Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gals We Admire: Dr. Maya Kumar

Photo credit: Canadian Press

Pediatrician-in-training Maya Kumar wanted to be a doctor since the age of five so it's no wonder that she finds her work to be "incredibly rewarding". Learn more about how Kumar spends her days and nights, and find out what she believes is the key to achieving one's career goals. 

Name: Maya Kumar
Profession: Resident Physician in Pediatrics

Describe your typical work day, from start to finish
My work day is never the same twice! As a resident physician, I have had to learn to be flexible about my schedule. Every few weeks, I rotate through a different area of pediatrics—I could be in the NICU, the Pediatric Emergency Department, our inpatient pediatric hospital ward, an outpatient pediatric clinic, or the pediatric ICU. My day could start with seeing patients, either outpatients or inpatients, or it could start with teaching medical students who are on their pediatrics rotation. I never quite know when my day will finish, because one has to be available if a patient has an emergency at the last minute. I work weekdays and many weekends.

Additionally, throughout the year, I do 30 to 40 overnight call shifts, which go from 5 pm to 9 or 10 am. During that time, I am the senior pediatric resident in the hospital, and I see children who require medical care overnight; I usually work in the pediatric ICU but I sometimes work on the regular pediatric ward, and I assist junior residents and medical students who are on call with me.

When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
The first thing I remember ever wanting to be, at age three or four, was Kristi Yamaguchi. Not just any figure skater: it had to be Kristi Yamaguchi! But by the time I was five, I wanted to be a doctor. My mom still has pictures I made in kindergarten class, featuring stethoscopes drawn with purple crayon.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Working with children is incredibly rewarding. Even though I am only a few years along in my career as a physician, I feel it is a privilege to be an advocate for this vulnerable population for the rest of my career; it means a lot to me and it’s something I want to always take seriously. Pediatrics is also one of the areas in medicine where you can really practice preventive medicine by helping children, adolescents, and their families to create lifestyles based on healthy choices, believing that healthy children and teenagers have a better chance of becoming healthy adults.

What do you find to be the biggest challenge in your profession?
Even though working with children can fill your days with a lot of joy, it can make many of your days very sad. It is so emotionally difficult when something bad, like death or disability, happens to a child. Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents, but sometimes they do; and sometimes children experience debilitating injury, serious abuse or neglect, and violence.

I think the most challenging part of my profession is to keep it together emotionally when working with a family dealing with the death, illness, disability, or abuse of a child, because how can a family stay strong through a difficult ordeal if they see their doctor falling apart? Of course, one must balance this with never becoming so hardened that one stops being human. It is also challenging, but very important, to keep my personal life separate from work; even if I have an emotionally difficult day at work, I need to find the energy to maintain my relationships with family and friends. Ultimately, those relationships are what help me to cope with the difficult parts of my job.

Do you believe you had a "calling" for your profession?
I think that most doctors, happy ones anyway, do have a calling for their profession. Because the truth is, you need to have a calling for it in order for it to be worth it. Medical school and residency, as I have discovered, can be hard work: long hours, lots of overnight calls, often unpaid, long-term sleep deprivation, eating at weird times, and almost no time to yourself. But if you have a calling for it, if you really enjoy your profession and let it become a part of your identity and what makes you happy, then it’s really worth it. Without that, I don’t think a doctor could ever be happy, no matter how much money she eventually makes or how much prestige is associated with her job.

What are the three most important pieces of career advice you would give to other Canadian Career Gals?
I think that professional success, both in terms of job satisfaction and financial compensation, is guaranteed only by choosing a career that is both difficult to do and that is something people need.

Do not waste a single second of your life on a job that you don’t like. People working jobs they hate are not only personally unhappy, but also often have sub-par performances and are valued less by employers, coworkers, and customers/clients. In other words, nobody wins.

Have a good imagination with a sense of purpose. I found that visualization was very important in helping me to achieve my career goals. Don’t just think about the next step, like what you want to do next month or next year; instead, imagine your desired endpoint, i.e., your perfect job or perfect career. Then work backwards, and ask yourself what steps you would need to take to get there and realistically how long it would take. At that point, you’d have a good road map to your desired position and you could get started with the first step.


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