the direction of surgical storylines. Fellows will also work with the Hollywood Health Society (HHS), an organization that works with the CDC to share public health information with storyline creators in Hollywood. HHS provides the resident with research opportunities to examine the effectiveness of entertainment education efforts on various audiences, to measure the prevalence of health topics and education potential of health storylines, and to publish on a research topic in the Medical Humanities or in Medical Communications.
Fellowship applicants must have completed at least two years of a surgical residency, have strong verbal and written communication skills, be mindful of storytelling and dramatic structure, and be able to reside in Los Angeles for the duration of the program. The 3-6 month fellowship begins in July, but applications are welcome from those who may be interested any time in the future. Time commitment is flexible, but fellows are encouraged to be in the room with the writers as much as possible, generally from 10 am-6 pm, 3-5 days a week. A small stipend is included. Please apply by March 31, 2018.
For more information, contact Bridgette Burgess, Director of Medical Research at [email protected].