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A Tale of Two Residents

July 28, 2016

Dr. Monique Abrams, a first-year pediatric resident at Baystate Children’s Hospital almost became a chef before realizing her life’s true passion. While Dr. Anna Clarke, a first-year medicine resident at Baystate Medical Center, had a little help deciding to become a doctor – her father practiced internal medicine and pediatrics, and her sister is a third-year pediatric resident at Baystate.

Both of these new doctors-in-training join a class of 84 residents and 24 fellows – 49 women and 59 men from medical schools throughout the country and beyond – who arrived in Springfield in late June to begin their residencies.

Dr. Laura Koenigs, program director, Pediatrics Residency Program, said a diverse group of nine young physicians make up this year’s group of new pediatric residents.

“They are diverse in cultural background, areas of the world where they grew up in and trained at, and in their many interests. One of our new residents is a concert pianist, another bicycled across the county building homes for Habitat for Humanity along the way, and one was a nurse before becoming a doctor. They are enthusiastic about joining us at Baystate and will enrich our hospital with their unique perspectives,” said Dr. Koenigs, who spoke highly of Abrams.

Meet Dr. Monique Abrams

Abrams, 32, has her own fine words about Koenigs, who was one of the reasons she was happy about her match with Baystate Children’s Hospital.

“When I received a letter from Dr. Koenigs inviting me for an interview, she personalized the letter. It was clear that she had taken the time to thoroughly read my application and my personal statement in which I wrote about my nephew, referencing him in the letter to me,” said Abrams.

Abrams explained that her nephew, who lived in Alabama, became ill after her parents had traveled down South to care for him during the summer months. When no one was able to diagnose his problem, Abrams and her parents brought him to New York.

“My parents brought my nephew to my former pediatrician, who immediately diagnosed him with a complicated form of ringworm. I was there, too, and remember her going into the back closet, where she took out some pharmaceutical samples. She instructed me to ‘mix the tiny vial of powder with water, then shake, and that he would be better in a couple of days.’ It was then and there, not only seeing my pediatrician interact with my nephew, but watching her diagnose a complex disease without breaking a sweat, that I knew my calling was to care for children. I was taken with how kids are so vulnerable and sometimes can’t tell you what is bothering them, and that someone needs to be an advocate for them,” she added.

Medical profession or culinary arts?

Abrams, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., said while growing up she always had an interest in the medical profession and helping people, and she loved studying the sciences while in high school. But, when it came time to think about college, she began to have second thoughts about becoming a doctor and the journey that would lie ahead. So, because she loved to cook, Abrams felt more comfortable applying to culinary arts school.

“I ended up getting accepted at Stony Brook University in New York, but realized I needed to get away from home and do some more growing up on my own. So, I found my way to the University of Alabama where I earned two bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry. In the end, it was while pursuing the sciences in Alabama that I finally realized the culinary arts truly weren’t for me and that my future was in medicine,” said Abrams, who went on to earn her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Humane Medicine.

Although Abrams said she had a “passion” for working with kids over the years, she began a family practice residency at Palmetto Health Richland at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

“Not long into my residency I realized that it wasn’t a good fit for me. I just couldn’t let go of my passion for working with kids. I did see some children while in my residency at South Carolina, and it gave me a real sense of purpose that I was doing something that resonated with me. It’s interesting, I had a conversation with my mom, who reminded me that I once told her that I wanted to become a pediatrician. It’s so funny the things we forget,” said Abrams.

Baystate Children's Hospital a top choice

So, looking for a children’s hospital that would be the right fit for her, Abrams decided to re-enter the residency match which occurs in March each year, only to learn on March 18 that she was matched with a top choice of hers – Baystate Children’s Hospital.

But, it wasn’t just the hospital’s residency director who impressed Abrams, it was the residents she met as well.

“First of all,” she laughed, “I was told by a friend to pay attention to how the residents looked. ‘Did they all look tired?’ They didn’t, and I would soon learn from them about the positive environment created at Baystate in which residents can learn.”

“When the residents came into the room to meet with me, they immediately pushed all the tables together family-style, and talked with me like we had known one another all of our lives. Also, I learned about the very congenial environment in which residents and attending physicians overseeing them are on a first-name basis. Sometimes there can be a power differential in which residents are hesitant to go to their attending with a problem. But, it was clear to me that wasn’t the case at Baystate,” she added.

Meet Dr. Anna Clarke

First-year medicine resident Dr. Anna Clarke, 26, who grew up in Charleston, W.V., had her own reasons for looking to Baystate Medical Center to complete her residency.

“I applied to a number of hospitals, mostly in the New England area, but Baystate was my number one choice for a number of reasons, including the fact that I have links here,” said Clarke, referring to the fact that her sister is completing a residency in pediatrics at Baystate.

When she began looking into possible residencies, Clarke noted she took into account that she missed the Northeast and her sister.

“Our parents used to take us up North for vacation, and my mom had family in New York. It was my sister, Rachel, who put Baystate on my radar. I visited her at the hospital near the end of my third year of medical school in April 2015. That was even before my formal residency interview, and I was able to informally meet some of the internal medicine residents. I was very impressed by what I saw and heard. I saw residents who were happy with the work they were doing, and who cared for one another. By this point, I had invested so much time and hard work in a medical career that I wanted to train at a hospital that would foster my growth as a physician and not allow me to burn out along the way. I felt Baystate was doing a good job at that with its residents,” said Clarke.

Everything she wanted in a residency

The medicine resident said Baystate Medical Center offered “everything that I wanted in a residency.”

“The hospital has really strong academic ties, including its new partnership with the University of Massachusetts Medical School. There are plenty of opportunities for me to conduct research. Residents can also opt to complete an international experience, which was very appealing to me because I would like to see how different cultures affect how medicine is practiced. And, Baystate has a number of clinics in the community and the Internal Medicine Residency Program offers a Community Medicine track which was also very appealing to me. Residents in this track work at Baystate Brightwood Health Center, which provides care for a more underserved population, and which offers many opportunities for outreach in the community,” said Clarke.

Clarke’s interest in community medicine was born early in life while still a youngster.

“Both of my parents were very involved in the Charleston community. In fact, my dad spent many hours working as a physician at a free health clinic. He would take me and my sister along in the summer to volunteer at the clinic, and I really enjoyed going there and working with the nurses and other medical staff,” said Clarke.

Before applying to medical school, she explored the liberal arts as an undergraduate student at Brandeis University.

“I wanted to explore a little bit of everything, but medical school was always in the back of my mind,” said Clarke.

A love of the sciences

Many doctors-to-be profess a love of the sciences, and Clarke is no different.

While at Brandeis, she found her science classes and the accompanying labs to be “very interactive and collaborative.” It was those classes, she said, and working as a volunteer EMT while in college, that helped to cement her desire to earn a medical degree, which she pursued at Marshall University in West Virginia.

“I loved that I had the opportunity to complete my medical school training down in Huntington before coming to Baystate, where there was a unique population with many interesting social and medical needs,” said Clarke.

According to Dr. Michael Rosenblum, director, Internal Medicine Residency Program at Baystate, Clarke is part of a team of 18 new internal medicine residents at the hospital.

“They bring a wealth of experience and diversity to Baystate making it a great place to learn and grow. As soon as they arrived at the hospital at the end of June, they began bonding over paint night, a two-day camping trip, an ice cream social and a unique month-long orientation that has introduced them to the Baystate culture of caring, education and teamwork. These residents are now part of an extraordinary family that will support them through their development as people, teachers and caregivers,” said Rosenblum.

 It all began at Springfield Hospital

Springfield Hospital, which in 1976 became Baystate Medical Center, was first approved by the American Medical Association to train “interns” in 1914. Today, in addition to serving as a training ground for more than 100,000 new physicians and other health professionals each year, the nation’s nearly 400 teaching hospitals are where millions of Americans go for specialized surgeries, life-saving care, and complex treatments. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), teaching hospitals receive more than 40 percent of all transferred patients whose illnesses or injuries require a sophisticated level of technology and expertise not available elsewhere in the community. And, they are a vital part of America’s safety net, providing care to millions of the country’s uninsured population.

“Each year our Baystate residents, fellows and other learners bring an enthusiasm and joy to healthcare and education that elevates the quality and safety of the care that we deliver to our patients and community. Our new residents arrive with innovative ideas and perspectives, as well as boundless energy that drives us all to be better educators and role models for this next generation of caregivers. They are special people who will help our Baystate team to improve healthcare in the Pioneer Valley and beyond,” said Rosenblum.

Attracting doctors to the Pioneer Valley

Dr. Kevin T. Hinchey, FACP, chief education officer for Baystate Health, said one of the reasons Baystate Medical Center began its residency programs was to attract new doctors to the Pioneer Valley, who would live and train in the Springfield area and then hopefully decide to practice locally after their residency.

Dr. Koenigs agrees with Hinchey noting once these new residents begin their training, “many fall in love with the Pioneer Valley and choose to stay here for the rest of their careers.”

“Some choose to stay at Baystate to practice while others may enter private practice in the community or work in a variety of healthcare settings. Their remaining in the area allows us to address the physician shortage we have in Western Massachusetts. There are nearly 100 pediatricians alone in Western Massachusetts who completed their pediatric training at Baystate Children’s Hospital,” she said.

In fact, after completing their residencies and fellowships at Baystate in June, nine doctors chose to continue their practice locally at the hospital in the areas of anesthesiology, medicine, endocrinology, obstetrics and gynecology, cytopathology, and pediatrics.

In all, some 367 residents and fellows – including 197 women and 170 men – are now in training at Baystate in 10 residency and 20 fellowship programs. In addition to its residency and fellowship programs, last year the hospital had 296 medical students completing clerkships and electives in various specialties, along with 924 nursing students and over 600 allied health students from local colleges and universities, who completed clinical training as part of their associate, baccalaureate, master’s and post-doctoral work. The hospital also provided nearly 150 observation experiences to assist students in making career decisions and to fulfill admission requirements.