The opportunity to practice in a rural setting and pursue the passion that brings new doctors to pediatric medicine distinguishes the UW Pediatric Residency Program.
The University of Washington (UW) has one of the top five pediatric residency programs in the U.S. One of every three medical school seniors in the nation who decides to go into pediatrics applies to the UW’s Pediatric Residency Training Program based at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Only 32 physicians of the 1,000+ annual applicants are chosen for the three-year program, and about two-thirds come from outside the Pacific Northwest region. When top applicants are ranked, 10 residents and 10 faculty members have equal say — a democratic selection process that is unique among residency programs.
“The applicants we accept are the cream of the crop,” says Dr. Heather McPhillips, the program’s associate director and a general pediatrician at UW. “They’ve done incredibly well in medical school and possess great interpersonal skills.”
In addition, residents bring a wealth of life experiences to the program. Past careers of our current residents include social work, rock music, engineering, nursing, firefighting, substance abuse counseling and competitive kayaking — a diversity of experience that’s essential to relating with patients and families from different backgrounds.
Practicing medicine away from the hospital
One distinctive aspect of the Children’s residency program is the “rural practice experience,” which gives trainees a firsthand view of what it’s like to practice medicine away from the resources of a major hospital.
For a full two months, residents live in one of three Washington communities — Port Angeles, Bellingham or Yakima — or Pocatello, Idaho, and become part of a general pediatrics practice there. The experience helps residents decide how they want to direct their careers when they finish training. Few other programs offer residents such a rich opportunity to live, work and learn outside an academic medical center.
Renewing the passion for practicing medicine
Another residency highlight is the Pathways program, an opportunity for residents to have structured, nonclinical time in the middle of their training to renew their passion for what drew them to pediatric medicine.
First-year residents may apply for one of three pathways: global health, integrative research, or community pediatrics and advocacy. The program gives residents blocks of time away from clinical rotations in their second and third years to develop projects that feed their souls — and that may help determine the trajectory of their medical careers.
“Most of our residents come into the program with lots of life experience and a highly developed social consciousness,” explains Dr. Brian Johnston, who directs the Pathways program in addition to his role as head of Pediatric Medicine at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center. “It’s easy to lose that broad vision of health and healthcare when you spend three years narrowly focused on clinical training.”
A passion for global health work is the reason Dr. Casey Lion, now a third-year resident, originally decided to go into medicine. Her work in Kenya as part of the Global Health Pathway reignited her strong commitment to helping the medically underserved.
By tasting some of the most commonly prescribed
antibiotics, residents get a visceral understanding
of their patients’ hesitancy to take their medicines.
“The experience confirmed that I want something in addition to a clinical practice. It’s clear to me now that part of my passion lies in working to address health disparities,” says Lion.
UW has an established research presence in Kenya and an ongoing partnership with the University of Nairobi School of Medicine and Kenyatta National Hospital — relationships that create a safe, English-speaking environment where support for Children’s residents is locally available.
As part of the Global Health Pathway, Lion was paired with a Kenyan medical resident and, together, they focused on interventions to improve community services and quality of care for health-threatening issues like malnutrition.
“I could have gone to Kenya and spent all my time providing direct care for children with rabies and tetanus — diseases that I might never see in the States,” explains Lion. “Instead, we worked with local healthcare providers to improve the long-term care needs of children in their communities. These are skills that will be directly transferable to my own practice in the U.S.”
The pediatric residency program at Children’s is known for its one-on-one focus, rigorous training and collegial atmosphere.
The collegial relationship between former chief
resident Dr. Shaquita Bell and her mentors Drs.
Jim Stout (left) and Ben Danielson helped her
learn the ropes and kept her teachers on their toes. “We make space for residents to pursue their individual goals, rather than giving them a cookie-cutter experience,” explains program director Dr. Richard Shugerman, an emergency medicine physician at Children’s.
For Dr. Shaquita Bell, one of the program’s chief residents, being seen by her mentors and teachers as an individual with distinct interests has made all the difference in her training.
“Children’s truly values its residents. It shows in the way we’re expected to think independently and have a voice in patient-care discussions,” remarks Bell. “Friends at other residency programs have told me they’re treated more like order takers than decision makers.”