Like all fellowship directors, Gerald Hsu, MD, PhD, is looking for applicants with intelligence, ambition, and a desire to advance cancer research and clinical care.
Gerald Hsu, MD, PhD
Like all fellowship directors, Gerald Hsu, MD, PhD, program director, Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Program and associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), is looking for applicants with intelligence, ambition, and a desire to advance cancer research and clinical care. The trick is finding the right combination of talent, intellectual curiosity, drive, and diversity to join the community at UCSF.
But the most important trait, he said, is vision. Hsu is looking for applicants who have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish in medicine and specific ideas about how to achieve those goals. UCSF only accepts 7 hematology/oncology fellows each year, so finding the right people is a challenge.
“In addition to looking for the best fit, we’re looking for people who will best serve hematology/oncology in the future,” he said to Oncology Fellows. “That also means ensuring adequate representation of the diversity [in] this country. In thinking about the composition of who we want to bring in, that factors quite heavily.”
Hsu became the fellowship program director in 2018. He earned his medical and doctoral degrees at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, before going on to complete his residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Hsu performed a fellowship in hematology and medical oncology at UCSF before returning to Brigham and Women’s to serve a yearlong stint as chief resident.
In discussing his work as a fellowship director, Hsu talked about his love for San Francisco, the benefits of working at UCSF, and the best way to present yourself in your fellowship application.
Oncology Fellows: What led you to this position?
Hsu: As chief medical resident, I recognized the importance of medical education in fostering opportunities for personal and professional growth for trainees. It was also a wonderful time to spend a dedicated amount of educational investment in science and medicine again.
My focus when I came [to UCSF] was primarily clinical care and medical education. In the course of my first few years as a faculty member, I was able to build on this interest and develop additional training for a program called Teaching Scholars that provided perspective and opportunity to delve into medical education scholarship.
Through that experience at the undergraduate medical education level, I built enough of a background in medical education. That eventually led to this job.
What’s your typical day like?
There is no typical day. My commitment to clinical care is 2 half-days per week, [but] it’s really more like 2 three-quarter days of outpatient practice, during 1 of which I’m supervising fellows. I do 4 months on our inpatient service at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which is a consultant service for both hematology and oncology.
My weeks are built around those clinical care responsibilities. Beyond that, most of my time is spent in various meetings with individuals about the fellows program and meetings representing our program. I don’t know how much time I spend doing email. That’s a lot of it.
What are you looking for in a fellow?
We’re looking for the best fit for our institution. I think about UCSF as an institution for pioneers. I think about UCSF as an institution for future leaders, both in lab-based research and clinical research. I think of UCSF as a place that has a broad range of resources to support endeavors that will be coming online for research and clinical practice. Fundamentally, we’re looking for people who are pioneering in their spirit, people who have initiative, people who are committed to excellence in whatever they choose to do.
What makes an application stand out?
Everyone has their own approach to looking at an application. My approach is to start with the personal statement, because that is the place where an applicant has the opportunity to communicate with me directly. What I’m looking for is someone’s vision for themselves. Not just their career aspirations, but how they are going to get there. I think about it as providing some broad goals but also very specific ways they’re going to cultivate new skills, what sort of training they’re looking for, the coursework they want to do to reach what they view as their 5- to 10-year career plan. The degree to which you can be really specific about what you hope to achieve serves an applicant well and provides a nice opportunity to discuss how a program might fit with your personal and professional goals.
I’m looking for intellectual curiosity and ways in which that may have driven somebody over the course of their educational experiences. I’m really looking to learn more about people in a personal statement. I care deeply about where people come from and what they’re like. The degree to which you can get that out of a personal statement, and communicate that in a personal statement, is quite a challenge. The best personal statements do all of that.
What is something applicants do that you find unhelpful?
Applicants often start with a patient experience to frame their desire to go into hematology or oncology from a clinical lens. It’s not a bad way to structure a personal statement—you can use a case to highlight all the things I talk about—but to use a case and say that was one’s inspiration for going into oncology without then providing the vision is probably not going to serve you best.
How important is a desire to do research?
We’re looking for fellows who want to do research in the lab, in the clinical environment, in global health. We want fellows to do research to cultivate that intellectual curiosity, because intellectual curiosity is so fundamental in clinical practice, in developing new research questions, and applying research to clinical questions. That’s a key element to what makes us good physicians.
What’s great about living in San Francisco?
The best part about the Bay Area, in my mind, is the appreciation of diversity and people’s unique differences. The Bay Area is a place where people are genuinely inclusive and, were it not for cost-of-living concerns, it’s the kind of place where anyone can make a home and feel accepted.
It’s a place that’s rich in cultural resources and natural resources. It’s a great place if you love the outdoors. It’s a great place if you love cities. It’s awfully nice to know that you [could] come here and have a cultural home and feel accepted.
What’s great about being a fellow at UCSF?
It’s a large, public institution that is committed to excellence. It’s a place where we are committed to professionalism, respect, inclusiveness, and diversity. It’s a place where visionary people can come and use the resources and commitments of this institution to build something new and different. It’s a place that’s truly forward thinking and prizes intellectual curiosity and vision.
I love that we’re a big university supported by the state of California that’s responsible to the people of California and to this country. There’s a mindset here that your work is supposed to contribute to the greater good.