What do you do for a living?
I am a general internist. I see patients as a primary care doctor, teach medical students, and, as associate program director, am developing a residency program for recent graduates who want to go into Internal Medicine.
Did you always know you wanted to be a doctor?
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a doctor. I always wanted to be a teacher, but after I witnessed somebody collapse in front of me and hadn't known how to help, I decided I wanted to do something to help people when they needed it most—in illness. I also thought medicine would combine my love of mathematics (my college major) and desire to teach. During medical school I realized I liked caring for the entire person and being somewhat of a confidant for them. Internal Medicine would provide me the opportunity to learn a lot of science while also developing myself as a partner in the care of patients—where my duty would be not only to understand the science, but also explain it to my patients. I liked working in underserved clinics where I could give back to patients in need. I also liked that there was an academic path that would allow me to teach students and learners in my field, and hence, fulfill my desire to be a teacher.
What do you love most about what you do?
There are really two very broad things that excite me about my job: students and patients. I love teaching students. When I see a student or resident suddenly understand a disease process, figure out the relevance of a physical exam technique, or see a different way to interact with patients, I know that my impact on medicine is much more than just my interaction with an individual patient—sort of like 'pay it forward.' Then there is the wonderful feeling you get when you make a patient feel better, when they return and have improved quality of life because of something you did. And sometimes, it’s not even making their disease go away, but helping them live with it or understand it better so that they can continue moving forward. More recently, I have been put in a position to help create a new internal medicine residency program. This has put a new spin on what I love about my job. Some days of the week, I do not have any patients or students with whom I am interacting, but I am doing the legwork to create a program that will help train future internists. The fact that I can have such a big impact on the field of medicine is exciting (and terrifying!).
Is there an individual who helped you in a transformative way at some point in your career?
I have been fortunate to have numerous mentors, friends, and family who have helped me on my path. It’s hard to name just one, but I’ll try to pare it down. My husband is one; he went through medical school with me, and has always been absolutely supportive in helping me find the path that fit me. He has also made my being a mom and doctor a bit easier on the personal side. From a professional standpoint, I worked with two physicians during my training who really took me under their wings and helped me become the physician I wanted to be. Even during a brief period when I thought medicine was not for me, they were supportive of whichever path I took, and they ended up helping me find the right path within medicine. Furthermore, they helped guide me into the academic realm of medicine that I am currently in. I am forever grateful for their support and guidance. And, unfortunately for them, I still call and bother them!
If you could try the job of a female friend for one day, who would it be, what does she do, and why?
I don’t think any other profession really suits me as well as medicine does; however, as a mother of two young children, I sometimes fantasize about being a stay-at-home mother like some other women I know (although, I don’t think a day would do; I get that every weekend!). I want to know what it is like to not have to split yourself in half all of the time. I always grapple with the work-life balance, and hope that I am not spending too much time away from my kids! I think I would miss my professional side—but it’s hard to know if I have never actually done it!
Do you have any advice for young people thinking about work? As a mother, what kind of wisdom about work-happiness do you hope to impart on your children?
As somebody who just changed jobs in rapid succession, my advice for young people thinking about work is to not settle. You may choose, or land in, a job that is not perfect for you, but if your heart is not really in it, you need to find another way. With that being said, there is also something to be learned from whatever job you are in. In my case, it took one year before I was able to find my dream job (granted, it does have some hard days, but overall it’s pretty sweet!). However, I am also taking skills that I gained from my previous job to improve my current performance. As a mother, I hope that my kids see that I find purpose in what I do. I don’t do it for the money, but for the joy of knowing I have helped somebody—be it in the clinic or in the classroom. I want my kids to be able to do whatever they want that will fill their hearts with happiness, not necessarily their wallets with cash.
What do your "wildest dreams" look like when you think about your career ten years from now?
I think my wildest dream would be to run an internal medicine residency program and work mainly in an underserved clinic where I have the flexibility to be part-time. I want to be able to do all of the great things that come with that job while still being able to take my kids to soccer practice. As crazy as it sounds, I think I may be on the right path to get to my “wildest dream"!
Photos courtesy of University of Miami at Holy Cross Hospital Internal Medicine Residency Program. Lisa Martinez can be found at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
A version of this interview first appeared on the website HAPPY AND HEARTWORKING on November 30, 2014.