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Valerie J. Lang, MD, FACP
Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Rochester Medical
Center, Rochester, NY
SUNY Health Science Center
College of Medicine, Syracuse, NY
University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY
"Organic compounds-i.e., matter in its various forms containing
carbon atoms-form the basis of all earthly life." --Wikipedia
It's not every day you hear someone express a passion for
organic chemistry, but it's not surprising when such sentiment is
expressed by an internist. "I guess we're kind of a nerdy group,"
laughs Dr. Valerie Lang, who admits she loved studying organic
chemistry in college.
Internists, with their passion (some might say "obsession") for
science, might well be considered the nerds of medicine; except
that, unlike the socially-inept stereotype, internists possess
exceptional social skills. As highly-trained, skilled specialists
who study complex illness, they are equally adept at building
relationships with their patients, establishing a rapport with
students, and working collaboratively with other specialists. A
more fitting description might be that internists are the great
communicators and collaborators of medicine.
Dr. Lang, who laughs easily, likes to ask questions, and is
comfortable talking to strangers, is an example of a great
communicator and collaborator. She's also a busy hospitalist and
medical educator who is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the
University of Rochester Medical Center and Director of the
Inpatient Internal Medicine Clerkship program at the University of
Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry. In addition to
teaching medical students 48 weeks out of the year, she is
currently serving as President-elect of Clerkship Directors
Internal Medicine (CDIM), and is Editor-in-Chief of MedU's virtual
patient program, Simulated Internal Medicine Patient Learning
Dr. Lang prefers teaching at the bedside of patients rather than
inside a classroom, and believes the inpatient setting offers
students a unique opportunity to learn clinical care, communication
skills and teamwork. "Hospital patients are sicker," says Dr. Lang,
"so the problems students see are more complex." "Also," she
explains, "the inpatient setting has lots of moving parts and
hospitalists are responsible for coordinating all of the care
offered by various team members, from social workers to
From stalls to halls
Growing up in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, Dr.
Lang enjoyed an "earthly life," including outdoor activities like
horseback riding, swimming and boating on Honeoye Lake in the
summer and ice skating in the winter. But the best part of her
childhood, she says, were the years she spent working on a horse
"I loved riding," says Dr. Lang, "so I worked on the horse farm
in exchange for riding lessons." As a high school senior bound for
college, she had her sights set on becoming an equine veterinarian,
but changed her mind after spending that year as an exchange
student in Denmark. "One of my host families gave me an opportunity
to follow an equine veterinarian, and I guess I became
disillusioned," says Dr. Lang, "I discovered that owners did not
care about the animals the way I did. For them, it was an
While majoring in biology at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA,
but uncertain what direction it would lead, Dr. Lang had the good
fortune to meet several pre-med students. It was their influence
and path to medicine that helped her discover her own.
After graduating magna cum laude from Allegheny, Dr. Lang earned
her medical degree from SUNY Health Science Center College of
Medicine in Syracuse, New York. She enjoyed her rotations,
particularly surgery, and considered specializing in thoracic
surgery until her rotation in internal medicine changed her mind.
"I found I loved medicine," says Dr. Lang, "the approach was
holistic, not narrow, and the people in the field were brilliant,
managing lots of details and looking at the big picture."
The power of words and weeds
During her residency at the University of Rochester Medical
Center in Rochester, New York, Dr. Lang met fellow resident and
future husband, Dr. Alexander Solky, who is now an oncologist at
Interlakes Oncology and Hematology in Rochester. She recalls
watching her husband pull up a chair to sit and talk with a patient
receiving chemotherapy and says his ability to care about his
patients and ease their anxiety has always been a source of
inspiration for her.
Another source of inspiration for Dr. Lang has been her mother,
a single mom who raised three children and went back to college in
her 40's to get a master's degree in education. Dr. Lang shares her
mother's passion for education and can-do spirit, and is currently
earning a master's degree in Health Professions Education from the
University of Illinois at Chicago.
"I learned early on that I had a passion for teaching," says Dr.
Lang, "but when I was asked to take over as Clerkship Director for
3rd year medical students, I wanted more of a foundation in
designing educational programs and doing research."
Wearing multiple hats-physician, teacher, editor-Dr. Lang
describes her career in internal medicine as diverse and rewarding.
"Clinically speaking, I see how care helps sick patients get
better, and on the teaching side," she says, "I get a kick out of
seeing students who might be struggling with something and then the
light bulb goes on-that makes me walk on air."
In a two-physician marriage, where both partners are caring for
very sick people, there needs to be an emotional release valve. For
Dr. Lang and her husband, it's spending time outdoors, traveling
when they can, and enjoying their 6-year-old son who loves riding
his bike, digging in the dirt, and telling jokes. Dr. Lang, who
loves to garden, shares her son's enthusiasm for getting her hands
dirty. "Gardening is a great antidote to the harder parts of the
clinical work I do," she says, "It's gratifying to deadhead plants
and pull weeds, to take the bad parts and just get rid of
Dr. Lang's involvement with CDIM and Med U gave her an
opportunity to work on a project with ACP, when AAIM, the umbrella
organization for CDIM, decided to make High Value Care a priority.
Working closely with seven of her CDIM colleagues and ACP's Daisy
Smith, MD, and Phil Masters, MD, Dr. Lang helped create an
interactive, online HVC curriculum for
medical students. "Daisy and Phil are such good collaborators,"
says Dr. Lang, "and the synergy between the 3 groups is so
impressive. I don't think we would have produced educational
materials this good without such collaboration."
Dr. Lang is proud to be an ACP Fellow. "Having a home for
internists is important," she says. "ACP sets a high standard for
providing services to a huge group of physicians, their educational
programs are top notch, and they are leaders in High Value
For students who are considering a career in medicine Dr. Lang
offers valuable advice, "It's important to understand that medicine
is a service profession and will create some inconvenience in your
life, but it also comes with the reward of helping others. As
physicians, we are very fortunate. People entrust us with the most
confidential information and allow us to lay hands on them. It's a
Reflecting on her advice, "I believe I made the right choice,"
says Dr. Lang "I'm glad I didn't become a vet." Copy that, Dr.
Lang. The internal medicine community, the students you teach, and
the patients you serve, would all agree.
July 2014 Issue of IMpact
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