Soyoung "Sara" Park, MD
Life has definitely kept me busy, and it seems to get busier by the minute. However, I’ve never been more ecstatic about where I am and what I’ve accomplished thus far in establishing a career in medicine. My journey hasn’t been an easy one as many who choose to enter the medical field know.
It’s been said that getting into medical school is one of the toughest steps in one’s medical career. Although I had cleared the hurdle of getting accepted, I experienced some moments throughout medical school where I thought graduating would not be feasible.
While I did start to cultivate my interest in hematology/oncology as a second-year medical student, my grades also began to suffer once clinical rotations commenced. It was extremely challenging and intimidating for me to go from one rotation to the next and be expected to adjust every 1 to 2 months. We all wanted to appear as knowledgeable as possible in order to impress our attending and resident physicians for that grade we needed to earn the top spot in our desired specialty. Adding to that stress was finding enough study time to obtain a decent grade on the shelf exams, which were the written portions of the clerkship rotations. I quickly learned that, even with an excellent clinical score, if my shelf exam score was below average, my total course grade would suffer and, consequently, affect my transcript.
At one point, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to move forward into residency to pursue the career I dreamed of—becoming a hematologist/ oncologist. I had doubts and some of my attendings had doubts about me as well. There were times when I wasn’t sure if I was good enough for residency and questioned whether or not hematology/oncology was really the right specialty for me. Generally, when faced with a decision, I am the type who needs time to sit and ponder before finalizing everything. Now, looking back, I feel that my third year of medical school was extremely rushed and I did not have sufficient time for reflection.
However, things began to change for me between my third and fourth years of medical school. Based on my experiences, I decided that I would need some time to improve my résumé, and conduct research to show that, despite my grades, I desired and was worthy of a career in hematology/oncology.
This led to my research on sickle cell disease, which resulted in a poster presentation at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting in 2011. This accomplishment really brought me the confidence boost I needed to move forward in applying for residency. I felt extremely blessed to have the opportunity–as a student–to present my research in my desired specialty at such a prestigious national-level meeting. While I found it overwhelming to keep track of all of the lectures at the meeting, I was simultaneously extremely excited to be a part of the hematology/oncology community when so many new drugs and treatments were being developed. I recall one striking presentation that reviewed the groundbreaking discovery of imatinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia. It was that presentation, that confirmed my resolve to be a part of this field in medicine.
Then along came residency. My intern year was fairly strenuous and physically laborious. It involved working long, inconsistent hours, primarily at night, and there were several emotionally draining moments. However, once my second year started, I poured my heart and soul into preparing for fellowship. I participated in lymphoma research and attended multiple malignant hematology clinics. This is my field of interest and I’ve become convinced that this is the subspecialty for me. I love understanding the physiology behind various hematological diseases and the science and research that is directly incorporated into the treatment of these patients.
Now, I am starting my second year of fellowship. My first year was a bit grueling with many required inpatient duties, but I survived. My excitement for my work has not waivered, despite occasional tough home-call nights and long demanding hours on the bone marrow transplant service. In fact, my passion for hematology/oncology has only been further substantiated by all that I saw and learned throughout my first year. Throughout my second year of fellowship, I’ll be learning more about managing my patients (physically and mentally) in the outpatient setting, which, in my opinion, is where all the action occurs.