Career Conversations With Omar Siddiqi, MD, FACC

Omar Siddiqi, MD, FACC, is the program director for the cardiovascular medicine fellowship at Boston Medical Center and specializes in cardio-oncology, cardiac amyloidosis, and echocardiography. In more ways than one, he understands what it means to be a medical educator. Siddiqi has received multiple institutional awards recognizing his mentorship and teaching prowess. Most recently, he earned the 2022 Pre-Clinical Educator of the Year Award and the Department of Medicine Teaching Faculty of the Year from Boston University School of Medicine. I had a chance to discuss his remarkable career over the past decade, which I have had the personal privilege to witness. These are excerpts from our conversation.

What made you pursue a career in medical education?

It was clear early on in fellowship that I loved teaching. I found teaching medical students and residents to be an effective way to decompress from a busy clinical schedule. I was strongly encouraged by my fellowship program to consider a career in medical education, but when the time came to decide what to do after fellowship, I decided to go into interventional cardiology and adult congenital heart disease. Back then I did not have a good grasp of what this career would look like. But a few months before I was supposed to start interventional cardiology fellowship, I was diagnosed with leukemia. I know this sounds like a cliché, but my priorities and goals soon became very clear. I wanted to teach because that is when I am happiest, and I found the transformative power of education to be most impactful for future generation of cardiologists. My section was incredibly supportive of my career change, and when I returned after a year of medical leave in 2014, I was hired as the associate program director, and in 2019 I was promoted to program director.

What are some of the areas you have focused on to improve the fellowship program?

When I joined the program leadership, my priority was to revamp the fellowship curriculum. I created an academic half day for cardiology fellows and a simulation-based echocardiography curriculum. I constantly think about how the program can support intentional training for our fellows.

An equally important part of my job is to create a nurturing environment where my trainees can thrive. We have had many fellows start their families in fellowship, and it is imperative for us to create an environment that is supportive of these young families. I tell our fellows that it is an expected, and frankly, unfortunate effect of our current training structure to feel burnt out, depressed, and anxious at times during fellowship, but these feelings need to be managed because they will affect your quality of life and ability to learn. I have been proactive in finding the help our fellows need to take care of their emotional/mental health.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It is wonderful to help our fellows transition to the next stage of their career and take a small part in their success. I also spend a lot of time developing medical school curriculum as the director of the cardiovascular module. I still remember how I decided to go into cardiology as a medical student because my teachers sparked my passion for learning about EKG’s and cardiovascular physiology. I hope to emulate that role for my students.

What is the most difficult challenge you have faced as the program director?

On September 2, 2021, we lost our second-year fellow, in a tragic accident. On that day, I received the news, and my life changed. There is not a single day that goes by where I do not think about the tragic loss. The shock and sadness of losing someone we worked with every day was difficult to overcome initially. But the job we have required that we show up to work every day to take care of patients, and it required our fellows to work extra shifts until we could find another fellow. We got through it by taking care of each other.

What are your career goals in the next 2-3 years?

There are still many changes I want to bring to the fellowship program. I want to train fellows in real-time clinical decision-making using simulation-based studies. We need to think critically about how to weave in social determinants of health in fellowship training. And as a fellowship program where 60% of trainees are women, we need to improve the current system of providing parental leave that is supportive of both parents and one that provides options for modulating the pace and timeline of training. Finally, I want to start training the next generation of medical educators and hope to serve as a role model for those who want to enter this career.

This interview was conducted by Darae Ko, MD, MSc, FACC, a general cardiologist at BMC. Twitter: @darae_ko.

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