The path from clinical trainee to licensed physician may look daunting. But Kristina Liu, MD, MHS, and Arash Mostaghimi, MD, MPA, MPH, are here to help. These Brigham dermatologists have been using the power of podcasting to engage a much wider audience of trainees than traditional one-on-one mentorship allows.
This April, Liu and Mostaghimi launched Topical: The Dermatology Podcast, which features stories and advice for dermatology trainees. They have released 15 episodes and counting with tips and tricks they have drawn from their career paths for applying to residencies, writing personal statements, dealing with burnout and more.
In this Q&A, Liu and Mostaghimi discuss their motivation for the podcast, their careers and their passion for educating the next generation of physicians.
First of all, what got you interested in dermatology?
KL: I think we both had indirect paths to dermatology. I didn’t know I was interested in it until I did a rotation when I was in medical school, and it just clicked with me.
AM: I was lucky enough to be exposed to dermatology during medical school while on a rotation here at the Brigham. Harley Haynes, MD, was a legend in dermatology – he ran the inpatient consult service before me. I met him at the Brigham when I was a medical student, and I really looked up to him.
What does a dermatologist do every day?
KL: Three days a week I see medical dermatology patients, and I perform surgeries, such as removal of skin cancers, and cosmetic procedures, such as Botox and laser treatments. The rest of the time is what we call our “academic time.” During this time, I work on educational projects like developing curricula for our residents and recording our podcast.
One of my main projects right now is developing a video-based simulation curriculum to teach surgical skills within dermatology. It will help junior residents get hands-on surgical experience before doing real surgery.
AM: As academic dermatologists, we are lucky to work with patients with more complex cases. For example, our patients have rare skin diseases, such as autoimmune blistering conditions or life-threatening rashes from medication reactions. These conditions are seldom seen outside of major medical centers. Part of [our] goal is to determine how we can take what we’ve learned from our own experiences and use that knowledge to improve education.
I balance my time between seeing patients, educating trainees and conducting research. My research focuses on costs and outcomes in dermatology. I’m always asking, why are we doing this treatment? Why for this patient? Why now?
When did you two start working together, and how was the podcast born?
KL: Arash and I have known each other for a long time – he actually interviewed me when I was applying for internships. Then we worked closely together on several research projects when I was a resident.
We both independently had ideas about doing a podcast. We bounce ideas off each other all the time. I think one day I said, hey, I want to do a podcast, and it just formed organically from there. What better person to do a podcast about dermatology with than someone whose name is A-rash?
What can listeners expect from the podcast?
KL: [We’re] pooling our knowledge and distilling it into sound bites as mentorship for medical students. We delve into aspects of the residency application and match process, which can be an overwhelming and confusing time. Some topics we’ve covered include personal statements, letters of recommendation and research, but we also address topics relevant to life in academia in general, like burnout, feedback and even personal finance.
AM: We’re beginning with educational content focused on trainees in dermatology, trying to pull back the curtain and address some of the myths and challenges. For example, many medical students think that the only way to get into a dermatology residency is to have a perfect, “one-size-fits-all” application. But we have a great diversity of applicants coming to dermatology from all different directions. We hope that the podcast will help people manage the demands of the job. We’ll start with that and hopefully, as our audience and skills expand, focus more broadly on academic medicine.
What do you like about podcasting?
AM: It’s been really fun to reflect on the road that we’ve taken here. We try to make it personal – we share a lot of information and insights about ourselves, our lives and the decisions that we made.
We feel very young, but I think a lot of people look at us and are impressed that we’ve already made it through the gauntlet of training and education. It’s been quite nostalgic to look back and think about the people who supported us along the way. But it’s also just the serendipity and luck and all those little chance occurrences that have helped us reach this point in our careers.
KL: There’s a lot of joy for me in the process of making the podcast. I think part of it is because I find talking to Arash incredibly easy. We’re not afraid to be candid but also a bit – actually, very – goofy.
What has the reception to your podcast been so far?
KL: When we first started, it was really grassroots. We told medical students and residents that we knew, and we were getting feedback from them. Since then, our listener base has grown. We seem to be reaching a wider audience; we had feedback from someone in Canada.
AM: And my mom likes it, so that must mean something, right?
What is your No. 1 piece of advice for dermatology students?
AM: There’s not just one path to any training program. The choices that are right for one person aren’t necessarily right for another person – but when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t necessarily see that.
To trainees, Kris and I look fully formed as dermatologists. Our narratives are linear in a way that makes it look like we kind of just happened, like it was just logical and beautiful and perfect, and every step was crystal clear, and there were no bumps in the road. But that’s not real life – there were a lot of challenges, obstacles, twists and turns along the way. Knowing that can help trainees along their journey.
KL: I came into medical school, and then again into residency, thinking that my career was going to turn out a certain way, and then it was taken in many new directions that I never expected or imagined. It’s OK to be undifferentiated. My advice is to be open and flexible, and don’t be afraid to walk through some of those unexpected open doors. We find out through experience what things are exciting to us, and then we can start to cultivate more opportunities in those directions.
You can listen to Topical: The Dermatology Podcast here or on any podcast app.