Medicine is a popular prospective career field for students at Carolina. Just think about how many biology or chemistry majors you know! I recently spoke with my mom, Dr. Pamela Johnson, about her journey to becoming a pediatrician. I learned new things about her and I’ve known her for twenty years; I thought other students might also have something to take away from our conversation.
What encouraged you to become a doctor?
The thing that made me decide to go into medicine... my cousin… well, when she and I were little, I was her playmate. She could never walk, and she died [young]; the thing that disturbed me so much was that when I asked my uncle, “What did she die from?,” he said,“They told me, but I couldn’t understand the big words they used.” I just remember, as a little kid, thinking, it’s a sad situation when a parent doesn’t understand what killed their child. I think at that point I decided to be an educator - a person that would make sure people understood… she was my close friend.
What was your educational path?
Biochemistry, chemistry, biology
I guess the typical pre-med track?
Right. I tried to understand the process--not just memorize the notes--because I figured if I could understand the process, then I’d never forget it.
How about post-graduate?
I had to do an internship, which was one year, and that’s where you were on-call.
Was this right after you graduated?
Yes, from med school. The internship was just your first year out. Then I did my residency my second and third years; I did all of those in pediatrics. You work long days, long nights, you’re on-call, and you’re constantly being quizzed. Anybody can ask you anything.
What skills and personal traits do you think are most important for people who want to enter the medical field, especially to become doctors?
I think they have to be excellent listeners, because oftentimes you can get a good idea of what’s going on just by listening. They have to be compassionate. I always take a personal responsibility for my patients, providing education so that they understand why they need to do certain things; they need to understand what they need to do. You also have to realize that you can’t make people do things; you have to just keep working with them, helping them do what they will do, because every little bit helps. You also have to have your basic medical knowledge—
I would hope!
That teaches you the medical part of your training – it teaches you how to be a doctor.
Is there anything you wish you would have known before going into your career?
[Chuckling] No. I don’t think anything would have changed my mind--I’ve always wanted to do pediatrics. I might have looked more into a pediatric subspecialty. The one thing that I hated above everything else was pediatric cardiology, and that’s probably what I should have done.
Because you hated it?
I hated it because I didn’t understand it, but if I had really grasped it, I probably would have really liked it…I probably should have looked at some subspecialties, or at least considered them.
Is there anything that students should prepare to face, like the changing industry or things that are probably going to be different for them than they were in the past?
Yes [chuckles]. They need to start saving from the very beginning; as soon as they start their internship, they need to start saving their money. They’re going to work longer, harder, and be required to see more patients--to make a certain amount of money. Pretty much all doctors coming out now will need to know how to do electronic medical records; there will be fewer charts. They will have to know how to do charting on medical records to get the proper reimbursement. For their board recertification, it’s not just a test anymore; it’s something they have to do every year. You have to get, like, 50 hours a year.
And how do you get those hours?
There are lots of different ways – I do some presentations, I do self-study, I go to courses…a lot of it is self-study.
Any final advice?
[They] really have to make sure that they visit doctor’s offices to see how it’s really done, how doctor’s offices really work. I’d have them spend several weeks shadowing--I’d have them shadow a private office, I’d have them shadow a hospital-based office.
I hope this has given you some insight regardless of what you want to do in the future, and don’t forget to check out the “Want to Go to Med School” blog series for more about going into medicine!