How to Find Your Home Within Cardiology

Baljash Cheema, MD

At the beginning of my cardiology training, I was taken aback by the variety between and within cardiology subspecialties. Each rotation was so different than the one before. I was certain I would eventually subspecialize as I wanted to be a content expert in one particular field, but the path wasn't always so clear. It took me the better part of a year to realize advanced heart failure was the best fit for me, and I was then left trying to figure out how to get involved and network within the field.

This blog derives from several conversations with my career mentor, Akhil Narang, MD, FACC, aimed at navigating a subspecialty career within cardiology. I hope this will serve as a blueprint for others on what can sometimes be an uncertain and seemingly difficult path.

Narang is an expert in cardiac imaging at Northwestern University with particular interests in structural heart disease and the integration of artificial intelligence into imaging. He has a wealth of knowledge regarding career planning and has mentored a number of FITs and early career clinicians at the local and national level. I summarize some of his salient advice:

1. Find mentors. The further you specialize, the smaller the community becomes. Having mentors in your field of interest provides access to broader networks and may unlock opportunities for further training, research collaborations or career opportunities. If possible, find mentors with diverse experiences from outside institutions (see #4).

2. Explore ambulatory care. While cardiology training is heavily centered around acute care within the hospital environment, a great deal of a patient's journey is experienced in the outpatient clinic, where diagnostic and management issues often differ from the inpatient setting. Attending subspecialty clinics affords fellows the opportunity to build rapport with patients and form connections with attendings and supervisors.

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3. Join research projects. Whether it's a short-term project such as a case report or a larger project that requires a more significant time investment, look for opportunities to publish with your given subspecialty. Often, this can come from relationships formed in clinic, on the wards, as a part of national organizations or even on social media.

4. Network on social media. Join Med Twitter! Nowadays, "meeting someone" may be as simple as logging into Twitter and joining the conversation. Social media has made it possible to interact with folks in ways not readily available in the past. For many, these experiences have led to fruitful academic partnerships and mentor/mentee relationships. Social media exposes FITs to a broader community of practitioners beyond their local institution, including those working outside of traditional academic institutions.

5. Join local/national organizations. Each subspecialty has its own organizations, all of which have specific FIT programs and often have discounted memberships for early career clinicians. These organizations create chances to meet clinicians within the field.

6. Attend scientific sessions. Conferences provide exposure to new and emerging data within the specific subspecialty and highlight trends in the tech and pharma within industry, all the while providing additional networking opportunities.

Each of the above suggestions can be a steppingstone to the next opportunity to make connections and get involved. Often, finding the activation and motivation to get started is the hardest part, and the more engrained you become in a particular field, the more likely opportunities are to come your way. The key is to work out what makes you tick and stirs the passion within you. Using the above tips and seeking out like-minded individuals is a surefire way to get your name out there and join the conversation!

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Baljash Cheema, MD

This article was authored by Baljash Cheema, MD, a cardiology fellow at Northwestern University.