CHESTThought Leader BlogFinding Your Passion in Fellowship

Finding Your Passion in Fellowship

By: Kevin Swiatek, DO

Finding your passion in fellowship is an integral part of career development and has a profound impact on a young professional’s personal satisfaction. This can be a difficult task, but it can be accomplished by finding a mentor, thinking about long-term career goals, and considering what re-energizes you. Entering fellowship, some may have a preconceived idea of who they would like to be upon completion of training: An asthma specialist, a physician-scientist, a critical care junkie, etc. For most of us, fellowship is a black box of opportunity with endless paths and permutations. It can be difficult to navigate this landscape, as the path may meander and a few initial interests may develop into true passions.

During my fellowship, I have been fortunate to have had many great teachers and experiences caring for patients with pulmonary hypertension, my current primary focus. Here are a few steps I have taken in pursuit of finding my passion over the past several years of post-graduate medical education. ***Disclaimer: I am still a work in progress.***

First, find a mentor. For me it was easy—I remember interviewing for fellowship with my mentor and thinking: “That is who I want to be.” I think this is hugely important. Use the insights, mistakes, and successes of someone you admire (from near or far) to help guide you. Initially, while getting to know my mentor, it was more comfortable to follow from a safe distance without making an official commitment. This was a slow process that allowed me to explore multiple clinical and research interests simultaneously. Once your mind is set, stating your professional interests in a concise way helps you and your mentor define and differentiate hobbies from passions. The practice of medicine is still very much an apprenticeship, so having someone to act as a sounding board remains important. Mentorship is also critical for networking, which is important for professional growth and life beyond fellowship. Our community is small, and “people know people.” What happens if you can’t find a perfect mentor? Don’t worry! Try out as many mentors as you can find. You can learn from every conversation and relationship. Sometimes the path taken is just as important as the destination.

Second, think about your 5- or 10-year plan. Ultimately, when training is over, we will graduate from fellowship and be released into the wild. The skills we have obtained in training are going to be the foundation for the rest of our careers. Where would you like to be a few years post-training? In a lab? Private practice? Rural medicine? Teaching? Does the energy you are spending in fellowship to develop your passion extend beyond fellowship? Part of the excitement of pursuing a passion is envisioning how it may develop over the period of coming years. I envision honing my skills as a master general pulmonary clinician and then narrowing my focus to create a pulmonary hypertension care center of excellence. I think these are important points to consider while you have the protected headspace of fellowship to experiment and explore, and while you are not constrained by contractual obligations.

Third, think about what personally and professionally energizes you. Especially in the context of an ongoing global pandemic, burnout and physician dissatisfaction are at an all-time high. Acknowledge that your job is tough, and try to identify the things that will keep the engine running. This sounds straightforward, but you have to decide what recharges you and acknowledge those things that don’t. The importance of determining things that energize me did not occur to me until I started searching for my first job. This forced me to make a list of things that contributed to my happiness and dissatisfaction. Most future employers are skilled at asking about these qualities. A happy employee is productive and effective at his or her job!

If you are in training, take some time to get creative and answer the questions above. Doodle, make lists, or journal—find a moment to reflect on your hard work and on the promise of your future.

Kelly M. Pennington

Kevin Swiatek, DO

Dr. Swiatek is a third-year Chief Fellow in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Swiatek is a member of the CHEST Trainee Work Group. His clinical interests include general pulmonary medicine, care of patients with pulmonary hypertension, and using point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) as a diagnostic tool in the medical intensive care unit. His scholarly interests include implementation of fellowship medical education, teaching POCUS, and clinical and diagnostic assessment of patients with pulmonary hypertension.