Google+ Hangout Highlights Stanford’s Internal Medicine Residency Program

While interviewing season is an exciting time for prospective residents, it can also be a stressful one. You’re honing your interviewing skills while crisscrossing the country, trying to determine where you want to spend the next few years of your training.

Each applicant has different priorities: Some are more interested in global health training, while others crave hands-on clinical experience. And each program has different strengths and opportunities to consider.

That’s why the Department of Medicine’s Internal Medicine Residency Program came up with the idea to host an informal Google+ Hangout, where prospective residents can ask the questions that matter most to them.

Errol Ozdalga kicked off this year’s Hangout, inviting participants to engage with a panel of leadership, faculty, and current residents. “This is an opportunity to learn more about who we are and what we do,” he said, by way of introduction. Department Chair Bob Harrington agreed, adding: “We want you to enjoy this period of interviewing. We stand ready as a group to try and offer what we think is unique and defining about our residency program.”

Here are a few abridged highlights from the hour-long conversation:


Q: What are some of the short-term goals of the Department of Medicine, and how does the residency program fit into them?

Bob Harrington: Across the department we are interested in the tripartite mission of academic medicine – to provide great clinical care, to do research, and to teach the next generation. And around that we’ve formulated our strategic plan: 1) to invest in science, 2) to elevate the culture of clinical care, 3) to connect clinical care and research, 4) to train the leaders of tomorrow.

Every piece of our mission touches the residents. Here at Stanford something like 90% of all patient encounters involve a trainee. The house staff training program is critical to the clinical mission of Stanford Medicine.

On the research front, we are excited and supportive of our residents getting very involved. You will have dedicated time to devote to research, where you can work with faculty members and fellows on projects. It’s a great way to get into what I call ‘the culture of research.’

As for education, about which Abraham Verghese talks very eloquently, you will become teachers.  As interns you will help teach students and each other, and as residents you will lead teams while learning how to become a teacher.

Ron Witteles: Research is something that we feel is a defining aspect of Stanford. Residency flies by. So we take great pride and put great effort into making sure residents get linked in very early with research mentors.


Q: Given the changing political climate, how does Stanford plan to protect the interests of its immigrant population and underserved patients?

Ron Witteles: I’m very proud to say that we have had residents matching with us from all over the world. A couple of years ago more than 1/3 of our incoming class was born overseas – some were U.S. citizens, some weren’t. We think it adds a great many perspectives and true diversity to the residency program and is something that we feel very committed to now as much as ever.

In terms of our patient populations, one of the great things about living and working in the Bay Area is the diversity. We strongly believe that as an academic medical center one of our responsibilities is to care for the underserved, and we believe that it is a very important part of residency training. So, it’s built in for everybody. We’re the only residency program that I know of that has all of our residents participate in the free clinics.

There is a lot of support across all levels of ladership for the core values of diversity and inclusion.

Wendy Caceres: There is a lot of support across all levels of leadership – from undergraduate education, to the hospital and medical school – for the core values of diversity and inclusion. For the medical students we’ve had group events where people come together and we’ve also held town halls on the topic. The leadership is very engaged. We will continue to stress our core values.

Bob Harrington: Stanford is completely committed to the principle of diversity. We live in a diverse area, we are a diverse campus, and we very much intend to remain supportive of the goals of diversity and inclusiveness, which are goals that are going to make us a stronger – and healthier – university and by extension a strong and healthy department.


Q: What are some of the opportunities in medical arts and humanities?

Mala Mandyam: One of the things that has become very popular amongst our residents is a writing group that’s held a few times each month. Every Thursday there’s an outpatient didactic session for anyone who is on a clinic or outpatient rotation, and everyone in that group is invited to participate in a writing group led by one of our primary care physicians, Lauren Edwards, who’s very involved and interested in the humanities. It’s meant to be a guided but open forum for people to express their experiences in medicine through the art of writing. It’s a protected space and it’s meant to be very powerful, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.

There’s another program in the School of Medicine called Healer’s Art, which is led by a former physician who is now a rabbi. The course teaches residents how to express their experiences in medicine through arts and humanities.

Our program is also interested in hearing about new ideas and introducing new resident-led projects. We were recently approached by a resident who has a background in theater and was interested in creating a curriculum of medical improv as part of team building and debriefing. So that is in the works right now and may come to fruition soon.

Abraham Verghese: Medical improv probably wouldn’t fly in my day or Bob Harrington’s day, so it’s lovely to hear about those kinds of advances going on here. I’ve been at many medical schools; this is the first one where we have seven other schools on the same campus. And it’s really been tremendously important to my work. The fact that across the street – literally where I park my car – is a world-class museum, and next to it is another world-class museum of modern art. In fact, I had the pleasure of taking the chief residents there to see the works of Rothko and Diebenkorn – household names that are right in our backyard. The fact that we can interact with these folks has changed a lot of the things that I do. For example, I’m teaching a course on healthcare innovation with the business school, and I’m teaching a course with the design firm IDEO on utilizing design thinking to reduce medical error. I have a great interest in creative writing and have an opportunity to go to the many readings on campus – in fact, there are more than I can get to, but it’s nice to know they’re out there.


Q: At the end of the day, what really defines what a Stanford resident is? And what you want a graduate of the program to be?

Ron Witteles: First and foremost, residency is a time to gain the ability to skillfully and compassionately care for other human beings. From my standpoint, I want to be able – with confidence and pride – to send anyone I love to one of the graduates of our program and know that they’ll get wonderful care.

Errol Ozdalga, MD, is a clinical associate professor and former resident.

Bob Harrington, MD, is chair of the Department of Medicine.

Ron Witteles, MD, is an associate professor and director of Stanford’s residency program.

Neera Ahuja, MD, is an associate professor and associate director of Stanford’s residency program.

Angela Rogers, MD, is an assistant professor.


Wendy Caceres, MD, is a clinical instructor and former resident.

Mala Mandyam, MD, is a clinical instructor and current chief resident.

Abraham Verghese, MD, is a professor and vice chair of medical education.

Naomie Serling-Boyd, MD, is a current chief resident.

Watch the Hangout