The goal of 10 questions is to gain learn more about different physicians, their specialties, and their reasons for going into medicine.
Tiffany Kim MD is a third year internal medicine resident at the University of California, Los Angeles. She attended the University of California, Berkeley to earn a bachelor’s degree in molecular cell biology with honors, in addition to a minor in music, in 2007. Dr. Kim went on to earn her medical degree at the University of Illinois, Chicago in 2011.
1. When did you decide you wanted to become a doctor? What were your main reasons for going into medicine?
I decided I wanted to be a physician during college. I enjoyed the sciences and I tried basic science research, but didn’t find it a good fit for me. I liked the idea of working directly with patients and seeing more immediate results. In the end, being a physician sounded amazing, using science to figure out what’s going on with a someone and helping them feel better. Luckily, that’s more or less what I do now, so I’m pretty happy with my decision!
2. How/why did you choose the medical school you attended?
I cast a wide net when applying to medical school. I wanted to be in a university program so I would be exposed to a variety of subspecialties. I also wanted to be in a big city. I liked the program and the people when I interviewed at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Plus, I was excited about living in Chicago, especially since I had spent most of my time in northern California.
3. Describe your medical school experience. How hard was it to finance your education?
I had a wonderful medical school experience. I felt I had a good basic science foundation with excellent clinical training. I had great classmates and enjoyed working them as well as the house staff and attendings. Medical school, like many other things in life, is what you make out of it, so I’d like to think I took advantage of the educational opportunities available. In terms of financing, in hindsight, I wish I had done more research. I was an out-of-state student in a public school, so my tuition was similar or higher than many private schools. Some programs will allow you to pay in-state tuition after a year or so of residency, but you have to fulfill certain requirements. I will be paying loans for a very long time. But I’m looking into loan forgiveness programs, like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, so hopefully it will be more manageable.
4. How/why did you choose your medical specialty? Was there any part of your path to medicine that you would have done differently?
Internal medicine is a good fit for my personality. I enjoy thinking about complex problems and direct patient care. As I rotated through the other specialties, I realized I didn’t enjoy or couldn’t imagine myself as a surgeon, psychiatrist or radiologist. During residency, I really enjoyed patients with endocrine issues. I liked the range of common issues like diabetes and osteoporosis, where medical care can make a huge difference for our patients, as well as fascinating neuroendocrine tumors. Generally, I also learned that I enjoy working in the outpatient setting, where you get to know patients and work with them over a long period of time, rather than the acute inpatient setting.
5. What do you like about your job? What do you dislike?
As an internal medicine resident, I love that I have broad training and I truly feel like a physician (except for children and pregnant women). I am comfortable managing a patient’s hypertension regimen in clinic, as well as managing hypotension from sepsis in the intensive care unit. I also have subspecialty training so that if I have a patient with severe heart failure or cirrhosis, I can still take care of most of their issues. Sometimes the breadth can be overwhelming, but as an internal medicine physician, you can always refer to your sub-specialty colleagues.
6. Describe a typical day at work. How many hours do you work a week?
My program is arranged so that every other month, we are either on an inpatient or outpatient rotation. Outpatient rotations in the clinic are approximately eight hours a day, five days a week. In clinic, you see a few patients an hour and manage calls and messages from your clinic patients. Inpatient rotations are generally busier, and we work anywhere from eight to thirty hour shifts, with generally one day off a week. Depending on the rotation, I could be working by myself with just the attending, or have an entire team of interns and medical students. On a general medicine ward month, we may work up a case of altered mental status that ends up being Q fever, whereas the following month in the intensive care unit we are putting in a dialysis catheter and managing electrolyte abnormalities for a patient in tumor lysis syndrome.
7. How difficult is it to balance work and the rest of your life? Do you have any strategies on how to balance work and life outside of work?
During my outpatient rotations, there is plenty of time after work and on weekends for the rest of life. Inpatient rotations are different, since the hours are longer and the work is more intense. It is easy to get consumed with work, so I try to make a conscious effort to make my friends and family a priority in my life. Even though work can be exhausting, little things like going out to dinner with friends on your day off are important.
8. Does your job allow you to have the lifestyle that you want?
I think residency in any specialty is understandably busy and doesn’t necessary give us the lifestyle we would want as practicing physicians. Most endocrinologists seem to have a good work and life balance, with enough time to raise a family or pursue other activities.
9. What advice would you give to students who are interested in your specialty?
For any specialty, it is helpful to have a mentor who can get you involved in projects, offer advice, and help you get to the next stage in your training. For internal medicine in particular, do your best during your internal medicine rotation and learn as much as you can about the other specialties to have a good knowledge base.
10. What advice would you give to people who are interested in becoming a doctor?
Make sure medicine is something that you want to do! There are so many other (easier!) ways to make a living, but being a doctor is much more than just an occupation. The length and intensity of the training is demanding, and you will likely be in your thirties by the time you are making a real salary. Try to talk to as many people as possible, and get some exposure to medicine before making the commitment. That being said, I can’t see myself doing anything else, I love that my job is to make people healthier and it is very rewarding!