Medical Students: Career Profiles
Dr. Núria Pastor-Soler - The Basic Scientist
I am a basic science researcher and nephrologist in the Renal-Electrolyte Division at the University of Pittsburgh. My research is in the field of kidney and epididymal epithelial cell biology and physiology. I am an independent investigator with a laboratory of three members plus one or two students and/or residents at any time. I am very thankful to many mentors and funding agencies for their support.
I obtained both an MD and a PhD, as I envisioned that my career would have both patient care and research components. During the clinical years in medical school I missed the research world, so I decided to apply to programs that offered strong training in nephrology basic research and grant writing in a collaborative environment. For my fellowship training I spent three years in the lab and the last year in clinical training. During the last of the three research years, I applied for and received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) K08 grant. In my first year as a junior faculty member, I took courses that offered training on how to negotiate, how to manage a lab, and how to write grants and scientific papers. After the first year of K08 support, I relocated for family reasons. I was offered a position at my current location, starting as an Assistant Professor. I also became very involved in the organization Women in Nephrology (WIN), which offered me many opportunities for leadership. For example, I learned how to organize a meeting by becoming one of the junior co-chairs for the WIN-ASN Professional Development Seminar at Kidney Week. The more senior WIN members were also sources of advice, mentorship and inspiration.
Overall, the daily schedule for a physician-scientist depends on whether one is "on (clinical) service" or not, and 8-10 weeks out of the year I am "on". In general, I check my patients' labs early in the morning using electronic remote access to patient data provided by the hospital. Afterwards, I exercise, do laundry, and take care of my children by getting them breakfast and to school on time. Triage of tasks is essential on these days, because coordinating lab work when I am on service takes at least two hours. When I am on service, I take care of the "important and urgent" matters first, which is the clinical service. Then I touch base with the lab members. I find it important that my lab members feel that they can reach me any time via email or phone. So my smartphone is an essential piece of equipment when I am on the wards. After I have seen my patients and attend the noon conference, I round with the team. I spend at least two hours on lab/research related paperwork in the afternoon after rounding, checking my list of tasks, and completing as many of those as possible. When I get home at around 7 pm, I cook dinner, eat with the family and then I read about and co-sign the notes on patients that were seen late in the day. Depending on the day, I can do some additional research-related work before going to sleep.
When I am not on service, I arrive at work and touch base with the members of my lab. I perform microscopy every day if the slides are ready. I often spend one hour every day coordinating experiments with collaborators. Once a week we try to hold a more general lab meeting and on average, every other week I participate in a physiology experiment with other members of the lab. I try to reserve time for writing during the daytime (grants or papers or both), but oftentimes meetings and conferences during the day leave little time for writing. I do most of my writing in the evening after everybody else in the house is asleep.
My work-life balance is no different than that of any small business owner. I work long hours, but I try to work from home as much as possible. I take vacations, but they are short. I have a good network of colleagues and friends. I keep in touch mostly via email with friends and colleagues across the country, and we have developed a strong network for advice and support. I try to give back to the community of nephrologists and researchers by volunteering to help local and national organizations. I use the weekends to catch up on household-related work. A couple of years ago we invited a worldrenowned nephrologist and researcher to speak at our institution. She has been very successful in her career, and her children are now grown. I wondered if she had any advice for junior women on how to combine work and family during the critical early career stage. She thought about it for a second and then she said: "I would tell junior nephrologists/researchers to work very hard, to pay their baby-sitter very well, and to let their house get as dirty as they can possibly stand it". I have been following this advice for a while.