We’re back with another Spotlight. For the month of May, we interviewed Dr. Varun Bajaj, an IMG and PGY-2 in Family Medicine. We chatted about his decision to do his residency in Canada, the process to get there, his experiences in residency, future plans and more.
You’re a Family Medicine, International Medical Graduate (IMG) resident completing your residency here in BC. Where are you from, and what made you decide to go into Family Medicine, and do your residency in Canada?
Born in a small community in India, I grew up enjoying the small community medical stuff as both my parents were pharmacists. After my med school, I really enjoyed my practise as GP for short period of time before moving to Canada (you can get registration to practise without residency in India). So, when I immigrated to Canada, I was like a freshly baked crispy cookie from med school with a tinge of flavour of community GP practise! So, I was open to other specialties as well. But quite frankly, as an IMG in Canada, I felt I have better chances of getting matched in FM only. After doing a number of observations, I saw a vast number of opportunities in FM. Within a year, I was in a love affair with FM, that’s how I proposed her (but took me long time to convince her parents/PD’s that I am the Mr Right for her).
What has your experience as an IMG resident been like so far?
As an IMG, you have to jump through several hoops to get into a residency program. I believe that’s the primary reason the journey after that seems easy.
I was lucky to get matched to one of the best supported sites in my opinion (FM Surrey). From day 1, I felt very supported from my faculty, site leads and resident colleagues. I grabbed the opportunities to represent my site/colleagues at program level as resident rep and then site chief resident. I am amazed by the opportunity and the work being done in the background to help make the program better every day.
In my experience, as an “alien/IMG” resident, I found the navigation through this new system quite challenging, Eg handling EMR, dictation for effective communication, referral system. I would have learnt medicine 10 times faster than what I did, in my first 3 months of residency if I was more familiar with the system. I am still learning and getting better at this. This is a skill and I compare it with “sharpening the saw” from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits as it helps “increase your capacity to handle the challenges (in medicine) around you”.
What have been some of the challenges and successes you’ve faced?
We, as residents, face the challenge of learning zillion new things in medicine and outside medicine within this limited period of time in residency (though we learn a lot post residency too!). I am no exception to this. However, my biggest challenge was to overcome the change in my practise.
I got trained where physicians are more prescriptive (and they are expected to be!). Physicians make all the medical decisions for their patients and they are treated as godly figures (or used to be). Now, I initially found this change quite challenging. I understand the concept of ‘learning, unlearning and relearning’ but its application was really difficult. However, I quickly adapted to the change.
Today, as a physician, I compare myself to a restaurant server. I bring in a menu of options available for their health promotion. I let my clients decide and choose what they want for themselves. Most importantly, as an “expert” I help them reach the decision of choosing the best, based on their preferences. I am happy with this change as I am earning a lot of “tips” in return in the form of “building excellent relationships” with my patients.
The busy residency has pushed me to try and find ways to be efficient. I am constantly working to change my approach from being a perfectionist to an efficiency pro. I am trying to focus on my priorities i.e. my family, health and fitness. It is a work in progress and a long way to go.
What are your future plans after you have completed your residency?
I believe most physicians when they retire, miss medicine and thus end up staying longer in medicine. A part of it is, most of us as physicians don’t have other interests as we dedicate most of our time in practising medicine. I see myself doing something of everything while I am practising. So far, I have been pushing back my personal goals. I want to travel the world with my family. I have been putting this on the back burner for the last few years primarily due to being busy studying and being broke!
I love listening to music but never played an instrument. Learning guitar is on the top of my to do list. Since my childhood, I have loved public speaking. During my school and med school, I have been quite actively participating in debates and have hosted a few events, small gatherings etc. I want to continue doing it and want to take it to another level.
Professionally, I am a big fan of diversity in practise. Apart from practising in office, I have active interest in Acute care too. I still believe there is a big learning curve for the latter. I am still working on it.
I see myself getting connected to academics in one way or another.
It has been an especially stressful time right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some hobbies or ways you’ve been keeping busy with during this time?
I see a lot of positives during this “stressful time”. A lot of people are spending longer time with their loved ones. After this pandemic, a lot is going to change, the way we do grocery, get education, the way we will be travelling. We should be ready for “The New Normal”. This pandemic will push us to make changes and be better ready for the next catastrophe. I believe we are going to be more innovative and better ready for upcoming crises.
‘Social distancing’ is a misnomer. We are actually stressing on PHYSICAL distancing. I believe, “social connectedness” today is more important, as any other difficult times. In an era of internet, we can still stay safe while still being connected to our loved ones.
Apart from working in ICU (a COVID centre) in the last few weeks, I am trying to spend the rest of the time with my family (2 sons, wife and mom). Last weekend, my extended family got together virtually for the first time in the last decade as far as I remember. Thanks to COVID! (We all live in different time zones across the globe.)
For the first time, I am working on my life long desire to learn guitar (ordered it online, learning it virtually). It’s not as easy as I thought. At least I have started doing something positive in so called difficult time.
To end this interview, what would you like to share?
My fav quote: “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” — Helen Keller.