Trinity School of Medicine has always prided itself on the strength and ambition of its students. So many future physicians come our way looking for something new; whether that's a unique learning environment built on support and a strong relationship with the faculty, a curriculum with an emphasis on clinical skills and service to patients, or just a fresh start. In this next edition of our alumni spotlight, meet Dr. Charles "Gil" Boland, Trinity graduate and chief anesthesia resident at Cook County HHS in Chicago, Illinois.
What brought you to medicine?
Being a doctor is something I’ve wanted since I was a kid. Even at a young age, I thought the human body was a fascinating thing and always wanted to know more about it and how it worked. It actually went deeper than curiosity, though. My father was my main inspiration for medicine. He passed away as I was a child, and I grew up knowing that at one point he wanted to be a doctor, so I always wanted to finish that path for him.
That coalesced into wanting to be a surgeon. I actually had a neighbor that was a heart surgeon, and that became my brass ring. To me, if you could fix someone’s heart, that was the most important thing you could do in medicine. It was a big motivation for me.
I grew up in Atlanta playing basketball and ended up studying exercise physiology at College of Charleston. I appreciated the medical approach, and I liked being out in the world, not in a lab studying chemistry all day.
What made you pick Trinity School of Medicine?
I'd applied to US schools for a little over two years with very little traction. Ultimately, a family friend got in contact with us and said I should meet with Mike Miller [ed. note: Dr. Michael Miller is currently Trinity's registrar, and has a career steeped in Georgia higher education]. He and I sat down for a cup of coffee and, speaking frankly, he’s been a very big inspiration for me and certainly a part of my success.
We had a good, honest talk about medicine. We discussed what it would take, what my options were, what options I would have if I were to go to the Caribbean, etc. I was at a fork in the road where I could proceed with an international school or wait and keep trying, or possibly give up and change fields. I didn’t want to wait any longer, I knew it was a long track, so it was either do it now or I would have to give up on medicine.
Beyond that, though, the cost of Trinity seemed appropriate, which was less than US schools. I also liked the small class sizes, because I didn't want to be in 300 person classes. I didn’t really consider any other Caribbean schools. I felt comfortable with the choice and went for it.
What was life like on St. Vincent?
Transitions were definitely tough for me. I'd never visisted that part of the world before. It was tough, and it took me a month or two to get used to it. When you’re very accustomed to all the conveniences stateside, you take them for granted. Overall, the years down there were probably some of the best years of my life. They were real life experiences. It's important; you get to open your eyes to a whole new culture, you are humbled in a million different ways, and you start to look in things with those different perspectives.
For me personally, being in that kind of environment, it's great: You really learn a lot about yourself and what you're capable of. I won’t say if it’s easier or harder than other options, as that’s all relative, but the experience is fantastic. Plus, when you have time off, there’s no better place to be than down there.
It’s one of the few places that feels untouched on this planet. You can go and sit on a beach that isn’t groomed and it's still a top 10 beach in the world. It’s spectacular!
How was the residency match process?
Surgery was initially my #1 choice when applying. My #2 was anesthesia and internal medicine as #3. Right before application submission, I had completed nearly five months of surgery rotations straight. I wasn’t burned out, but I had a much different perspective on life and work and it was changing my priorities. Beyond my genuine fondness for anesthesia, I knew I wanted a very good work-life balance, so lifestyle became the main reason to switch. I felt anesthesia could provide that down the road, while also keeping me inside the OR where I wanted to work. Of my thirteen interviews, ten were still surgery, but fortunately anesthesia worked out.
It's funny how clinicals can help shape so much, but I guess that's the point. I'd thrown in an elective anesthesia rotation that really got my hands dirty, which I loved. I had also worked as an anesthesia tech prior to med school, which familiarized me with the field.
My first interview was actually here in Chicago. I was strategic about how I organized my rank list. Chicago was a fantastic program and was ranked #1. I've actually been elected chief resident for this year, which is a lot of work, but also definitely an honor. Equally exciting is that since I matched here in 2012, two other Trinity grads have come into the anesthesia program here. Dr. Chanthou Vong reached out to me a couple of years ago, and then Dr. Sabrina Sam will be an intern starting this July. Both are fantastic additions!
You've recently found out about your next step, haven't you?
Yes! I'm heading into a cardiothoracic anesthesiology fellowship at VCU next year.
[Ed. note: Gil is also joining Trinity grad Dr. Drew Clare at VCU, who has been elected chief resident in the ED for next year].
With anesthesia, all fellowships are only one year, so the best-practice these days is, no matter what, you should do one. It’s a very competitive field, you need the competitive edge. Early on I realized I had a fondness for high acuity, high risk cases. Cardiothoracic is the pinnacle of that kind of work. I learned earlier on that’s what I wanted. The match just finished on June 19th. We're actually the first sub-specialty to match, along with critical care. Even though the match is an entire year prior to my finishing residency, it's nice to know I have a position at a fantastic institution when I finish. VCU was very high on my list, so I'm thrilled to go there. The program has two felloswhip positions, so it will be myself and a VCU grad starting July of 2018.
Back on Trinity: Do you have any advice for students considering your path? Or medicine in general?
You need to know that it is a long road and know that medicine is what you really want to do. It’s not something you can get half way in and change your mind. Once you start, you're in it for the long haul, but, and this is crucial: don’t get discouraged by an IMG status.
There are a lot of people out there that look beyond that. Just from personal experience, great programs in all fields have strong ties to IMGs, [Ed. note, the entire CCHS anesthesiology residency program is actually made up of talented, hardworking IMGs!] and respect the hard work that goes into going that route. Don't ever think the specialties are out of reach because of where you went to school. Although, it's still important to be realistic.
Know where you fall in the pool. If you know your scores are way out of the range of a given specialty, don’t waste time and effort there. But don’t ever think Caribbean means settling in any way.
A lot of people want to do radiology, surgery, a lot of competitive specialties, and they think if they go Caribbean, those doors will close. That's simply not the case. Also, networking in clinicals is huge. No matter where you go to school, there are a lot of people in the application pool for residencies, and it helps if you have somebody that can put in a good word for you at places.
Finally, I’d say enjoy your time on the island, because you’ll never get it back.