Young Members Corner - October 17, 2017 - Blog
Life as a clinician-scientist in transplantation
by Germaine Wong
Transplant Nephrologist at Westmead Hospital / Associate Professor at the University of Sydney
It's just past 10 pm at night, child in bed, and sound asleep. Charged with caffeine in one hand and laptop on my lap, now, it's my time. Fifty emails in the Inbox and feeling guilty for my 'slow response'. Grants deadline due in two days, struggling to get through the database with 200 different variables and possibly 100 interactions. Life as a clinician-scientist was never meant to be easy. I was once asked by my trainee why I ended up with the life I have now. Mind you, I am enjoying every single moment of it.
As transplant clinicians, we all work incredibly long hours, totally committed and dedicated our lives to our jobs, to optimise patient care, and to ensure we don't make any mistakes. Yes, the perfectionist and obsessive-compulsive nature we all possess! The inherent drive to be good at everything. Then, there is the research part. As scientists, we are high-achievers by training, a double-edged sword that can put us at risk of feeling that we should be always completing more experiments, grants, and papers. No matter how many rejections, failed grants and experiments and the lack of funding, we keep going, and hoping one day the Editor-in Chief from NEJM and Nature will take notice. Surely, we are bound to receive some acceptances if we had collected enough rejections!
We don't give up because we wish to be able to live in both worlds, and to be the best in both as the two worlds are equally exciting, rewarding and challenging. Science and medicine must go hand-in-hand, as there should always be an established pathway by which novel scientific discoveries are developed into medical treatments that will be trialled in patients for efficacy, effectiveness and safety. But no one can guarantee we can be successful in this dual role as a scientist and clinician. However, I can think of a few things that may be helpful. I was lucky to receive both my clinical and research training in an institution that values not only science and research excellence, but has the incredible passion, enthusiasm and devotion to improve patient care. Good mentorship is also crucial. I am indebted to my two great mentors Jeremy Chapman and Jonathan Craig, for their unfailing support, particularly during times of 'failures' and disappointments. Last but not least, maintaining a good work life balance, allowing times to 'chill-out', 'rest' and 'think'. It is easier said than done, but living on adrenaline can only be effective for a short time. Sometimes, we just have to unplug and let go of our perfectionism as not everything will always go as planned.