Advice to a New Class of Young Doctors

Joel Kahn 2Match day has just passed and a new crop of medical students now know where they will be starting their clinical careers. One thing is for sure, these successful students – soon to be doctors – will need to learn the importance of flexibility and resilience as medicine is changing at a fast and furious pace. When I graduated from the University of Michigan School of Medicine in 1983 (so long ago it strains the memory, but it was with Summa Cum Laude designation) we did match day at a bar in town announcing the match locations one by one in front of 250 slightly sauced peers. Since that day I have had a wonderful but unpredictable career that has taught many lesson. Below, a few of the ones that helped me the most.

Search for the silver lining. On that day in Ann Arbor I was certain the envelope was going to open and the words “Brigham Hospital” were going to be announced after my name. After all, I had good training and letters of recommendation and had done rotations there during my fourth year. In fact, the words came out “University Hospital, Ann Arbor.” I was staying in Ann Arbor. I can’t say I was crushed, but I was disappointed. What was the result however? It was an awesome three years including the birth of my oldest son with grandparents nearby to enjoy, associating with an amazing professor of endocrinology and a successful launch into meaningful clinical research, a chance to move from the Old Main hospital to a new state-of-the-art facility, and a close relationship with our chief, William N. Kelley, MD. Wherever you end up, squeeze all the juice out of it you can, work hard, network, and expect the best.

Slow and steady wins the race. Fast forward three years and it was cardiology fellowship day. Not as big of a crowd but one I had researched and worked hard for. Again, I was expecting the envelope to say Brigham Hospital. I opened it and read University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Although a top ten program, I really felt crushed. I admit I let myself mope for a day. With my family’s support we made the move, produced another son while there, and had the most amazing cardiology training I could ever ask for. I was given so much responsibility so early, particularly in the large county hospital, that my leadership, technical skills, and knowledge grew at warp speed. In fact, the training was so terrific I was able to grab the top interventional cardiology fellowship around after my three years there, with Dr. Geoffrey Hartzler in Kansas City. I doubt that would have happened with my plan for Boston training. So the slow path won the race.

Enjoy student life. No matter what your career, you cannot possibly learn all you need in your training years. For example, nutrition is a critical component to all disciplines, except perhaps anatomic pathology, but you will likely receive little training in it. Now with podcasts on standard and alternative health practices, reliable websites like www.nutritionfacts.org, and newsletters, you can grow and learn while you work out, drive, and fly. I have a bigger thirst for knowledge now than at any prior time in my career.

Take risks. I followed the straight and narrow path on finishing training by joining a large group practice back in Michigan after Kansas City. I never felt completely settled and after two years announced to much shock that I was leaving and joining a very small practice 45 minutes away. The transition was tough, and I questioned mychoice many times, but rolling the dice proved essential. I helped that small group grow into a powerhouse practice in suburban Detroit. After 18 years, however, I began to feel rusty and wanted a new path. I arranged a high-profile position at a local medical school and teaching system and again shocked many by resigning from my full partnership. There were days of doubt but the change proved essential as it came with a generous CME fund and time to pursue training. I used it to study alternative and integrative approaches to heart disease at the University of South Florida on weekends and at night. After a year I became the first physician in the world to complete the training. I used that transformative training to leave that job and open my current and final landing pad, one of the country’s only boutique natural cardiology practices dedicated to heart disease reversal. The practice is by far the most interesting and rewarding in my 26 years since training. Standing still is not an option in today’s fast-paced world and being willing to learn and change is essential for success.

I wish all those about to graduate much success. Medicine is an incredibly rewarding vocation, and I enjoy it daily. My path has been circuitous to some, but it has resulted in the ability to provide unique assistance for the early detection and reversal of the top killer in the Western world. I hope you find your perfect position too.

Dr. Joel Kahn practices interventional and preventive cardiology in Detroit. A summa cum laude graduate of the University of Michigan School of Medicine, he lectures widely on the role of nutrition in health and medicine. He writes for Readers Digest Magazine as the Holistic Heart Doc, and is a frequent contributor to The Doctor Blog.  This month, he is opening the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity, a membership model practice in the Detroit area. Find Dr. Kahn at www.drjoelkahn.com and on Twitter:@drjkahn.

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