The Insiders Scoop – Gastroenterology



Name: Samuel Tesfay, M.D.

Specialty/Interests: Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine, Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Education: UCLA (Medical School), Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Residency), University of Illinois at Chicago (Fellowship)

Current Position: Attending Physician (Kaiser Permanente)


1 | Why is gastroenterology the best specialty for you?

I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a physician and/or surgeon, but becoming a gastroenterologist was a decision that came about the end of medical school and during residency. After realizing a surgeon’s professional lifestyle and personality did not align with what I wanted for myself, I turned to the field of gastroenterology as it enabled me to join a procedure-oriented specialty. The study of gastrointestinal diseases is clinically challenging and dynamic as our understanding of the GI tract expands with scientific, technological and therapeutic discoveries. This makes it professionally rewarding and relevant making it the best specialty.


2 | What is a typical day like for you?

My typical day almost always involves seeing patients in the clinic or procedure unit. The format of my schedule changes from day to day, since we serve patients at two different medical centers. Therefore, my appointment profile and location varies week to week.

On a typical workday, I begin seeing patients at 8:30 AM and ends at 5:30 PM with an hour for lunch at half past noon. The hours before and after office appointments, and sometimes during the lunch hour, are devoted to patient care. This entails responding to messages, checking and following up with patients, and reviewing test results.

One day a month, I have administrative duties as I serve as the Director of Inflammatory Bowel Disease for my service area (i.e., the GI department). I am on call about every six weeks for a period of Monday-Friday or Friday-Sunday, depending on the call rotation and medical center.


3 | How do you maintain your work-life balance?

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is an essential component of my practice. I try to create boundaries by defining and setting limits to when my work begins and ends for the day and allow myself to focus on my family, friends, and hobbies. In addition, it is essential that I take care of my own health and well-being, so I devote time most days of the week to exercise and make time to enjoy my favorite hobby: playing and listening to music.


4 | What advice would you give to students interested in gastroenterology?

I recommend formulating and navigating a plan as early as possible given the competitive nature of medical school and the GI specialty within internal medicine. It requires you to work harder and harder at each step from college to medical school and residency to secure a spot in a fellowship program.

You should get familiar with the field by selecting GI elective rotations during medical school and residency to determine your level of interest. You should have the desire to learn and expand the GI field, as well as enjoy the procedural aspect of the specialty if you intend to make it a career. Securing a GI-related research project (clinical or basic science) with a primary investigator (PI) is one way to advance your interest and develop a network within the specialty. This will also enable you to link with a mentor that can guide you in your path.


5 | How much sleep do you get every night? How many hours do you work per week? How many vacation days do you take per year?

I usually get about seven hours of sleep a day. I work about 65-70 hours per week. I take about 5-6 weeks of vacation per year.


6 | What was your biggest struggle throughout your medical training/practice to date?

The biggest struggle I faced was the language barrier since English is my second language. This was especially difficult during my pre-medical education. I did not speak English when I arrived in America and started high school as a freshman a couple of months after moving from Ethiopia to the US.

My high school and early college years were difficult as I devoted my time to working extra hard to compensate for my deficiency in language proficiency. Over time, this struggle dissipated as I improved my skills and gained confidence in my abilities but those early years stand out as the most difficult time for me.


7 | Did you have mentors who were particularly influential in your life? What impact did they have?

I had several mentors that guided my future and I am grateful for each one of them. The most influential person in my life early on was my sister. She is one year older than me and she became very studious when she was in the fifth to sixth grade and I began to study along with her. I learned the discipline to devote my time to education as I emulated her dedication to her studies.

My science professors in college were also most helpful. My attending during my research elective in residency program was very influential as she steered me toward my passion within gastroenterology, which is inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, my two uncles who are obstetrics & gynecology physicians were also very influential. If it were not for them, I would have been unable to come to America to pursue my education and career.


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