Alumni Interview with Charlene Blake Swift

Charlene Blake Swift, M.D. Ph.D.
Graduate School: Duke University
Medical School: Duke University
Residency: Washington University in St. Louis
Fellowship Cardiothoracic Anesthesia: Washington University in St. Louis

1) What have you done since residency

I stayed at Wash U for fellowship in Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology, which was AMAZING since Wash U has such a high volume of really sick patients and performs so many heart transplants, lung transplants and ventricular assist devices per year (in addition to all of the other CT cases). After finishing fellowship, I started as an Assistant Professor at UCSF in the CT Anesthesia division and LOVE my colleagues -- I honestly couldn't be happier! In addition to cardiac and thoracic cases, I also do a mixture of other surgical cases, which is great to keep your general anesthesia skills sharp. 

2) How did the residency program at Wash U prepare you for your practice?

Because of the huge catch area of Barnes-Jewish and the extreme level of acuity of the patients, I felt completely prepared to handle ANY case that came my way as a first year attending. While fellowship in CT anesthesia also helps to boost ones confidence and competence, my first awake fiberoptic intubation as an attending (three weeks out of training) was solely from what I learned as a resident. As a prospective trainee, I believe you should look for a program that will challenge you constantly because when you start to feel comfortable as a resident, your learning curve is leveling out-- and you need to absorb as much as you can while you are training because sooner than you know, YOU are the one making decisions for the patient whose life is in your hands. 

I also honestly believe that I was hired at UCSF (and received offers from other highly regarded institutions) because the name "Washington University in St. Louis" is respected so much in our field. In addition to your personal accolades, your pedigree does matter and having Wash U on your resume boosts your credibility greatly. 

3) Any other advice you'd like to give our applicants?

Residency is only four years. Go where you will have the absolute best training because it truly does carry you through your career. St. Louis isn't a bad city to live in-- I loved living within walking distance to Forest Park and I was able to buy a house as an intern!

Work HARD. Learn all you can because your patient's lives actually do depend on it. Yes, it's a lot of work but this is your time to absorb all you can from different attendings so you can build your own practice style. 

Make friends with other residents -- in anesthesia and other services. You'll need a good support system and who better to commiserate with than a colleague?! Plus, they'll understand your call schedule. 

Try your best to have fun while training. You will have days off and there will be times when you're relieved MUCH earlier than you expected. Therefore, hang out, work out, and take advantage of all that St. Louis has to offer (including being an affordable city near the middle of the country so you can fly almost anywhere in the US in under 4 hours!).