[00:00:01] Speaker A: Greetings scholars, and welcome to following the Gong, a podcast at the Shrier Honors College at Penn State.
Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar alumni have gone on to shape the world old after they rind the gong and graduate with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Doheen, class of 2011 and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
[00:00:54] Speaker B: You.
[00:00:55] Speaker A: We're joined today by Jocelyn J. Fitzgerald, m. D. Jocelyn is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the division of Euro Gynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She completed her female Pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery fellowship at Georgetown University MedStar Health with the National Center for Advanced Pelvic Surgery and her gynecology and obstetric residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. She attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh and graduated from the Physician Scientist Training Program before medical school. Dr. Fitzgerald graduated from Penn State in 2008 with a BS in Neurobiology from the Eberley College of Science and a BS. In Women's Studies with honors and an emphasis in women's health from the College of the Liberal Arts. Her research has focused on mechanisms of female chronic pelvic and bladder pain, patient centered outcomes of gynecologic surgery, and predicting how women seek care for pelvic floor disorders with a particular interest in the role of social media in medicine. In this episode, you'll hear advice and insight from Jocelyn on combining majors for a unique academic experience, the value of proactively, seeking mentors and opportunities at Penn State and beyond. Insight into choosing a medical school and not just on the rankings the progression of education for physicians and surgeons from undergrad to fellowships. A day in the life of a surgeon, faculty member and practicing physician and integrating additional skills and perspectives into your repertoire as a practitioner and researcher. With that, let's dive right into our conversation with Dr. Jocelyn Fitzgerald.
[00:02:30] Speaker C: Thank you for joining me today, Jocelyn. It is great to have you on. I want to start off with I think you've mentioned that you are from a true blue and white Penn State family. So if you could tell us a little bit about your history of that and how you and I think many of your siblings have all come to be nitney Lyons.
[00:02:54] Speaker B: Yeah. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for having me today. My name is Jocelyn Fitzgerald. We'll get, I guess, a little bit more into where I am now and what I currently do as a surgeon, but I am a Penn stater at the origin of my many years of school. And as Sean mentioned, I'm the oldest of eight kids, and we're only ten years apart, me and my youngest brother. So I was born in I guess I'm giving away my age 86. He was born 96. And all eight of us went to Penn State.
Half of us were Shire Scholars, but we all have very different majors. Our parents actually didn't go to Penn State. We have some other family members who did, but we're kind of the core Penn State legacy, the eight of us, and we all love Penn State. I was the first one to go, and since there's so many of us, my parents were so relieved that we all decided to follow in each other's footsteps. And they only had to drive to one college every year, although it was for 15 years. They were bringing vans full of stuff back and forth to Penn State. At one point, they had four kids there at the same time a freshman, a sophomore, a junior, and a senior, which was pretty insane. And like I said, we all studied totally different things, which I think maybe will be a theme of what I say to you today, because the diversity of education that Penn State can provide is the depth and breadth is just amazing. And I think that's a huge asset to applying to medicine, because even though none of my other siblings went into medicine, I could make a pretty good argument for how everything they do could have applied to medicine had they decided that's what they wanted to do. So hopefully that answered your question. I'm happy to talk more about my siblings. I'm super proud of them. They're all very successful.
[00:04:53] Speaker C: No, that's you know, to take yourself back to high school for a moment. If I can humor you.
You're I think you described yourself as a Pittsburgh through and through, so there's a lot of great educational institutions in the Pittsburgh area. So what was it about the Shrier Honors College that drew you up to Happy Valley?
[00:05:19] Speaker B: That is a great question because now I'm on faculty at Pitt, and I went to med school at Pitt, so someone could say, Why didn't you go to Pitt? They have a great honors college, too. They really do, and awesome opportunities.
But when I was 18 years old, I am from the city. My parents live about a mile and a half from Pitt's campus. So I felt like I just needed to branch out a little bit and have I guess we'll call it the true college experience. I'm putting that in quotes for those of you who can't see me right now, because there is no true college experience. College looks different for everyone.
But I thought, I want to do something different. I want to be part of this huge, sprawling campus where the town is built around the college and not the other way around.
And I had heard amazing things about the Honors College.
When people talked about it at my high school, they may as well have been talking about an Ivy League school with how not only excellent the education was, but how competitive it was, how much it set you sort of up for success. I'll never lie. I came from a place of privilege where I saw a lot of parents of my friends had college degrees and doctorates. And that was sort of the expectation, like, you're on this path to some serious higher education, and the better education you could get for a good value, the better, because you're going to have some more bills to pay. So that was kind of how I decided. And I knew that my parents also, like I mentioned, eight of us had to go to college. So it was like, not that they wouldn't have supported me going to an Ivy League institution, but you're sending eight kids to like, you want their education to be both excellent and affordable. So that's sort of how I wound up there. Well, that's how I wound up applying.
[00:07:24] Speaker C: Well, and obviously you got in you came to Penn State into the Honors College, and in true Shrier scholar fashion, you had a unique combination of majors. Could you tell us how you settled on those and the relationship that you had between a major in, I believe, liberal arts and one in the Eberley College of Science?
[00:07:45] Speaker B: Yeah, absolutely. So I think most pre med I really knew I wanted to be a doctor, really knew that. And it's almost like comical to me now to be like, oh, when I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon, as though people decide what kind of doctor they want to be in high school. But I'm here to make the argument that is actually an okay thing to know. I think that's going to be I wrote about that in the preparations that you gave me for this podcast.
I'm going to give sort of the opposite advice of what a lot of people give, which is very good advice, that it's okay to not know what you want to do. It's equally okay to know exactly what you want to do, and that is okay too. It is okay to have a vision for yourself at a young age. So the only thing I guess I didn't really know about myself was that I hadn't really considered becoming an OBGYN. But at the root of my reasons for going into medicine were the same, that I wanted to make a difference for women. And the reason I think I thought I wanted to go into Orthopedics is because there's so few women in Orthopedics. And it's a boys club, and I thought I was an athlete, I'm pretty bright, I could make a difference here. I could change this culture so more women know they can go into Orthopedics, but then we'll follow up. I went to Penn State. As you said, I majored in biology like everyone, because all the prerequisites for med school are built in. I knew I didn't want to take a gap year. I didn't want to do a postback program, so I had to pick something. Nor would I. Again, money is a very real thing.
My parents were like, we can pay for you to go to four years of college. That's what you get. So I needed to get those prereqs in, signed up for bio, but kind of realized that there was something missing from that education. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was a feminist and that being a feminist scientist was something that I really was. And freshman year started looking around, as many people do, for a thesis advisor.
And there's a program at Penn State called the Wiser Program, which stands for Women in Science and Engineering Research. And I figured that would be a great way for me to find someone that I matched up with. So I applied to that program, and I had to rank a bunch of different labs on Penn State's campus and interview with each of three labs. You basically were offered interviews at three of them, and you had to put them in a rank list. You dropped this envelope off somewhere in Canada, I forget where. I dropped it in a little mail slot. So I signed up for, like, a kinesiology lab that studied these movement mechanics, thinking I wanted to do Orthopedics or some sort of sports medicine. But there was this other lab that was led by a woman named Phyllis Mansfield, who was a professor of women's studies and biobehavioral health, where she studied the long term effects of women's hormonal cycles that had been going on for 70 years. And was this epidemiologic research study that she'd inherited from the University of Minnesota that had been going on for 70 years. And she had all the data of 70 years of women tracking their transition from their reproductive years into their menopausal years, which to most college kids might sound a little boring, but I thought, oh, this sounds kind of cool. And I went and I interviewed with her, and I was blown away. She basically laid out for me this enormous gap in women's health and women's achievement, which occurs when women are suddenly invisible to the healthcare system and to society when they transition into menopause. I'm going to just pause for a second and say what she said to me I'll never forget. And I still say this to my medical students. People have this vision of a menopausal woman they see like a white haired grandmother. I'd like to just point out that our Vice President, Kamala Harris, is 58 years old. She's a menopausal woman. We need to re envision what that looks like. These women who are rising into their power on sort of a time delay sometimes from men, depending on the pressures they felt in their home life and childbearing, et cetera.
And she was like, this is an opportunity to make real change for women on a social level through the way we study their health. And I left that meeting thinking, oh, my God, she is so right. This field of medicine and study needs me versus this kinesiology lab. I mean, how many people are interested in sports medicine? A lot.
A lot. And it gets plenty of money, plenty of recognition. I felt like people were they didn't need me as much. And so I came out of that meeting, I looked at my little paper where I had to rank the labs, and I had the kinesiology lab first. And as I'll never forget, this approached the little mail slot, I erased it and changed it and put it in the mail slot before I could stop myself. And then you can guess where I ended up, what lab I ended up in. So this woman became my mentor for all of medical school. She became my thesis mentor. And I decided in the process of working with her, that I wanted to be an OBGYN, and I wanted to make a difference in women's health that way. And so that's essentially exactly what I did. And I picked up a women's studies major. She was the one who encouraged me. She said, you can definitely do this. You can add this to biology. It will enrich your biology major through these double I don't know how you'd say it, like a lot of women's studies classes are double posted as biobehavioral health and women's studies. And actually, she was the one who told me I could get a bachelor of science in women's studies. It didn't have to be bachelor of arts just because it was through liberal arts, and there was a women's health track. Actually, a lot of people don't know that, that in women's studies. At Penn State, you can take women's health classes. And that was it for me. I said, okay, I'm going to figure this out. And back in 2004 or five, whenever I did this, I had to go. I remember there was, like, no air conditioning even in this advisor's room in this old office, and piece by piece figured out where I could fit all my classes in so I could graduate in four years. Because again, my parents were like, you're not staying a minute later than what we're paying for. Four years is what you get. I have to figure out how to put this all together. And because I could overlap a lot of my science classes from Eberley to count towards my BS in women's studies, I managed to do it in four years. And that's how I wound up with two majors. Long story short.
[00:14:55] Speaker C: No, that's fantastic. And I think that's a challenge. That a lot of students have is they want to piece together. And I think a takeaway there is you sought help, you sought the staff, the faculty and you made it work. And I think there's a lot of we always say not everything is possible but a lot more doors open if you were in Shrir in the Honors College for these unique opportunities. And I want to jump ahead just a minute here and we'll come back and talk about your thesis research but I'm curious how particularly your Women's studies classes may have impacted your bedside manner, if you will, in your practice today.
[00:15:33] Speaker B: Absolutely. So I will just, I guess, take this opportunity to explain to the listeners what it is that I do. So I am in a field of medicine called female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. People out in the world know that as a Euro gynecologist, I'm basically a hybrid of a gynecologic surgeon and a urologic surgeon. I take care of women who have had childbirth injuries and especially women who have pelvic floor disorders as they age, like incontinence and prolapse, which probably a lot of 18 1920 year olds are listening to this don't know that having babies can make your vagina fall out. But that is a real thing that can happen and I can surgically repair that and that's what I do. And that's how a lot of menopausal or perimenopausal women end up in my office. They have these states of aging that have treatments. For years women thought they just had to live with these conditions and it really disempowered them and kept them in their homes, kept them from achieving everything that's possible for them. And it's really awesome that I'm able to reverse that and make it so they can go about their business as they should be, leading and helping their families and doing whatever it is they find in their purpose. So that's what I do for a living. And so how does Women's Studies affect my bedside manner? It has everything to do with my bedside manner.
I mentioned the piece about how my patients come in in distress. Very few of them, like many of you listening, had no idea that with the passage of time they would experience these symptoms. Urinary leakage, bulging of their vaginas, all sorts of other pelvic floor conditions that are not talked about openly out in the world because they're embarrassing and taboo. And women don't want to be like, hey, guess what? My vagina is falling out. They don't tell their friends that.
So the first thing that my women's studies brings to my bedside manner is acknowledging where these women are coming from based on the social standards and pressures that they have experienced in a lifetime of just living female. I know that they are coming in scared and mad that no one told them this could happen to them. They feel very alone even though my waiting room is packed full every single day of women with the exact same condition as them.
So validating their symptoms and validating all the experiences that brought them. There is something that I learned from recognizing the female experience through the lens of my women's Studies classes. I see a lot of patients with pelvic pain, a lot of patients with a history of physical and sexual trauma, a lot of birth trauma, trauma. Informed care is something that was born out of feminist scholarship in a setting like a women's Studies class. So all of that, and I teach that to my residents, to my fellows. A lot of people in Stem, they recognize these forces at work, but they don't have the vocabulary to describe them or the vocabulary to describe the systems that have produced an inequality in their patients that they palpably feel when they're talking to this distressed human being. I feel as though the gift that the women's Studies major has given me is the ability to name those systems inside of medicine for my colleagues and my trainees.
[00:19:18] Speaker C: Fantastic. Yeah. I think the only place you might even potentially hear that in pop culture might be something like a Grey's Anatomy, which typically does not shy away from these topics. But I was unaware of many of these issues myself, and obviously I identify as male, so a little bit blind to these things as I don't have to deal with them personally. So definitely learning a lot here, and I hope you as the listener are as well.
So going back to undergrad for just another moment, you mentioned that you were an athlete, which is what originally was drawing you to ortho. And I think of Callie Torres on Grey's immediately. So first ortho surgeon I think of is female, right.
[00:19:57] Speaker B: And a woman of color. I love Grey's Anatomy for that reason that people associate ortho with a Latina woman. That is amazing. Unfortunately, it's not quite the reality yet, but I think just having that character not to digress, but just having that character. Thank you. Shonda Rhimes, shout out to you.
[00:20:15] Speaker C: Exactly. Representation absolutely does matter to try and normalize things that have not been normalized.
But going back to that, you said you were an athlete.
Obviously you double majoring trying to get out in four years. You're doing research, which we'll talk about in a moment. But I'm curious on what else were you involved in? Obviously, a core piece of the Honors College experience is not just the academic excellence, but building global perspective and creating opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Did you have any opportunities to engage in study abroad, any clubs, any club sports or Im, anything like that?
[00:20:51] Speaker B: Yeah, great question. To be very clear, I was not such a tremendous athlete that I was an athlete in college. I was involved in a lot of things. And I will say that this will be a take home message, I hope, for anyone listening do the bare minimum of things that you feel you have to do for your application and spend the rest of your time doing something that you actually really care about. It is so hard to be on committees. I still am fighting this battle with myself as a surgeon today. People ask me to be on committees, and I'm like, I just really don't feel like doing this. I don't really like this. I sort of dread the meetings. I don't set aside time for this. I don't prioritize this. There's always time for stuff that is important to you. You will find the time because it will light you up inside. So the stuff that I did that I succeeded the most at was related. I found more and more to my interest in women's health and the things I did through the women's studies department. I loved The Vagina Monologues. There was a women's studies honor society I was involved with.
I didn't do a full semester abroad. This is not related to women's studies at all. But I did the theater class where you go to London for two weeks over winter break, which I felt was sufficient. I didn't really have time in my double major schedule to go abroad for a whole semester. That would have been tough, but I thought that was engaging and fun. That was just a fun thing that I did. The other thing that I did that was another sentinel experience of being in the honors college was doing an unpaid internship, which otherwise I would not. Being able to do an unpaid internship is like the epitome of privilege, right? Like, a lot of kids cannot afford to do an unpaid internship, and according to my parents, neither could I. They were like, you're going to work in the summertime. If you want spending money for beer in school or whatever, you got to have a job. But I had this opportunity to go to Washington, DC. For a summer between my sophomore and junior year and intern with this organization called the National Women's Health Network that my mentor, I mentioned, Dr. Mansfield, had connections with, and it was, to this day, like such my cup of tea.
There were OBGYNs. There were physicians and surgeons on the staff and board of this advocacy organization where they critically assessed women's health research that was turning into policy or might have turned into policy. They were basically watchdogs for women's health in DC. And so you had to really understand science, but you also had to understand how that science would trickle down and affect the everyday lives of women. And I could go there, and it was it was, like, policy people and doctors and women's health. It was the coolest. And I was like, I have to do this. And my parents were, you know, figure it out. So I went to the honors college. I went to a bunch of places. I went to the honors College. I went to the College of Liberal Arts and I went to Eberley, and I applied for as many little scholarships as I could, and I got them, and it enabled me to pay rent in DC. I mean, I had to live a little bit outside DC. And not the nicest department and take the train in every day and eat ramen noodles. But I did this internship because of being in the Honors Lodge, because I had the opportunity to apply for this funding, to spend the summer doing this enriching experience. And I'm still grateful for that to this day. I met people that, you know, have connections with. It solidified. A lot of things for me in terms of how women's health turns into very real laws through the FDA or otherwise, and very few other fields of medicine are like that, where you need a watchdog organization to make sure that the laws are protecting women and their bodies and that doctors are involved in doing that's. A whole other podcast about how much extra effort that is when you're in women's health, when you're in orthopedics you don't really have to watchdog the government all the time to make sure that the laws they make aren't hurting your patients. I'm not saying there's nothing, but there's not much.
So to go back to your question, that was something I was very involved with, was keeping those opportunities and talking to other scholars about it. I guess last thing I'll say is that I was in Thawn, I danced for the Honors College when the Honors College still had their own Thon organization. It is since gone unless it's come back, but I'm pretty sure it went away. It was like the honors college team. So I danced in Thawn. Those are some of the things I did. I don't know, hopefully that's an answer to your question.
[00:25:55] Speaker C: No, that's fantastic. And I think just a couple of editorial notes from me as your host.
First, if you are looking to get involved in Thawn as a scholar, you can get involved with Shrier Student Council. They are kind of our into Thawn. They have dancers every year, or at least they aim to most years. So we're recording this in August 2021 for reference in case something changes on that. And Jocelyn, you talked about internship funds, so I think that's something that gets overlooked for scholars is we have a lot of resources to support students, whether they're looking to travel abroad, go to a conference, do an internship. And it sounds like you made good use of all of the different identities you had as a student, whether that was in Eberle, in Liberal Arts, as a Shire scholar. So if you're a student, if you're listening to this, take advantage of those resources, come talk to us. And if you're an alum, this is a great way to support students, is through contributing to those experiences and paying it forward. But I love that you got an internship in DC, which is not necessarily the first thing you might think of for a future med student. And I would love if you could tell us how you went. Obviously there's the MCAT and all the things that go in there, but if you could walk us through how you went about choosing the med schools that you applied to in that process and how you ultimately selected to go back home and attend the University of Pittsburgh.
[00:27:20] Speaker B: Yeah, great question. I did study for the MCAT that summer I was in DC. That was pretty much all I did was go to my internship and go to my MCAT class and study in my little crappy apartment for the going. I'm not saying going to medicine is easy. You need to know in your absolute heart of hearts that there's nothing else you could possibly do. On one hand, I could tell you the amount of things again, air quotes that you guys can see. The amount of stuff I gave up to become a doctor is ridiculous. I never really felt like I was giving it up because I feel as though I have a higher purpose in medicine, which is to help women who cannot help themselves, and that keeps me going. If I did it for the money I'm not saying it's not a great job, I'm very well compensated. But if you're doing it for any reason other than to fight your way through this world for people, and they're most vulnerable, go into finance. If you're smart enough to go into medicine, you're smart enough to make a whole lot of money and have a lot of success doing something else. So that's my plug on medicine, but I would never choose it any other way.
So back to the MCAT, and how did I wind up going to thing that there were two things? Basically, this isn't a very sexy answer. One is that I'm from Pittsburgh and I love Pittsburgh. I'll have a lot of shout outs to Pittsburgh throughout, and I work in Pittsburgh now. I mentioned my eight brothers and sisters, so when I was in college, say, I'm 20 years old, I'm applying to medical school. My youngest brother was only ten, so they were still in a lot of them in high school. And I kind of wanted to watch them grow up a little bit and be around as I wanted to go to their basketball games and be around my family there's. Also, I will say no for as much as, like, wanted to go two and a half hours away to Penn State for college so I wouldn't be down the street from my parents. When you're in a pressure cooker like med school, there's no dollar sign. You can put on a little extra social support, even if that means your mom bringing you a sandwich when you're studying for your cardiology final.
So. It was a combination of those things. And then the last thing is that Pitt is an extraordinary med school. It's like, right on the brink of being a top ten med school. I think it's like eleven or twelve, but the resources are totally unparalleled.
And I guess I'll say the last thing is, even though I was like, I can be near my family, I can go to this absolutely extraordinary medical school. I'm going to put in one plug for the division I now work in, which is the OBGYN department. Pittsburgh has McGee Women's Hospital, which is now I've been at Johns Hopkins, which is where I do my residency. I've been at Georgetown, I've been all over the country. I've applied at pretty much every top 20 OBGYN academic division that this country has to offer for either residency or fellowship. And there's only one other sort of two, maybe three. They're very rare, these hospitals that are dedicated to women's health, and not only completely dedicated to women's health, but pour millions of dollars into women's health. And at Pitt, they're such a research powerhouse that they actually have where I work now at McGee Women's Hospital, a freestanding OBGYN hospital with a research institute directly across the street, a research biomedical science tower dedicated solely to the advancement of science for women. Nowhere else has that a research institute like that. And I knew I wanted to go into OBGYN. So now, looking back, with all the knowledge I have, all the friends I have all over the country at these beyond cutting edge institutions, there is still nowhere as cutting edge for women's health as McGee at the University of Pittsburgh. So that was probably the biggest reason that I was like, that's it, I'm going back.
[00:31:39] Speaker C: So you mentioned research, and obviously Pitt sounds like it's a great institution for women's health. Did you find that your thesis experience in the Honors College was a good foundation for you going into, as you called it, the pressure cooker of med school?
[00:31:59] Speaker B: Yes, I absolutely did. And I think it gave me and this amazing bird's eye view of where research needed to be done in women's health. That is what my women's studies jury did for me. It allowed me to look down at the things that truly keep women from being their best selves and asking, why don't we have the tools to make them their best self if they have this condition?
My thesis research specifically focused on menopausal health and how menopause unfolds over the course of a woman's lifespan, what disease states unfold that we can intervene and understand better in medicine. What I actually ended up doing in med school relied a little bit more on my NeuroBio background from Eberley mashed together with that. So I started noting that there were so many women who have pelvic pain. Pelvic pain is kind of like an umbrella term for pelvic pain. I mean, that is what it is women who had, like, debilitating pain somewhere between their belly button and their knees, and nobody can figure out what it is or why they have it. And they see a million doctors and they rule out everything dangerous that'll kill them. And they're like, I don't know, I guess you just have this pain. You have to live with it. And I thought to myself, no, that's not right.
Why don't we know more about this? And then when I got to medical school, pitt had kind of a med school version of the Wiser program that I went through at Penn State. It was called the Frip Program or something. It was like faculty research interest project. And I just started over. I did the same thing. I was like, I'm going to hunt down someone through this little database of labs that might be interested in what I'm doing. And so I did. I found this guy who actually was in gastroenterology, but he was studying this concept, which is now known to be pretty well understood, that the female pelvis has a whole bunch of nerves that overlap with each other. It's not like your arm where it's like, oh, you break your wrist and the nerves from your wrist, your brain is like, oh, I know that my wrist hurts because there's only one a few nerves in my wrist. So we know that that's what's injured the female pelvis isn't like that. It's like connected by this web of nerves that all go back to the same part of the spinal cord. And it's kind of thought to be like a design of evolution so that you can tolerate the changes of pregnancy. This enormous bowling ball that sits deep in your pelvis and you are like, oh, well, I mean, I can feel it, but I don't really know what I'm feeling. And it's designed that way so that women will keep perpetuating the species. Otherwise they would be like, forget this. This is horrible.
But that can backfire sometimes. And women can have pain in one pelvic organ, like their colon or their bladder, but actually it's coming from their uterus or actually it's coming from the muscular structures of their pelvic floor. Actually it's coming from their hip or their lower back. And it all sort of feels the same mishmash of pain. And he was doing research on how women can have this gastrointestinal disease, but then the pain shows up in their bladder. Like, how does that happen? And why does this happen in women and not really men? I was like, yes, that is a thing. These women are suffering. They're coming in to see doctors, and doctors are basically telling them that they're crazy and this can't possibly be the case, but women are like, no, I'm really suffering here. And I said, this is how basic science can inform an enormous bias that we have against women who are showing up in pain and so I got into his lab, and then through him, I got this other amazing mentor. So you're seeing a theme here, like you find someone who can help you, and they wedge the door in, and you just got to show up to the meetings. Once you get your foot in the door, you just need to show up on people's front doors and tell them that you're interested and show that you're a good worker and that you'll follow up on the things you say you're going to do. And I got into this program that I initially it's almost like the sophomore gate at Schreyer. Where do they still call it that, the junior gate? I guess, where you get into the Honors college as a junior.
[00:36:31] Speaker C: Yeah, you can join the Honors College as a first, 2nd or third year student.
[00:36:35] Speaker B: Oh, that's new. Okay, perfect. We used to call it the junior gate.
[00:36:40] Speaker C: We faced the term out, but the concept is still very accurate.
[00:36:44] Speaker B: Okay, so for the listeners, again, I'm old, but they had a similar thing in this program at Pitt called the Physician Scientist Training Program. And you could stay in med school for an extra year, and they would pay for your tuition for those years to do basic science research under the mentorship of these amazing people. And so I got into that program, and then I hung out for an extra year doing this basic science research on these complex mechanisms of women's pelvic pain.
And then I went to OBGYN, and many years have gone by. It's been like eight years or I guess ten years even, since I was in that lab. But now I've, with the help of many brilliant people, again asking for help from people who are smarter than you.
Here at the University of Pittsburgh, we've built a clinic where we see patients with multiple different types of doctors and specialists to address women's pelvic pain so that they can be back to the theme of validation. The way women's studies affects my bedside manner. Believing these women and then using science to back up what they're saying is true. And so that was sort of how my thesis experience led to my research in medical school and now my research as a surgeon. It really all just built off each other.
[00:38:00] Speaker C: Yeah, I think you hit on something really important. A lot of opportunities are there. You just have to ask or seek out folks before there's an opportunity. Often just make those connections. You said finding mentors, so it sounds like you go out and take advantage of these opportunities.
And I'm curious how in your med school experience, obviously, I'm not a doctor, but I have a general understanding that when you graduate, you go on to a residency and then oftentimes even fellowships. If you can share your story and advice for students to start thinking ahead. They may be an undergrad now, but to start laying the groundwork for two and three steps ahead if they're interested in just medicine, generally, knowing that those are the next steps down the road.
[00:38:46] Speaker B: Sure. And I remember, I just want to say to anyone that's listening, the idea that you're a college freshman and you're signing yourself up for 16 more years of school until you get to where I am now, that is daunting. I knew I was doing that. I remember pulling out my calendar in 2008 and saying to myself, oh, my God, when I'm finally done with this, I added it all up and I added an extra year. So I guess at the time I was like, I'll be done in 2019. And then I did that extra year of research. End up being 2020, I'll be 33 years old. Which is so crazy to conceive of when you're 18. Being like me as a 33 year old is an inconceivable thing. You're like, oh, my gosh, how will I ever make it? And I will say this to you, that number one, always root yourself in the purpose of what you're doing.
There's got to be something more than you're just doing this for yourself that's going to get you through that amount of time, the amount of dedication it takes to do something. Like getting to finally be a surgeon out on your own and getting a bigger paycheck and more respect and whatever, just feeling like you quote, made it and more air quotes. The other thing I'll say is the time is going to pass no matter what, you know what I mean? At some point you're going to turn 33, 34, 35 years old someday, God willing. Not going to Wood COVID, I guess. But we're all going to make it. You're going to make it and you may as well show up every day working towards something you really want to do. If that's really your dream, the time is going to pass anyway. All you have to do is show up every day and do your best. Now, is there a little bit of pre planning involved? Obviously, I'm very type A person. I'm never going to be on this podcast being like, I just hung out and these things happened to me. They did not.
I'm going to hold this up. This is my to do list that I currently have sitting on my desk. I have like 20 things in. Little checkboxes on here.
[00:40:59] Speaker C: Yeah, for Jocelyn, you just showed me a very long piece of notebook paper and every single line has some kind of activity and a little empty box next to it waiting to be checked off. So for you as the listener, that's what she just showed me.
[00:41:15] Speaker B: And I've been making these lists since I was in atherton hall. I still have all of I used to make one of these every single day. I would make a little index card and I would map out my days every day. I still have all of them. I have almost 20 years worth because I want to see, what have I been doing this whole time? Working my butt off. Like, I'm never going to tell you that. You're not. I have 20 years of planners and to do lists where I thought to myself, like, how will I get myself from point A to point B? And it's built of index cards of little things that every day you're like, okay, I'm going to email this person. Okay, now that I've emailed them and they've given me this little project, what are the little pieces of this project so that I can produce a deliverable, I can actually publish this paper. I can actually feasibly finish this.
Do I really care about this?
All that stuff. So your question? I think I'm totally leading myself down another path. But how can you plan for a few steps ahead? I think the easiest thing is, again, find a mentor. Any of you listening, you're welcome to email me.
You think you want to be a cardiologist? Ask a cardiologist how they became a cardiologist. I asked an OBGYN or like a pelvic surgeon, how do you do this? People who are older and wiser sort of lay it out for you. And then you think like, okay, how can I make a contribution that's going to make me perhaps an attractive candidate for each next step? What are the barriers standing between me and this goal?
And I will say again, I have to disclaim so many times how much privilege I have and how I had access to people that were willing to help me. I faced very minimal discrimination along my path.
So it'll be even harder for students who don't come from a place where they can see other doctors. They can see their friends moms being doctors. So reach out to other people early. I think more and more like young faculty are thinking, we need to open. Like kick down these doors open for people who don't have these examples in their everyday life of how you can see what you can achieve. I know that was a long answer. I don't know if that exactly answered your question, but I guess the take home thing is break it down into little steps, show up every day, have a bird's eye view of where you want to go, and eventually the time will pass and you'll get there.
[00:43:51] Speaker C: No, I think that's great because I sit here at the age of 31, I'm like, wow, yeah, you hit that age regardless of what you do between 21 and 31. So it's gong to come, so you may as well make the most of that time.
[00:44:06] Speaker B: And I had a lot of fun along the way. Let me just say, I made so many friends, so many good times. The hospital can be fun. It's gratifying. I have memories from my patients. It was worth it.
[00:44:19] Speaker C: Oh, I bet.
And going back to what you said earlier, you kind of talked about point A to point B, and you started med school at Pitt, and you're back at Pitt working as a, you know, professor and surgeon. But in between, you had some interesting stops at some very premier brand name, if you will, top ranked, whatever the term you want to use here, institutions like Johns Hopkins and Georgetown. So if you could just maybe describe briefly your experiences and what the difference between being a med student, a resident, and a fellow is on these different points on the journey.
[00:44:57] Speaker B: Definitely, yeah. So a med student probably well, maybe most of you don't know. Being a med student is kind of just being like an undergrad student on steroids, only in a weird way, you're like back to high school because at least in pre COVID times, you sit in the same classroom all day long, and the professors come to you.
In elementary school, I guess you sit in the same room instead of college, where walking all over the place. Like in med school, you're with 150 people on average. That's your full class, and you just sort of, like, sit there. And then you go to the library, and then you do it all again in the next day, at least for the first couple of years. And then the last three years is when you start rotating in the hospitals among all the sort of subspecialties of medicine to figure out what kind of doctor you might want to be. And let me just say, it's totally fine to kind of know what kind of doctor you want to be. I did. I was like, I want to be an OBGYN, and I deviated from that plan very minimally. In medical school, there was a very brief moment where I thought maybe I would be a urologist with the same endgame for what I am now, which would have been a fine path, but I didn't. I was like, OBGYN all the way. I got to save the ladies. So, yeah. So then at the end of med school, the last two years, you kind of rotate on all the subspecialties. You get a taste of what might be interesting to you, and then you apply for a residency in that specialty. And I chose OB GYN, so that was what I applied for all over the country, and I ended up matching into my residency at Johns Hopkins, which is an amazing place. It's one of the best residencies in the country. And I went to Baltimore for four years. That's how long OB GYN residency is. And then this is not unique to OB GYN, but OB GYN in particular has a lot of rather long and involved fellowships because of the way the training path is. And I guess I'll just clarify that a fellowship is where you learn to become a subspecialist. So someone who is like a cardiologist doesn't just go to cardiology residency. They go to internal medicine residency and then specialize in cardiology. I went to OBGYN residency and then specialized in female pelvic reconstructive surgery specific to women and bladders called urogyne. So that's three more years of surgical training after that. And there are some people who even do another fellowship beyond their initial fellowship. Had I wanted to do something in transgender surgery, I could have done an extra year or so of training beyond my fellowship. There's no word for that. It's just the second fellowship.
But I did not do that.
And that's kind of the path that you take. So if you want to be a subspecialist, you have to do a little extra beyond your residency.
[00:47:46] Speaker C: Fantastic. And I appreciate I kind of was almost picturing you're like an upside down pyramid and you're slowly narrowing down as you go along.
[00:47:55] Speaker B: Exactly. That's right.
[00:47:58] Speaker C: And I know we're kind of heading towards the tail end of our chat today, and I was hoping full circle back. You've talked a little bit about it, but you're back at Pitt. And if you could just talk a little bit about a day in the life of you in the workplace and particularly how you balance direct patient care, the red tape, if you will, of the office side of stuff, of being a physician, being a surgeon. I know you teach and presumably if you're doing any kind of research, and it sounds like you're helping to really build up a fuller program around what you're doing. So how you are managing all of these things.
I think there's students will think, I want to be a doctor and I go to med school, but they don't necessarily know what a day in the life could be. So if you could kind of pull back the curtain to reference the wizard of Oz a little bit, what does it look like?
[00:48:57] Speaker B: Yeah, it's not honestly that different from being an undergrad. You're balancing your classes, your tests, your clubs, your friends, your leadership organ. Like, maybe you want to take on a leadership role, and you're working towards that. Like at Penn State.
You have a lot of obligations. There's never a time.
And I even was duped a little bit. I was like, cool. If I just can get through this if I just can get through this if I just can get through this, I'll have less to do. That's not true. You just have more control over what it is that you do. And you have a lot more purpose even than you did early on driving you to do those things. So it's not easy. I'm really busy, and I bring that on myself because I have a lot to do in medicine. If I wanted to just take care of my patients, do a minimum amount of research and I don't know, teach the students robotic surgery as once a month, I could do that, I could do the minimum, which is still a lot of work. I will never say that is enough.
Anyone that that's what they do. They are already doing the most. Like, how do I balance it? The same way I did when I was a fresher natural with this to do list. I write down all the projects I have and I sort of prioritize little pieces of them, knowing that the time will pass anyway. I'm getting I think COVID has showed a lot of us like, you need to put some boundaries on your time. I've gotten a little better at that. Like, what needs to be done and wrapped up by four or 05:00 so that my brother is getting married this weekend. Go do that and just have that be my focus. It's an ongoing battle.
I'm sure anyone listening here that's about to be a Shire scholar is a type A overachiever. I know that. So you're already someone who goes above and beyond and someone who can see more of what needs to be done and know that you're capable of doing a lot of things that other people just don't have the bandwidth or maybe the expertise to see. And you're like, oh, why does everything fall on my shoulders?
I still feel like that all the time. And you just have to pick the highest impact things and while also maintaining your obligations that we all have to our employer. So your original question was, like, what does a day in the life look like? There's a to do list involved. My average week, I will say, and it changes all the time, is that I do basically like one to one and a half days of surgery per week. I'd say one to two days of being in the office and then one to one and a half days. And I realize if you're doing math, that doesn't add up to five days, but like, on average, one and a half days of things where I can do things like this, be at home, work from home, do a podcast, work on my research, and sort of tie up loose ends for my office.
So like, a day in the life of me could really look like, let's just say I'm in the office. I'll show up at 08:00. Maybe I'll have a medical student or a resident who's rotating with me, and I'll have 20 patients to see. My office staff will have me sign things. My nurses will have questions for me about my patients. I'll be running into the rooms seeing people, some more straightforward than others. My student might be like, seeing patients also. They'll be telling me about the patient they saw. I'll be sort of asking them a few questions, teaching them about the condition that patient has, and then we'll go in and see that patient together on a particularly crazy day. Maybe my clinical end at four and then we'll have a teaching session, like lectures, weekly lectures, not that different from med school or undergrad. And sometimes I'll even have a small surgery. That's rare, but maybe another surgeon will be doing something and they'll need me to come in and do a little something extra. And then the next day I'll have my own day of surgery, which will go from seven to five. That's like a pretty standard day. And there's always little interruptions. That's like the biggest thing I'll say is, if you think that you're just going to show up and your time is going to be totally protected always, it's not going to be.
Your email is still going to flow while you're doing these things. You're going to have your institution asking you for stuff. You're going to have other faculty asking you to help them with a lab or a surgical simulation. That stuff happens all the time, and you just need to tell people what you are and are not available for and how much time you can realistically devote to something, disclose your other obligations and focus your energy where you think it's getting the most bang for your buck. And just do your best. That's all you can do.
[00:53:56] Speaker C: And I think, honestly, you know, if you're somebody listening and you maybe later on change and decide to do something other than medicine or maybe something else in healthcare, those last things that Jocelyn, you just said are equally applicable. No matter what industry you go into, email flowing, whether you go into law or sales or teaching, whatever, that will still happen to you. So very sage. So I have one more question that just kind of popped up in my mind. You were talking about robotic surgery. Obviously, that's probably advanced leaps and bounds just even since your time as a med student, as a Shire scholar.
Obviously a lot of students who are looking to go to med school probably there's a lot of things that they already know that they should be looking into shadowing and all these kinds of things and volunteer hours and taking the MCATs. But is there anything kind of maybe less obvious that a prospective med student who's a Shire scholar should look into exploring in terms of skills that they could be developing?
[00:54:53] Speaker B: I mentioned very early on, I mean, I double majored in women's studies, but there's plenty of things that there's plenty of majors I wish I had all the time. I love to learn all the time in the world to do.
You can make almost anything applicable to medicine, and that is such a good point that looking at where medicine is going, it is not wrong to look at where people say it's not professional or appropriate in your code of ethics. In medicine, this is all totally unspoken, not true stuff. Look where the money and the influence is going. There's an enormous amount of opportunities in tech.
We didn't talk about social media on this podcast, but I think the role for social media in medicine is so enormous.
Tech devices, you mentioned robotics. I mean, things that other fields are doing and talking about medicine tends to lag behind a little bit because in these prime years of your life where a lot of people are getting into these really innovative fields and being like, movers and pushers, you're sort of in a library. So I think that people invest so much upfront in their medical education, both personally and financially, by the time they kind of make it, they're like, oh my God, I have to pay my loans back. So I just need to get into this grind of seeing patients and who knows what. But there are other paths, and there are more and more mentors popping up, people in other industries that can support your interest in medicine. This very well could be something I would do in my future. Now I have this really solid foundation in translational research and patient care, and now I can identify, like, hey, these are the things that would make this system better. How can we ask other industries to help us do this? There's, like, no end to the opportunities I personally have gotten and continued to see if you just learn about other industries from your friends and family. My siblings, with their huge number of very diverse majors from Penn State, teach me things all the time. I'm like, oh, like, that would really help medicine. I should talk to someone about this. And I actually have my sister in like, I've partnered with her on things in healthcare, advertising, and women's sports. There's inroads medicine touches everything. So I guess if there's something that you think is really cool and you're not sure how it could apply to medicine, do a Google and find someone that you think maybe has crossed over, because I can pretty much guarantee you they exist.
[00:57:42] Speaker C: Speaking of social media, if you're listening to this and they want to connect with you later on down the road, what is the best platforms that is it LinkedIn or something else where they can get in touch with you if they want to seek you out as a mentor?
[00:57:59] Speaker B: Yeah, I'm a huge fan of transparency and social media in medicine. You could find me on I'm on all those things. I am an elder millennial, so I'm on all the I don't like, produce TikTok content. I guess that's the only one. But yeah, you can find me on LinkedIn. You can find me on Proximity, which is basically like Dr. LinkedIn. You can find me on Twitter, which is where I probably am the most continuously vocal and accessible. My handles at Jfitzgeraldmd. You can find me on Instagram where I post I have a professional account where I post a lot about mostly female public medicine. That's at Pittsburgh Eurogine.
Those are the main ones. I read most of my.
[00:58:44] Speaker C: DMs, is there a final piece of advice that maybe hasn't come up in the conversation that you think is really important for a scholar to hear and that you're just burning to share with them today?
[00:58:57] Speaker B: Nothing that I really haven't said. There is no magic pill to make this easy and there's no magic pill to make the time go by.
I would just say always root yourself in something that is bigger than you. It will help you survive the days where you question if you're good enough or smart enough or if this is worth it, or if missing your friend's bachelorette party is a good enough reason to be in medicine. Like little things where you're just like, why did I get myself into this? And you remember the patience or even the device that you're working on or the big end game to all of it. Keep that in mind. Know that any successful person you see stands on the shoulders of hundreds of other people that got them where they are and probably hundreds of to do lists and all they did was show up every day, do their best, open themselves up to making connections with other people and be kind. Like if you ask nicely and work hard, it will get you really far and there's going to be people who you'll be nice to them and you'll work hard for them and they could let you down. That happens. But on the whole, people want to help and they will if you are willing to work on that relationship with them.
[01:00:27] Speaker C: I think that is really great sage advice to wrap up on. But before we're done, we have a tradition here on the show where I would love to ask you, if you were a flavor of Berkeley creamery ice cream, our great colleagues here at University Park, what flavor would you be? But most importantly as a scholar, alum, why that one?
[01:00:46] Speaker B: I've had the whole podcast to think about this and really, to be fair, I've had like 20 years to think about this and now I remember I forget the full name of this one, but I'm going to say that it's like the mint chip flavor.
Is that still flavor? What is it actually called?
[01:01:02] Speaker C: I think you might be referring to bittersweet mint, kind of the mint chocolate chip type of flavor.
[01:01:07] Speaker B: Bittersweet mint is my favorite flavor and I think it's because it's so refreshing. It's like the perfect combination of minty and the chocolate is minty and bitter and dark and the contrast is really good and you can eat a lot of it because it feels like you just brushed your teeth. So it's like you didn't even eat an enormous cone of ice cream.
[01:01:33] Speaker C: Always a great reliable standby at the creamery, never disappoints. So I think that's a great choice. Dr. Jocelyn Fitzgerald, thank you so much for joining us today for an excellent conversation. You've heard how you can get in touch with her if you are interested in learning more, connecting with her and potentially seeking her out as a mentor as a scholar alum.
[01:01:54] Speaker A: So thank you so much for joining us today.
[01:01:56] Speaker B: Thank you so much for having me. We are.
[01:02:05] Speaker A: Thank you scholars for listening and learning with us today. We hope you will take something with you that will contribute to how you shape the world. This show proudly supports the Shrier Honors College Emergency Fund benefiting scholars experiencing unexpected financial hardship. You can make a difference at raise. psu.edu forward slash schreyer. Please be sure to hit the relevant subscribe like or Follow button on whichever platform you are engaging with us on today. You can follow the college on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to stay up to date on news, events and deadlines. If you have questions about the show or a scholar alum who'd like to join us as a guest here on following the Gone, please connect with me at scholar alumni at psu.edu. Until next time, please stay well. And we are.