Resident: Dr. Katerina Grigoropoulos
Year: PGY 3
1) What residency program are you at, and what year are you? Any plans for next year?
I am a third-year resident at Loyola University Medical Center/ Hines VA; soon to be diabetic limb salvage fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.
2) What are your thoughts on completing a fellowship versus going straight into practice after residency graduation?
…never allow money to drive your decisions. The money will come later regardless…
I think everyone’s path is different and pursuing a fellowship is not for everyone. You really have to self reflect and ask yourself some pertinent questions:
- Where do you want to work after residency?
- What kind of podiatric medicine and surgery do you wish to practice?
- General podiatry? Sports medicine? Diabetic limb salvage? Pediatrics?
If you find your interests are further narrowed in our specialty to a particular niche, then maybe fellowship is something to consider. A fellowship is essentially an additional year of focused training to further expand your knowledge and hand skills in a particular subset of podiatry. Even for someone who wishes to practice general podiatry, they may consider a fellowship if they wish to expand their knowledge and master certain skills.
Within the past two years, the pursuit of fellowship has been more popular than ever. Fellowship allows you to further narrow your practice and master your surgical skills. Having an extra year of training also gives you a competitive edge over another candidate who may not be fellowship-trained. Again, this all depends on where you envision yourself working. Hospital-based jobs and orthopedic groups may prefer to have a fellowship-trained DPM, while private practice groups may not. There is nothing wrong with choosing not to pursue a fellowship. If you feel comfortable with your skills and don’t believe fellowship will change your job outlook, then going straight to practice may be the best option for you. Many people refrain from an additional year of training because they look at this option as a financial loss due to the extra year of “resident salary”. My advice is to never allow money to drive your decisions. The money will come later regardless (what’s another year of living frugally?) Fellowship is truly an investment in your future, and it’s your decision if it’s right for you.
3) What is the best part of residency, in your opinion?
Interacting with patients. Having the ability to say “I am your doctor and I will take care of you.”
There is immense responsibility as you inherit the healthcare of others. Working at the VA hospital, we have great autonomy as residents, and that experience is priceless. As a resident, you see yourself grow throughout the three years. You challenge yourself; others challenge you and push you to become the greatest version of yourself. One really transforms during residency and it’s truly extraordinary to see yourself evolve throughout the process.
4) What is your surgical case volume and type in a typical week at your program?The case volume depends on which hospital we are assigned to for the month. I am lucky that our residency at Loyola is affiliated with the Hines VA Hospital. Each hospital has diverse case volumes throughout the year. Loyola is a level I trauma center so we get a great amount of our trauma numbers from there. Due to the great volume of outpatient clinics in our department, we also get many elective cases, pediatric cases, and inpatient emergent surgical care from Loyola. Hines VA, on the other hand, has a greater amount of diabetic limb salvage procedures (my favorite!).
5) If you had to pick again, would you pick podiatry and your program?
Absolutely, hands down, I would pick podiatry again. After doing so many off-service rotations, I always gravitate back to podiatry. Other surgical specialties don’t have the lifestyle I wish to live one day. Although surgeons in other specialties are extremely devoted to their field (I have so much respect for them), on many occasions, it seemed like their life was their career. I want my career to be a part of who I am. I don’t want it to define me. I believe podiatric surgery allows for that work/life balance we all aspire to have. Loyola/Hines VA has made me who I am today. I have taken upon extremely challenging limb salvage cases; the amount of resources my program has made it possible to provide the best care for my patients. I am forever thankful for all the doors Loyola/Hines VA has opened for me. My passion for diabetic limb salvage originated there, and I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.
6) What advice do you have for a (4th year) podiatry student?
Don’t worry as much. Everything works out at the end.
Learn all that you can to better prepare yourself for residency. Work hard; don’t take your patient experiences for granted. Everyone you encounter in life can teach you something. Listen to people. Listen to yourself. Don’t let money and people influence your decisions.
You are more than just a number and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. Your life is your own story and your career is just a portion of it. Engage in hobbies outside of medicine. Put yourself first. Don’t let people take advantage of your time. Never, ever let anyone dim your potential. You are the writer of your own story; you have the power to eliminate toxic situations and people. You are choices away from a different life. Work hard, stay humble, be kind, and life will treat you well.
7) What is your favorite surgery?
Amputations (as creepy as that sounds).
I made the mistake of telling one of my Hinge dates that once- needless to say there wasn’t a second date. But seriously, amputations are so much more than simply removing someone’s extremity. There is so much more emotion and psychology involved in these cases. Amputations, and limb salvage in general, flourish the strongest patient/physician bonds for me. In many cases, these patients see you as their final hope. Some are filled with fear that they may die from complications or not be able to function again. In desperate times, these patient’s gain full trust in you.
I love the fact that I can be their surgeon and their coach. There’s so much medicine involved in complicated limb salvage. Healing potential, cardiac risks, vascular status- these procedures involve a wide range of variables to be successful. The uncertain outcomes and associated emotional challenges make diabetic limb salvage so appealing to me. Once you save a low healing potential limb, you want to save more and more after that; the challenge is addicting.
8) What has been your favorite outside rotation?
Psychiatry by far.
If I didn’t want to pursue a surgical field, I would certainly consider psychiatry. I find the human psyche absolutely fascinating. Having patients open up so deeply about their lives and experiences is truly remarkable. The mind is a work of art and the science behind psychiatry is very interesting to me.
9) What do you see for your future practice setting/case type? Has this changed since you were a student?
When I was a student, I had no idea what I liked clinically and surgically. I imagined myself to practice general podiatry at a private practice. Never in a million years did I ever see myself grow a passion for diabetic limb salvage and research. My perspective and vision of my own career has drastically changed since my student years. It’s important to go to a program that provides a variety of cases so your experiences tailor your interests. In the future, I see myself working in a hospital setting, mainly practicing limb salvage and wound care. I would love to work with residents and students, as teaching is a passion I have. Ultimately, my goal is to become a “podiatric hospitalist” if you will. I want to focus my career around inpatient care. I also have other business avenues I plan to pursue outside of medicine one day. Only time and experiences will determine the future.
10) Finally, everyone is constantly learning, and new information is more available now than ever before. When you’re finding that things you’ve done or learned in the past are not correct, how do you respond to this?
Our lives are always evolving, and so is our knowledge. As medicine advances and expands with time, so does our learning. We’re human. We’re not meant to know everything and excel at all that we do. Our role as physicians is to be lifetime learners. Sometimes we come across new information that contradicts the old. Everyone should accept new techniques, new information with grace and humility. New valid information = self-improvement. Being corrected or finding out you have been doing something wrong is all part of the process. So, expand your mind, take the lessons you learn, and run with them.
Interview by Tiffany Cerda
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