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Choosing Your Path: Infectious Disease
Joyce L. Sanchez, MD, FACP
Medical Director, Travel Health Clinic and Infusion Clinics,
Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Division of Infectious Diseases
Residency training: Internal medicine residency, Johns Hopkins Hospital, 2007–2010.
Fellowship training (if applicable): Infectious disease fellowship, Stanford Hospital, 2010–2011, followed by the University of Minnesota, 2011–2013.
Practice setting (e.g., academia, hospital or health system, private practice): Academic medical center.
Years in practice: Seven years since completion of fellowship training.
How many patients do you see daily? Depending on whether I have a half or full day of clinic, I see between 5 and 15 clinic patients a day. On days when I am attending on the inpatient infectious diseases consult service, I may see between 12 and 20 patients, depending on patient acuity, complexity, and how busy the day is.
In a given week, what nonclinical duties do you have outside of patient care? Prior to the pandemic, the majority of my nonclinical work involved building our institution’s travel clinic practice. I am also very involved in the education of residents, fellows, medical students, advanced practice practitioners, and physicians in topics related to infectious disease, travel medicine, and global health. One of my favorite roles is recruiting diverse talent into the fields of medicine and infectious disease at all levels of education and training: medical school, residency, fellowship, and faculty recruitment. With the pandemic, many of my nonclinical work now also includes collaborating with our institutions’ communications teams in getting trustworthy, reliable information to our communities on important public health issues, particularly as they involve COVID-19.
The most challenging and rewarding aspects of caring for patients in your specialty or subspecialty: One of the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of infectious disease is the ability to cure patients of their disease. We have effective treatments for nearly every infectious disease that impacts human health. For infections that we do not yet have cures for (such as HIV or COVID-19), we have well-tolerated treatments that significantly improve morbidity, mortality, and overall quality of life. For difficult-to-cure infections (such as tuberculosis or nontuberculous mycobacterial infections), I find it satisfying to build personalized treatment strategies in partnership with other disciplines and specialties. This also gives me an opportunity to build relationships with the patients over a continuous amount of time. Lastly, we have extremely effective preventive measures to offer against some the globe’s most devastating illnesses in the form of vaccinations (influenza, measles, etc.) as well as behavioral and/or pharmacologic strategies (HIV and COVID-19). The most recent challenge in this specialty has been in addressing incomplete, outdated, or inaccurate information in our communities and the media.
What is the most important clinical skill in your daily practice? Active listening is the most important tool I use in my daily practice! This applies to two areas in particular:
- Taking a comprehensive history, including an often very personal social history—so important in the field of infectious disease!
- Partnering with a patient to understand their specific concerns about their health status and treatment plans—including previous negative experiences, preconceived notions, expectations, and potential barriers to receiving care.
What characteristics, or personal qualities, help you most in your specialty/subspecialty (e.g., being unafraid to ask probing questions)? I find infectious disease specialists to be bleeding hearts that want to save the world, whether it is from HIV, COVID-19, neglected tropical diseases, vaccine-preventable disease, or something else. To accomplish this, we tend to be conscientious, systematic, detail-oriented, collaborative, and collegial and think outside the box out of necessity. One of my favorite traits of infectious disease specialists is the collaborative nature inherent to the partnerships we have with pharmacists, microbiologists, nurses, public health workers, social workers, and other medical and surgical specialties and disciplines.
How do you feel about the balance of your professional and personal lives? Both my personal and professional lives help to complement each other, if I am intentional about not letting them interfere with one another. I am a better wife and mother when I feel intellectually fulfilled and a better infectious disease physician when I have prioritized time with my family. Being able to manage this balance takes intentional effort and support from others in my work and family. I am so grateful to be in a position of privilege to accomplish both, even if it’s not perfect.
Advice for diverse medical trainees in your specialty/subspecialty: Look for “that person” in other specialties or disciplines who inspire you and to whom you could learn from to grow in your career. For example, although I knew I did not want to go into psychiatry or radiology, I purposefully took electives in medical school to spend time with physicians for whom I had the greatest respected and who I wanted to emulate in my interactions with patients, learners, and colleagues.
What resources do you suggest for trainees interested in your specialty/subspecialty (books, podcasts, articles, websites)? There are so many! For expert commentary and summaries on infectious disease topics, I like the NEJM Journal Watch “HIV and ID Observations” blog written by Dr. Paul Sax. I am an auditory learner and enjoy listening to podcasts on my daily commute such as “This Week in Virology,” “IDSA,” and “The Osterholm Update.” I highly recommend resources in personal development and leadership. Some of my favorites include “Grit” by Angela Duckworth, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey, and the “Explore the Space” podcast.
What is your motto, or favorite saying, to describe your life in this specialty? My high school senior quote aged well. “To do what you love and feel that it matters, how can anything be more fun?”—Anonymous