Name: Michelle Clermont
Hometown: Xenia, Ohio (near Dayton)
Current city: Atlanta, GA
Undergraduate with major: University of Dayton, Pre-Med w/ minor in Spanish, magna cum laude
Medical School: Emory University SOM
Residency program: Emory University, Internal Medicine
Fellowship: University of Pennsylvania, Gastroenterology
Take me back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up? A physician; I thought maybe family practice because it was all-encompassing
Tell me about your college application process? How did you decide on a school and major? I wanted to leave Ohio so badly but I received several scholarships in the state so I stayed. The University of Dayton allowed me to be a part of an Honors program that gave me funding to study abroad and do research, plus my best friends were there so it was selected. Their pre-med major was a good mix of science/math so it felt like a good fit.
What was the hardest part of your undergraduate studies? How did you get through it? Finding a balance between my friends and school was the hardest part for me. I dated someone for 3 years in college who studied at a university that was 1.5 hours away so we were always splitting weekends and traveling. I made sure I studied hard during the week so that my weekends were fairly free. This actually helped me a lot in medical school because it taught me to be efficient, prioritize, and to never procrastinate.
Did you take time off between undergrad and medical school? Why or why not? and if you did take time off, how did you spend it? I did not take time off. I was scared that getting off of the "hamster wheel" would make me less focused. I really regret not taking a year or two off now that I'm about to start fellowship. The "wheel" is grueling and I often feel exhausted now. A year or two doing something besides medical training would probably have been a good idea for me. Related: read how Natalie - Harvard ENT/otolaryngology and Brittany - UCinn ENT/otolaryngology spent their gap years
How and when did you decide on medical school? I knew I was definitely leaving Ohio by any means necessary. One of my best friends was in undergrad at Morehouse and suggested I look into Emory. I interviewed there and absolutely fell in love with Atlanta, the school, and the people. I made my final decision when I received a scholarship.
What did you do to be a good medical school applicant? I applied early and broadly, replied quickly, and made sure I applied gentle pressure to letter writers so that everything was in on time. I included plenty of my service activities on my application. Related: How to write a letter of recommendation (for yourself or someone else), components of your medical school application: how to be a competitive medical school applicant
You had your pick of top medical schools. Why Emory? Atlanta stole my heart. Plus I had some scholarships. I won't lie, I was between 2 schools in the end, but Emory was the absolute best fit. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made. Related: Choosing your medical school, why Alexis - Columbia pediatrics and Soohee - Emory pediatrics chose Emory Med
How and when did you decide on internal medicine? What other specialties did you consider? I had my surgery, IM, and pediatric rotations first and very quickly decided that I did not like being in the OR. I also enjoyed interacting with the parents of the pediatric patients much more than with the patients themselves. It became pretty clear to me that I would be working with adults. I seriously thought about derm and OB/gyn but decided against them. I also knew that I loved the physiology and anatomy of gastroenterology so IM was the gateway. Related: choosing your medical specialty - 7 factors to consider and 3 lists to make
So many people apply to internal medicine each year, what made your application stand out? Again, service and leadership. At MGH and Hopkins they told me that the volunteer activities and leadership activities I included really impressed them. I learned that those things can stand out even more than your grades and scores. I also had a focused vision of my future career. Those things can change but they like to hear that you've thought about your plan for the future. Related: tips to match a competitive specialty part one
How did you go about making your rank list? This is a very complicated question. My husband, Edward, was a year ahead of me in training. He was an intern at Emory at the time and we had been married less than a year. I absolutely loved another program outside of Georgia that was a great fit for me but in the end chose to rank Emory higher to stay in Atlanta to be with him. It was an emotional time to say the least but it all worked out for the best. Related: how the NRMP match algorithm works (and how I made my rank order list)
What's been the best part of your training so far? The worst? I've enjoyed meeting new people. I have a lot of emergency medicine and anesthesia colleagues who I connect with and give me a different perspective. I have not enjoyed 30 hour call. It's one of my least favorite things in life. I was not made to be up that long in the hospital; it's a struggle for me.
Medicine residency is tough. What motivates you to keep going on the hard days? How do you stay empathetic? I have a very strong network of friends, both medical and non-medical. They allow me to vent when I need to and they keep me grounded at the same time. They've helped keep me going when things were difficult. When I'm having trouble relating to my patients or feeling jaded I really try to put myself in my patient's shoes or think about if my family member was the patient. That helps me to be a better doctor every time.
Why did you chose gastroenterology? Did you consider any other specialties? Honestly I started loving GI during college physiology class. I love to eat and I was in awe of how the body processes food. GI from esophagus down, pancreas and liver is so complex and fascinating to me. Then I loved watching scopes in Med school and doing research on GERD and IBD in residency. Plus the docs in the field tend to be pretty chill; I mean, they have to describe feces on a daily basis.
I did consider primary care very strongly and I have so much respect for PCPs, they are so essential. GI was the only rotation I loved more than my continuity clinic so it made the most sense.
What advice would you give to a freshman premedical student? What about a 1st year medical student? I would tell them the same things. I would suggest keeping an open mind about career options and to volunteer/shadow to really find out what you prefer. Network, network, network and build a support system. And please have fun. The people I've seen really burn out are those who are so dedicated to medicine that they don't make time for anything else. Life is too short. You can have a career and still make yourself a priority. It takes practice and the amount of time you can take for yourself varies but it is so important to take care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually especially during training.
life outside of medicine:
I seriously attribute a good portion of my success in medical school to you (and Ed) taking me under your wing. Thank you so much for that. I'm so embarrassed that I've done such a poor job of keeping it going. Tell me your secret. What do I need to do to be a good mentor? You flatter us. I feel energized by meeting people and finding out why they are who they are and how they see the world and their plans for the future. As you've learned in medicine, people are so different and amazing. I just start conversations and then ask myself how my experiences can add to theirs. I've never told you anything I haven't been through myself or seen from colleagues. If people feel engaged they often keep talking to you and the next thing you know you've got a "mentee", maybe even a friend.
In my defense, no one has shown interest in being my mentee. I think a lot of people think being mentored is a passive process, but I disagree with that. In your opinion, what makes a good mentee? I agree with you. People are often nervous about approaching someone to be their mentor and can have trouble reciprocating. It still overwhelms me at times. A good mentee will keep communicating with you. Mentors often are busy and that can be interpreted as not caring but it is not the same thing. You may have to speak up and suggest meeting or email a question you have if your mentor is really busy. Mentees shouldn't let themselves fade into the background. If you aren't getting what you need out of a mentorship relationship then you might be better without it. Also, have several mentors- different ages, perspectives, even careers.
Tell me the very adorable story of how you met your husband. When did you get married? *blushing* I came to Emory for their minority revisit experience for accepted medical students in March 2009. I was trying to officially decide if Emory was the best fit for med school for me. During the welcome dinner, the SNMA (Student National Medical Association) President addressed us. He was the most gorgeous man I had ever seen. He approached me after dinner and I feel like we never stopped talking. Now it's 7 years later and our 4 year wedding anniversary is nextweek. We got married 2 weeks after he graduated from med school. I was a fourth year medical student at the time. Proof that you never know what's around the corner.
Now talk to me about the struggle of balancing a two physician relationship? Alex is 2 years ahead of me and timing the different stages of training is complicated. Do you have any advice? It's been a humbling experience to say the least. You know that finding balance and making the best choices for our careers is difficult, but when you have to consider two at the same time it can seem daunting. Edward is one year ahead of me in training and while I get the perks of knowing what lies ahead, many sacrifices have been made. In the beginning I thought it would be more balanced, but I'm learning that one of you may have to sacrifice disproportionately. At times that is frustrating. But you learn to accept and to decide what is really important to you. You know that we've spent the last year apart with him in Philly at UPenn for fellowship. It's been a big challenge but we have been so fortunate that it's worked out and I'll be in fellowship there in July. It's helpful to talk to other two physician couples because they understand the struggle and can help support you when it gets tough and complicated. Now, balancing the day to day tasks is a separate issue. We have to be constantly aware of which rotation we're on and who will be cooking, cleaning, paying bills that particular day/week/month. It's so worth it though. I was thinking today we met when we were barely in our 20s. This summer we will have seen each other become physicians, start careers in our respective fellowships, and turn 30. It's been a great ride and it's just beginning. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Related: long distance love and medicine
What does work-life balance look like to you and how did you maintain it during residency? Work-life integration is a better term for me. I tried hard to be efficient and focused with work so that when I was home I could be relaxed at home. Having plenty of friends really made it much easier for me during residency. A lot of them weren't in medicine and didn't have a schedule like mine so it was easy to have people to have fun with during any time that I had off. I love cooking and eating and going to the gym so I started residency with serious goals to maintain these things. Some months are so busy that I have to scale back but I make it a point to do things for my sanity as much as possible. I don't think I would have tolerated residency well without taking time out for myself. Unfortunately, some people in medicine will tell you that there is something wrong with taking care of yourself. Don't listen to them. They're mistaken.
What does your ideal career look like? I'm not completely sure yet. I'm still trying to figure out academic vs. private practice GI. I think I may specialize in IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). I want to be able to do some teaching but I could survive without doing a lot of research. I want to be able to have time for my family so having a more flexible schedule will be best.
What does you ideal life outside of medicine look like? I hope to be raising a couple kids with Edward, still traveling (we go on vacation every year), be able to sit down and eat dinner with my family as many nights as possible. I could be content with that for sure.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Back in Atlanta with Edward and some kids, finally enjoying life as an attending.
What sacrifices have you made for your career? See above. Seriously though, putting off having kids, location, being apart from my husband for a year (sacrifice for his career). In the end I believe it will all be worth it. I'm happy with where we are now and I am so excited about the future. It's going to be amazing.