Meet Dr. Clarisse Fong San Juan, a resident physician. She’ll begin her PGY-2 in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at SUNY Downstate in July 2019, after taking a year off to be a stay-at-home mom. How impressive it that? She really can do it all!
Below, Dr. Fong San Juan’s description of her origins, how she became interested in embarking on a STEM-related career path and her studies pursuing an accomplished career in the medical field.
“My parents and most of my family were civil/structural engineers and architects. I was always good at math and sciences growing up. From a young age, my mom always encouraged me to become a doctor or scientist because she thought there were more opportunities in those fields as compared to engineering in the Philippines, which was where I grew up. I did not always know I wanted to be a doctor, but I always took steps to make sure I wasn’t too far off the path in case I did decide to go into it.
I went to University of the Philippines for two years, moved to Los Angeles, CA, transferred and graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a bachelor’s of science in Biochemistry.
I took a year off to study for the MCAT and complete all the volunteering requirements. During that year, I was recruited to work for a biomedical company called One Lambda, Inc. as a research associate. I worked there for a couple years until I started medical school at Loma Linda University.
Then, I completed a preliminary year in internal medicine at Woodhull Medical Center, an NYU school of medicine affiliate, and I am going into Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at SUNY downstate, as mentioned above.”
Read our Q&A with Dr. Fong San Juan to learn more about her career, past, present and future:
1. What’s your education background?
I finished high school in the Philippines. As mentioned above, I attended the University of the Philippines for two years and transferred and graduated from California State University with a BS in Biochemistry. I then began attending medical school at Loma Linda University after which I completed a preliminary year in internal medicine at Woodhull Medical Center, an NYU school of medicine affiliate. Now, I’m going into Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at SUNY downstate.
2. Did you apply for and/or obtain any scholarships?
No, quite the opposite since I was an international student at CSULA and was paying absurd international fees (Thanks, mom!). I did participate in research that gave me grants from the Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM program). I discovered them by referral from one of my lab mates who was in the same program.
3. Did you have any internships? If so, what did you learn from them?
After medical school, all first year residents are considered to be interns. This is possibly one of the most difficult years I’ve gone through by far but I can’t say for sure how the rest of my training will compare. However, the specialty I’m going into is known to be a little more relaxed. I was pregnant and gave birth to my first baby during my internship year, and I learned time management and prioritizing things. One simply cannot have sufficient amount of time to complete everything so you have to be able to judge which among the things you have to do is critical for you to do and learn to accept that some things you will just have to let go, and in the end it will be alright.
I also learned that having a good support system is very important in keeping your sanity, asking for help is essential even if it hurts your pride. It is also important to be able to learn how to handle different personalities graciously; this will carry you a long way in your career as a doctor because you will always be working with people.
4. How would you describe your current job in layman’s terms? What does a typical work day look like for you?
As an intern doing internal medicine floors, I would come in at 6:30 to pre-round on all my patients. Basically I have to check all their labs and see all the patients. We could have a maximum of 10 patients each. We then had morning report at 7:45 AM; it usually lasts 30 to 45 mins.
During morning report, a resident will discuss a previous patient that was an interesting case, or just present a topic we could all learn from. After that, we usually rounded with our respective attending physician, this usually lasted until a little before noon time. I would quickly put in all medication, imaging or nursing orders and consults the attending wanted.
At noon we would have a noon conference, another lecture which was most of the times presented by attendings or a guest physician.
After this, I would go back and discharge patients that were better and then do everything else discussed during rounds – call for consults make sure they saw the order, place lines, draw blood that the nurses could not get, paracentesis, talk to family, etc. I also would have to finish all my patient notes. At 4:30 PM, we would sign out to the long call team and they would sign out to the night team.
If I was not finished with my work, I would stay after sign out to finish the rest of my work. We would also work one weekend day per week. If you were on call during that day, you would work from 7 AM to 8 PM, if you were not on call, you got to leave after sign out which was around 2 PM. At our hospital, we only had one 24-hour shift every 4 weeks, it would be on a Saturday, and your one day off for that week would be that Sunday after you got off of the 24-hour day. Other programs have 24-hour shifts every few days. Our 24-hour shifts are quite few, but we have to work as the night shift for 4-5 weeks each year.
Even though you work less, the night shift was still quite taxing physically and mentally.
5. What do you love most about your job?
I love being able to help people out and it’s fulfilling to hear the gratitude from patients and their families as they feel better.
6. What advice do you have for students going into STEM fields?
STEM is a wonderful field and be prepared for life-long learning. Your studies should not to end when you graduate college. What we know changes every single day…medicines we use change even from year to year.
7. What specific advice do you have for females going into the field?
Being a physician is just one field where females are still being paid less than their male counterparts. Women physicians, compared to male physicians, also usually take more responsibility for childcare and elderly care in their families. It is definitely not an easy field to go into and these issues still have no solution, even today. Go into the field because of your love for it, not for the money.
8. What qualities should students thinking about pursuing a STEM career have in order to be successful?
Perseverance and hard work. Being inherently smart or a “genius” is not necessary. The most successful people are those who are persistent in their work, especially because they love doing it.
9. What’s it like being a successful woman in a male-dominated field? Any advice?
Medicine used to be male-dominated but today it is about 50-50. However, there still is gender disparity, like the pay inequality I had mentioned and there are also fewer females in some specialized areas, like orthopedics.
Female physicians have achieved so much in this field, even surpassing their male counterparts as shown by some studies where better quality care and better outcomes were achieved by female vs male physicians. Women just have to continue working hard and showing quality care for their patients and hopefully, eventually, this pay gap will close.
10. What do you think the solution is to get more females in STEM fields?
I would be speaking for the field of medicine in particular when I answer this. When I was pregnant during my residency, the chiefs would tell me stories of previous women coming back to work within a week of giving birth. They mentioned that residents don’t get maternity leave, even if in reality I would be able to get maternity leave through FMLA. My work will not move my vacation around so I could spend more time with my baby, and I had to be back within a week of giving birth. On the last day before I had to come back, they offered me another week off, but in exchange, they gave me a much more rigorous schedule for the whole month after I came back and had to work through Christmas and New Year.
Even with FMLA, the truth is that the culture and standard of how a physician should undergo training is still very heavily tainted with a male physician’s perspective on how things are supposed to be. This culture needs to change, along with more programs that helped with childcare, or helping provide healthy meals for their families, or housekeeping (I’ve heard something like this in Stanford, but this is not something commonplace yet).
I don’t mind working the long hours, I understand it comes with being a physician, but one person only has so much time in a day and so these other services that can help us focus more on being better physicians should be offered to us so that it is easily within our reach.
If you have a question for our featured woman in STEM, Dr. Fong San Juan, send an email to ask Dr. Fong San Juan your question today.
• Physician at The IMA Group
• Physician at Fusco Personnel Inc.
• Family Practice Physician at Cornerstone Care