Name: Brittany Leader
Hometown: Granger, Indiana
Current city: Cincinnati, Ohio
Undergraduate with major: Stanford University, Human Biology
Medical School: Emory University School of Medicine
Residency program: University of Cincinnati Department of Otolaryngology
Take me back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up? I’ve always enjoyed science and wanted to be a doctor since I was in elementary school. I became fascinated with how my body would heal after injuries and thought my pediatrician was one of the nicest and smartest people I knew, so I wanted to be like her when I grew up.
Tell me about your college application process? How did you decide on a school and major? My college application process was a bit non traditional as I was applying as a student athlete. I was looking for a school that combined a top fencing team with an excellent academic program. When I visited Stanford, I fell in love. It offered unparalleled academic and research opportunities with top athletic programs. The university celebrates athletic and academic accomplishments and their students do an incredible job of balancing the two. For me the culture of a school is also critical. When I visited Stanford, the students were people I enjoyed being around, and were engaged in activities important to me.
I ultimately chose Human Biology as my major because of the flexibility if offered. There is a core curriculum, but outside of that there was a great deal of freedom to customize which classes you take towards your degree which allowed me to explore other interests. Related: Read fellow Standford grads (and human biology majors) career profiles - Natalie (Harvard ENT/otolaryngology), Joyce (NYU dermatology)
What was the hardest part of your undergraduate studies? How did you get through it? Inorganic chemistry was very challenging for me. It was the worst grade I ever received which was discouraging because I was pre-med. I sought out study groups with friends, went to TA sessions, and asked friends in years ahead of me to tutor me. I studied harder for chemistry than in my other classes. At the end of the day it was not an excellent grade, but I do not think anyone wanting to go into medicine should let this discourage them. Your performance in chemistry is not predictive of your success in medical school, or how you will be as a physician
Talk to me about your fencing career. How did you get started? How long did you fence for? Do you miss it? My middle school had a partnership with a nearby university which exposed us to different sports every couple weeks in gym class. I tried it for a couple weeks in middle school, and a year later my best friend joined the local fencing club and encouraged me to join with her. It was a rough start. I came home covered in cuts and bruises after each practice and I was losing every bout. A few months later due to a terrible storm, I was one of two people to make it to a Junior Olympics qualifier, qualifying me by default. After competing against high level competitors, I was hooked and became serious about training. Fencing is a game of physical chess where you are constantly analyzing and trying to think several steps ahead of your opponent, which I loved. I ultimately earned a spot on the US national team and competed in all four years of college. After college, due to other demands with my schedule I have not been fencing competitively. I do miss it, and am hoping to get back into it as my schedule allows. I would encourage people to take advantage of any sport/activity/art you are exposed to, you never know what may match well with your strengths.
How and when did you decide on medical school? Several mentors advised I both volunteer in clinical settings as well as try something related to medicine before committing to medical school. I volunteered at my local hospital weekly throughout high school and in college. I also spent time shadowing a number of physicians which helped me to get exposure to what life is like in medicine. After graduating from college, I spent two years working for a medical device start-up as a clinical research associate. This experience taught me a great deal about designing and running clinical trials, and showed me a way that I could impact medical care for hundreds of people. As much as I enjoyed the research and felt the work I was doing was important, I missed the one-on-one patient interaction I enjoyed so much when I volunteered at the hospital. Realizing the patient interaction was part of what I loved solidified my decision to apply to medical school.
What did you do to be a good medical school applicant? I delve into activities and have a long term commitment to them, which I think helped strengthen my application. On the athletic side I competed on the varsity fencing team as well as the US national team and demonstrated leadership by being a two-year team captain. From a research standpoint, I joined a lab the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college and began a research project which I continued pursue for two years and published a paper from that project. For your application I think it’s important to highlight your passions and show your depth of commitment to those rather than doing activities you think will look good on an application. Your discussion of a few activities important to you, rather than a laundry list of things, will be much more compelling on your application.
How did you decide to take time off before medical school? How did you spend that time? Several of my mentors in college encouraged me to try something else in the medical field before starting medical school, so after finishing college I joined a small start-up medical device company and worked there for two years. It was a fun and fast paced environment which gave me a great amount of autonomy. I worked as a clinical research associate helping write study protocols, patient consents, and I traveled around the country and internationally starting up and monitoring these trials. This experience gave me the opportunity to work directly with physicians learning about their clinical and research experiences. I think it was an invaluable experience to take a pause before medical school and experience something outside of hospital based medicine.
How and when did you decide on otolaryngology/ENT? What other specialties did you consider? I enjoyed all of my third-year rotations and seriously considered doing many different specialties. When I started medical school I was convinced I would be a neurologist or an interventional cardiologist, and then surprised myself with how much I liked surgery. Early in my third-year rotations I had a brief exposure to ENT which I enjoyed but wanted to keep my options open. For me it ultimately came down to dermatology and otolaryngology which is a bit of an unusual decision, but they both fascinate me. In order to decide I did back-to-back months of each to get a “second look” and while it was the hardest choice I’ve ever made, I chose ENT.
Now that you're over half way done with intern year, what advice would you give to a 3rd year medical student starting their surgery rotation? What about to a 4th year starting their sub-internship? I think the best piece of advice I can give you is to have a good attitude. It sounds simple, but having seen this from both a medical student and resident perspective, being humble, hard-working, and interested goes a long way. I could write a whole book answering this question, so feel free to reach out to me.
What advice would you give to a freshman premedical student? I would advise a freshman premedical student to explore classes and things which interest them even if they are not directly related to medicine. Those skills and knowledge will only enhance your career.
What about a 1st year medical student? As a first year medical student, I would recommend keeping your mind open to every specialty. Medicine is incredibly diverse and complex so you never know what could be a great fit for you. Coming into medical school otolaryngology was not on my radar, and if I was too focused on what I thought I wanted to do, I might have missed it.
life outside of medicine:
What's your favorite city that you've lived in? Where do you see yourself ultimately? Tough question! I find different favorite spots and things to do in each city I live in. I’ve lived in the midwest, west coast, and south, so maybe the east coast is next in my tour of the U.S.? Ultimately where I end up will be based on finding a great fit for both my husband’s career and my own.
Any tips on balancing life in medicine with marriage to someone not in medicine? Schedules in medicine tend to be non-traditional working nights, weekends, and holidays, as well as having inconsistent hours which can be challenging. For us we try to make flexible plans, text or call during the day when we get a spare moment, and cherish every moment we get together. I’ve also lucked out as Connor has been incredibly understanding and supportive of my crazy schedule.
You're long distance also. What tips have you picked up during this past year? We always try to know the next time we will see each other before we part; it helps us to know when we will be together next. We’ve also gotten creative about combining our careers and seeing each other. I flew to Texas to present at a conference, so Connor met me there for the weekend. One of the challenges for us is a three hour time difference, so we often have a couple short conversations throughout the day when we have a few overlapping minutes rather than one longer conversation. Technology has been really helpful for us. Between facetime, email, texts, and sending silly snapchat pics we’re able to keep in touch and know how the other’s day is going. Related: managing long distance love and medicine
Any tips on balancing two thriving careers? Do you guys have a relationship philosophy or dictate whose career comes first? We try to find the option which will allow both of our careers to thrive. As our career opportunities and goals change we continue to discuss what all of our options would look like and how we can support each other. Sometimes it’s one of us taking a pause before applying for another degree/new job, and other times it is realizing we’ll both be making a push and won’t see each other as much as we’d like. As we advance in our careers our dreams are in flux, so for us communication is key and being flexible in finding solutions to support one another.
You're a puppy owner and a surgery intern. Is it difficult to manage the two? It does add one more thing to a busy schedule, but she is totally worth it. Fortunately for me there is a wonderful 24/7 doggie daycare close to the hospital where I can drop her off and pick her up any time of day. Other friends with dogs use neighbors, dog walkers, etc to take their dog out during the day since we have such long hours.
What does your ideal career look like? My ideal career would involve a mix of surgery, research, and teaching. I’ve also always enjoyed coaching and being a mentor, so I think an academic center may be a good fit for me.
Where do you see yourself in five years? At this point I am thinking about doing a fellowship, so that’s likely where I’ll be in five years.
What sacrifices have you made for your career? The biggest sacrifice I’ve made is doing long distance, which my husband, Connor, and I are currently doing. It’s not ideal, but it’s a temporary sacrifice we’re making to advance both of our careers. Related: Long distance love and medicine - maintaining a long distance relationship during residency
Is there anything else you would like to add? Thanks so much for inviting me to contribute my thoughts to your blog! If anyone has more specific questions I’m happy to help.