med sisters series: Joyce, MD

The Med Sisters Series is a series of interviews of women in various stages of their careers in medicine: pre-med, medical school, residency, fellowship and attending physicians. As women, I believe we face unique challenges within any field, medicine included. As I’ve moved along on this journey, I truly believe one of the biggest support systems we have is each other. Society works so hard to pit women against each other in every situation you can think of but, as feminists, I think it’s so important to combat that urge to try to ‘beat each other out.’ There’s room for all of us on the other side of the glass ceiling. The goal of this series is to shed light on the challenges women face in the field of medicine and how they achieve a work-life balance that works for them. This blog has always been a place for me to share the realities of this journey, both the highs and lows. I thought of this series as a way to share the perspectives of the other extraordinary women on this journey too.

Joyce is a dermatology resident at New York University and you can follow her journey at her blog, Tea with MD, and her Instagram.


Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career? How do you stay motivated on the difficult days?

A: Ever since I was a little girl I was interested in medicine. It wasn’t so much the science that drew me to the field but rather the relationships I developed with physicians being in and out of the hospital when I was younger. My brother was sick a lot and required several surgeries, and I experienced even at a young age how much doctors affected my family. I wanted to be able to heal others one day and actually positively impact others’ lives. Looking back at that now, I think I was quite naive in how I thought about medicine, but the basic principle of what keeps me in medicine is the same. When I feel burnt out by the hours or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of knowledge I need to memorize, whenever I even slightly entertain the thought of giving up, I think about my patients and how much I can truly make a difference in their lives. I’m now a dermatology resident and what people don’t realize is that we see many diseases with significant morbidity. I have patients who are so debilitated by their skin disease that they cannot work, cannot have healthy functioning relationships, and cannot live out their usual lives. I think of these people whom I can help, and that keeps me going through any hard days.

Q: What has been the most emotionally difficult aspect of your medical career thus far? How did you cope?

A: In general, dealing with patient deaths and emotional family meetings have been the hardest for me. I don’t experience so much of that anymore in dermatology, but during medical school and intern year I found it emotionally draining to witness and be a part of patients’ journeys towards death. I wrote about my experience in a blogpost here in which I explain how physicians are expected to be stoic and move on briskly from patient to patient, but I struggled with keeping up that facade in several instances. I think it took a while before I realized I needed time to reflect on each case and allow myself space to feel all the emotions I thought we weren’t supposed to have.

Q: If you could go back and do undergrad and medical school again, what would you do differently?

A: This may sound odd but I wish I could have taken a wider range of classes! Stanford University was known for computer science, and having grown up in the heart of Silicon Valley with my father working in start ups, I had thought of exploring CS but didn’t because the premed track took up so much time. In retrospect, I wish I had explored other fields like CS or business just to gain other skills in life. I also strongly advocate for trying out different fields because it’s easy to get “stuck” in the premed track. Becoming a doctor is a long and very difficult time consuming path, so it’s best to be 100% sure you want to do it before you jump in.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue dermatology as your career?

A: Now that I’m almost half a year into my dermatology residency, I can honestly say that I love and appreciate the field more and more daily. Dermatology is so interesting to me; it is such a visual field where you can instantly see all the pathology and tell if it’s getting better with treatment. If you don’t know what something is, you can biopsy it and then get an answer by looking under the microscope. I love that there’s so much intersection between dermatology and internal medicine, which is another field I found so interesting. A large number of serious skin diseases are associated with systemic disease, so there is a lot of underlying medicine to think about. We use interesting and cutting edge medicines like biologics to treat severe cases of debilitating skin disease like total body recalcitrant psoriasis or cutaneous lupus. Just today we started someone on Apremilast which until then I had only read about in trials. It is a rapidly changing field that I feel excited and honored to be a part of.

You can read about Joyce’s path to dermatology here.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to a medical student what would that be?

A: Choose your field wisely, thinking not just with the mind of a 26 year old but think longer term. I struggled for months to pick the right field and didn’t even do my first dermatology rotation until June before I applied in September. It is so hard to know what you’d want to do for the rest of your life. One way I thought about this was to find a mentor that I really looked up to and could see myself becoming. This means looking at not just your mentor’s career but also work-life balance. I wrote a blogpost about this issue here, which has a few other tips about how to choose your medical specialty. In the end, it all works out, and even if you unfortunately get into a field that you find you absolutely detest, you can still try to find a way to switch.

Thanks so much for stopping by our corner of the internet. We’re so grateful you shared your journey with us and we wish you the best!

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