Name: Sarah, MD
Current city: New Haven, CT
Undergraduate with major: Michigan State University, BS Psychology, Specialization in Bioethics, Humanities, and Society
Medical School: Michigan State University-College of Human Medicine
Residency program: Obstetrics and gynecology, Yale-New Haven Hospital
Take me back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up? I’m one of those kids who wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. In high school, when I realized what it truly meant to become a doctor—8 years of school, 3-4 years of residency, long hours and lots of sacrifice—I investigated some other career options, but I just kept coming back to medicine.
"I still feel so thankful I was accepted into the program. The freedom it allowed me during undergrad was incredible. It also took the stress out of the whole “med school application process.”
Tell me about your college application process? How did you decide on a school and major? I love my family, and knew I wanted to stay in Michigan for college. My senior year, I randomly stumbled upon a program at Michigan State called the Medical Scholars program. If you were accepted, you were guaranteed a spot in Michigan State’s MD program after you graduated. They encouraged you to do non-traditional majors, take time off and travel abroad, all while doing your pre-med courses. I still feel so thankful I was accepted into the program. The freedom it allowed me during undergrad was incredible. It also took the stress out of the whole “med school application process.”
What was the hardest part of your undergraduate studies? How did you get through it? I wanted to take full advantage of the program I was in and chose to study psychology and bioethics. On top of that, I also had to take the traditional pre-med classes—biology, physics, physiology, biochem, etc.—so I was frequently pulled in two directions, and always felt like I had a lot of plates in the air. School, volunteering, research, working out. How to get it all done? And that is when I started making a calendar with a to-do list on each day. It allowed me to spread all the work out and be able to visually SEE that it all would eventually get done. I know it seems simple, but making a schedule/to-do list has gotten me through life thus far.
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 graduated in December and thus had about 8 months before medical school started. And I am so glad I had that time off. I went to the Central African Republic to work with a group of US surgeons (OB/GYN + general surgery) and then stayed on to work with the local doctor. It was an amazing experience to say the least. It gave me such perspective and focus and gratefulness. When I got home, I got a job as a waitress and worked my butt off , while spending as much time as I could with my family until med school started.
"My best advice on picking a residency is to find your people. There are amazing programs all over the country, you will get good training. But you are going to spend a ridiculous amount of time with the same group of people, so you want to make sure that you fit."
What did you do to be a good medical school applicant? Don’t hate me, but after being accepted to Med Scholars, I didn’t have to apply.
How and when did you decide on ob/gyn? What other specialties did you consider? My whole life I envisioned doing Family Medicine. I wanted to be Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (maybe some of you remember the show). But essentially, I wanted to live in a rural area and take care of the whole family, from their birth day until the end. However, when I started doing my rotations during my 3rd year of med school, I realized that I LOVED OB. It was my favorite thing to study, I loved the patient population, and it was the ONLY thing I wanted to get up for in the middle of the night. When I was doing my family practice rotations, I realized that I most looked forward to prenatal visits, deliveries, and GYN issues. And then I knew. I was supposed to do OB/GYN.
So many people apply to ob/gyn each year, what made your application stand out? OB/GYN is becoming more and more competitive because it is SUCH a great specialty and there are so many options/fellowships/career possibilities for you when you finish your training. As for me, I think I just work really hard, and that showed in my application. I’ve never been the smartest or the fastest or the best…but I do work the hardest. I think that has been my key to success: a solid work ethic.
How did you go about making your rank list? Ha. I did the Couple’s Match, so the making of the rank list was a very interesting process. (My husband was applying to Pediatrics.) Our biggest issue at the end was that we both loved multiple places. We ended up saving our folders from everywhere we had interviewed, and we laid them out on the floor in various orders until one felt right. Not super scientific. My best advice on picking a residency is to find your people. There are amazing programs all over the country, you will get good training. But you are going to spend a ridiculous amount of time with the same group of people, so you want to make sure that you fit.
What's been the best part of your training so far? The worst? The best part of residency is getting to take care of people. Pregnancy and childbirth is incredible, and I love being part of such an amazing, and sometimes difficult, journey in women's lives. I also get to tell people congratulations every day. And that is great. The worst part of training…that’s really tough, because I really love it. I love the learning and the challenges and the friendships and the patients. The hours are tough, but you have to put in the time to learn. I guess nothing has been too awful yet, but it’s early still.
OB/gyn residency is tough. What motivates you to keep going on the hard days? How do you stay empathetic? The people I am surrounded by keep me going. I am at a wonderful program with really fabulous people that encourage and support me every day. My husband is the best human and is a constant source of energy and drive. I am finally doing what I have wanted to for my whole life, and when the days get long, I just step back and remind myself of that.
What advice would you give to a freshman premedical student? I would encourage them to travel and study all sorts of things, and be a well-rounded person. Life experience will make you a better doctor. You also only get to be young and free once in a lifetime.
What about a 1st year medical student? I would tell them to make a schedule, haha. I would also tell them that you could literally study 24 hours a day. There is SOOO much to learn. But at some point you have to put the books down and be a person. Make time EVERY SINGLE DAY for yourself. Keep a hobby—whether it’s reading or going to the gym or rock climbing or baking or whatever—it is important to keep yourself sane.
life outside of medicine:
Make yourself and your health a priority. It will make you a better physician/resident/med student/person.
Tell me how you met your husband. When did you get married? I met my husband at a med school picnic in August of 2011. We started talking about fishing and the Upper Peninsula (of Michigan). We dated for 11 months and then got married. We just knew we had found our person and it has been so wonderful getting to do life with him.
What tips do you have to balance residency or medical school with a healthy and fit life? Life is about choices. I know residency/medical school/life is incredibly busy. But you DO have free time, it’s all about how you want to use it. You can choose to get done with work, go out to eat, and then watch Netflix with a glass of wine. (Believe me, this is one of my favorite things and many days that’s just what you need.) But you can also choose to get home and drag your butt to the gym because it’s important and good for you. It’s all about balance. As a medical student, you could LITERALLY study for 24 hours a day. But at some point, you have to put the books down. Make yourself and your health a priority. It will make you a better physician/resident/med student/person. Set some goals for yourself at the beginning of the week, ie I want to go the gym 4 times this week, or I want to read one journal article every night before bed, or I’m going to do 30 sit-ups every night this week. I also find making a fitness goal really helpful. Sign up to do a color run or warrior dash or 5k in your town… then you have something fun you are working towards. It helps keep you motivated. Read more about how Sarah stays healthy and fit in this separate interview!
Any tips on balancing a two physician household? Make your person a priority. Try as hard as you can to make choices that make your person feel loved and supported. You have the unique position of being on this journey with someone who understands just how difficult and demanding your job can be. You both “get it,” but like anything else, you still have to put time in and work on it. My husband and I write each other notes when we are on opposite schedules… I leave a note on the table in the morning… he leaves me one to read when I get home… or sometimes he sneaks one into my car in the parking lot. It goes a long way, just knowing you have somebody on your team who is out there fighting right alongside you. Also, this might seem basic, but communication is vital. Talk about expectations, plans for the week, goals, etc. And try to spend your free time together whenever possible… aka…try to pick hobbies or workouts or activities that you both like to do. It is really wonderful to be on this road with your person, but it is also really tough to be away from them so much. Really enjoy the little moments and opportunities you have to be together because they will give you strength and focus during this intense training.
We have promised each other that we will never be martyrs for medicine.
What does your ideal career look like? I don’t really know if I know yet. The plan seems to evolve on the daily. I do know that my husband and I are both addicted to our families, so I anticipate we will end up back in Michigan. As of now, I am planning to do a fellowship (Maternal Fetal Medicine aka high-risk pregnancy) and the hubs is planning to do Pediatric Cardiology. We really want to go serve in a rural area, as we are both from pretty rural/small towns. There is a huge need for specialist and primary care in rural America and we definitely have a heart to fill that need in some capacity. I probably will try to work part time when my kids are little, because that is important to me. But exactly what it all looks like, we have yet to figure out.
What does you ideal life outside of medicine look like? Kurt thinks we should have about 10 kids (it’s the pediatrician in him) and I continue to tell him he’s crazy. We have promised each other that we will never be martyrs for medicine. We love our jobs and find great joy in serving others, but at the end of the day, there is much more to life. We want to raise a family, coach little league, travel, hunt and fish… be normal people.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Almost done with fellowship, wherever that may be!
What sacrifices have you made for your career? I definitely think we have put “life” stuff on hold. We still rent our house, we probably won’t have kiddos till we are done with our training, and we have at least two moves across the country left before we “settle down”. We have missed weddings and nephew’s birthdays and Christmases and we sometimes go multiple days without seeing each other. Thankfully, they tell me it’s worth it, and so far, I definitely find that to be true.