A Fork in the Road. Followed by a Road Trip.
By Steve Duquette, MD
I am extremely fortunate. I love my practice. I love the people I work with. My wife and family are happy here. We weren’t supposed to be here.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created turmoil and tragedy across the entire globe over the past 2 years. Personally, it completely changed my career. Once I had matched into my hand fellowship, I immediately started looking for jobs. There was a very defined geographic area that I wished to practice in and where my wife and I wanted to raise our kids. I knew that as a hand-trained plastic surgeon that it would be somewhat difficult to find my ideal practice situation. I found a hospital system that needed what I could provide and what sounded like an ideal practice and signed a contract during my chief resident year at Indiana University. It was a little bit early, but we were excited.
Fast forward to the spring of 2020. I was a hand fellow at SUNY Stony Brook in Long Island and, when we had our first Covid-positive patient in the hospital, it was a fairly quick downward spiral. Our daughter’s preschool shut down, elective hand surgery was shut down. Our ASC became an ICU for the ventilator use and hospital beds. All of our plastic surgery and orthopedic residents took to the Covid floors for support. It was a scary time. At the height of this, I received a phone call from my future employer. They similarly were shut down, not sure about when things would recover, and were shutting down the hospital-based plastic surgery practice indefinitely. I no longer had a job. It was devastating. My family was devastated. I immediately called my mentors from both fellowship and residency.
I could not believe the support I was getting from the people I worked with. Drs. Mary Lester, Ivan Hadad, Bill Wooden, Sunil Tholpady, and Gayle Gordillo from Indiana University wrote me wonderful letters of recommendation, reached out to their colleagues, and helped me get interviews at places that might be a good fit. Similarly, Drs. Jason Ganz, Anne Meo, and Samantha Muhlrad at Stony Brook connected me with many of their contacts in the hand surgery world.
Drs. Larry Hurst and Alexander Dagum, my fellowship mentors, reached out to their contacts throughout the US and helped me get in touch with Dr. Peter Jebson at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It seemed they needed a hand surgeon for their orthopedic department, and were also quite interested in having someone available to do extremity flaps. Around that same time my close mentor, Dr. Kevin Knox, put me in touch with Dr. Levi Hinkelman, the division chief of hand surgery at Spectrum, whom Dr. Knox had helped train. Lastly, a young surgeon named Dr. Dan Hess, who was also finishing hand fellowship, reached out to me. We knew each other from fellowship interviews, had a beer or two at the bar, and shared a cab ride in New York. He was about to start at Spectrum Health that summer 2020.
It sounded like a great opportunity, a perfect fit, except for the fact that my family and I had never even set foot in Grand Rapids. So, I took a few days off, we rented a minivan and made an epic trip to the Midwest and back with a 2 year old and 5 year old during the first wave of the pandemic. The contract offer was sent to us when we were somewhere in Ohio and my wife read it to me while I was driving on I-80. We had a few different places to check out, but the first stop was Grand Rapids and the rest is history. We fell in love with the place and didn’t go any further.
I will be forever grateful for how things turned out. Like I said, I love the people I work with. My partners have been a great resource for a brand new attending. The Department of Orthopedics at Spectrum welcomed their new (and only, at the time) plastic surgeon with open arms and gave me tremendous support. I am additionally fortunate to have had great support from Sarah Rodriguez, MA, Vanessa Smitko, NP, and Alli Lathrop, PA in my clinic and operating room. I get to teach orthopedic and plastics residents and do the surgical cases I have always envisioned myself doing. I have great patients. Most importantly, my family loves it here. Our kids have returned to in-person learning safely in a great school system, and we have a wonderful group of friends and neighbors in our community. A fork in the road, but perhaps the best thing that could have happened.