It's the season of snow, hot tea, and med students who want to be pediatricians

January 1, 2006

It's that time of year ... time to interview med students for positions in a pediatric residency program.

Here it is again: winter. Now, for many people, the season suggests snow, crisp air, hot tea, and snuggling by the fire. For a residency program director, it means interviews.

Once again, I'm reviewing applications and marveling that any current faculty member was ever admitted to a pediatric residency program. Today's medical school seniors have traveled widely, participated in published research projects, and led community-based efforts for such projects as recruiting marrow donors, collecting donated medical supplies for needy countries, and encouraging teens to avoid tobacco! Sometimes, I worry that they will be disappointed to learn that residency training constrains one's energy and directs it primarily into pediatric medicine.

Despite worldly travel and impressive accomplishments, however, medical students who are interviewing for positions in a pediatric residency program give about the same answers as students of past decades gave when asked why they are choosing pediatrics. They "like children," of course. They often point to an experience as a camp counselor or baby sitter that left them feeling confident about their interactions with children. Their answers also reflect optimism about pediatrics: They know that children can become seriously sick, develop debilitating chronic illness, and, even, die but they recognize the adaptability and courage of children and the role that a physician can play in nourishing and supporting those qualities.

And there is something new creeping into conversations with some prospective pediatricians. Many are being drawn to pediatrics because they see the opportunity to advance the science of child health. They hear about past successes in preventing meningitis, polio, and other infectious diseases, and they expect to be the ones to have that kind of impact on genetic disorders, cancer, asthma, autism, and other conditions that limit children's lives. To this rising generation of pediatricians, genetics, epigenetics, proteomics, and pharmacogenetics are what immunization, antibiotics, and chemotherapy were to a previous generation.

It's easy to forget, during the dark, cold days of winter, that students who are exploring the future and considering their options are being interviewed in pediatric faculty offices around the country. Come March, as surely as snow melts, matches will be made between those students and residency programs, and remarkable, talented, energetic, smart people will become colleagues. Some will change the future for children-in the United States and across the world.