Advice for Graduates – What Do You Have to Share?

This is the time of year for graduations and weddings and I love them both – great occasions to reflect on our own journeys, take pride in those that we care about, look forward to the future, and shed a few emotional tears.

The past few weeks have held several graduations — our medical students, cytotech students, and our housestaff – in addition to the hoopla of Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding. I’ll spare you my reflections on the royal wedding (which I greatly enjoyed and got up at 4 am to watch) – but launching our grads out into the world is definitely a blog-worthy topic.

I therefore asked several of our faculty to share advice they wish they had received when they left the nest and entered practice. Here are their thoughts, plus my own at the end – and see if you find the same common theme that I did:

  • Alaa Afify, Professor and Director of Cytopathology: “Do your best to find an excellent mentor in every step of your career.”
  • Sarah Barnhard, Assistant Professor, Clinical Pathology, (Transfusion Medicine): “Many times I was taught in medical school to consult specialists sparingly, but in practice I actually think the opposite is true….I rely on the specialist experience and training expertise of my broad network of colleagues at UCDMC, even without formal ‘consults’. It improves patient care to learn from others!”
  • John Bishop, Professor and Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs: “I suppose my wake-up to reality was my move from the academe of Tufts to the US Navy….It was not without discomfort. A big shift from contemplative reflection to ‘moving the meat’. Productivity matters…. We need to learn who our friends are (and they aren’t always the ones who smile sweetly and talk politely) but they can help us get those emergency instrument purchases pushed through, or some painful policy arbitrations accomplished. Of course, they can also be essential in a crisis. The Godfather says, “keep your enemies closer.” Well, I say just don’t push them so far away that you can’t hear what they are saying about you….No one can afford not to do so.”
  • Karen Matsukuma, Assistant Professor, Surgical Pathology (GI): “Join a local and/or national pathology society whose members you hold in high esteem diagnostically. The ones I belong to share interesting cases monthly or quarterly and discuss them in a live or online didactic format. This gives me the opportunity to retain and expand my surgical pathology skills. ….Pathology societies help to refresh me on areas of pathology that I no longer see on a daily basis (but that can be critical for after hours call and during frozen sections) or on topics in my specialty area that are rare but important.”
  • Grace Monis, Assistant Professor, Clinical Pathology (Transfusion Medicine): “Keep in touch with your mentors. They eventually become your colleagues. Our professional world is small. I am thankful to be able to collaborate and continue to receive advice from those I trained with – What feels really good is when mentors/colleagues call you to get your advice. That moment “solidified” graduation for me!”
  • Hooman Rashidi, Professor and Vice Chair of Graduate Medical Education: “The advice I wish I had been given was how to decline a collaboration proposal or teaching opportunity in a friendly and professional manner without being excluded from future opportunities. Many of us just don’t know how to say No….Knowing one’s limitations and being able to balance work and home life is extremely important for sustaining long term productivity. I don’t recommend saying the word “No”. I would recommend phrasing it as such: “Sounds like a very interesting opportunity and if you don’t mind I would like to think about it a little and see if my current schedule and other commitments will allow me the time to participate. Thank you for thinking of me.”
  • Nam Tran, Professor and Director of Clinical Chemistry, Point of Care Testing, and Specimen Accessioning and Receiving: “Don’t forget to spend some time and be happy about the good things that happen each day or week….Dr. Kuppermann gave me that advice back in 2016. He used the example of his role as Department Chair (Emergency Medicine), there are many frustrating/challenging things each week, but one shouldn’t lose sight of all the good things that happen too (in this case, his daughter just got into Stanford that week). In the fast pace 21st century, we are trained to quickly deal with problems and improve quality, but sometimes forget to take the time and reflect on all the good things we have done recently, as well as remind our team members of all the good they have done as well! Good quality of life and work life ‘integration’ advice!”

I am struck that relationships are a strong common theme in the advice from our faculty, be it relationships with mentors, colleagues, co-workers, “enemies”, professional societies, or even your relationship with the happier side of yourself. In fact, cultivating strong relationships is my bit of graduation advice, too. Our work in pathology, including the downstream consequences, are team-based and completely dependent on communications and interactions with others. It therefore doesn’t always feel easy or expedient to have to rely on someone else to complete your report, project, or meet your goal. We all struggle – our patients struggle with their health, and the rest of us struggle with the joy, privilege and burden of trying to make them better through clinical care or research, in addition to trying to balance the many commitments we have in our own work and home lives. So including compassion in your work relationships is my second piece of advice. Harvard Business Review recently shared that cultivating compassion among one’s team is one of the best ways to instill grit and grace since this is one of the emotions that builds social bonds.1  Compassion is used to describe women more than men, and is therefore sometimes seen as a stereotypical negative “feminine” trait. But maybe we all – men and women – need to think more about embracing our feminine side – including compassion – in order to be the best we can be when working with, and especially leading, a team.

I greatly appreciate the shared wisdom and thoughtful reflections from our faculty. These are not just good words of advice for new practitioners, but also for those who have spent many years in the trenches, like me. I wish our new graduates, as well as all of our faculty and staff, much success and happiness as your careers continue to unfold. And if anyone has additional thoughts and advice for our grads or others, please share on this blog page!


  1. DeSteno D. How to cultivate gratitude, compassion, and pride on your team. Harv Bus Rev 2018.
  2. McClelland L. “Sweet”, “Petite”, “Has a great smile”: the alarming phrases still used in recommendation letters for women. Quartz at Work, 2018.
By | 2018-06-06T00:15:31+00:00 June 6, 2018|0 Comments

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