HCP Spotlight : Dr. Sharlene Su, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Resident
By Emily Pereira

We’ve started a monthly HCP Spotlight program to highlight some of our amazing Crowd members. Our third HCP Spotlight is Dr. Sharlene Su, a current resident specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation with plans to participate in a fellowship.

  1. How do you plan to hear and learn about new developments and drugs in your field?

In my field of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), I stay current on the latest developments by reading academic journals and attending conferences (AAPMR, AAP) and technical workshops. The field of PM&R is very broad and also requires keeping abreast of internal medicine guidelines, for which I read JAMA and follow Medscape. My main channels of acquiring information are daily email digests (JAMA, Medscape, and Doximity) and Twitter.

  1. How were you informed about new developments and drugs in medical school, and how do you expect the process to change in residency and beyond?

In medical school, I learned about new developments and drugs via student group meetings, my attending physicians, and direct meetings with pharmaceutical sales representatives. Every academic program has a policy regarding exposure to the pharmaceutical industry, and currently within my residency program at Stanford, I seldom have a chance to speak directly to a pharmaceutical sales representative. In my future career, I anticipate learning about new developments via specialty meetings, seminars, and increased contact with pharmaceutical sales representatives.

  1. Why did you go into medicine and your specific specialty?

As an undergraduate public health major at Johns Hopkins University, I focused on improving healthy behaviors and access to healthcare among underserved populations. While working in a rural village in Ghana, I met a mom with her newborn daughter who suffered from liver failure. Without medical treatment within a few weeks, her daughter would likely die. Unfortunately, this mother did not have resources to travel three hours to the nearest hospital to seek the treatment her daughter needed. I felt helpless to assist with her immediate need despite my role as a community health educator. At that moment, I realized that I wanted to augment my career in public health by studying medicine to be able to improve health for individuals at the point of care.

Once in medical school, I gravitated towards multiple specialties including family medicine, orthopedics, and oncology, but ultimately I chose physical medicine and rehabilitation due to its emphasis on improving patients’ quality of life and its broad scope which includes sports medicine, interventional pain medicine, traumatic brain injury, stroke rehab, cancer rehab, and spinal cord injury rehab. I felt that patients admitted to inpatient rehabilitation were often in emotionally vulnerable states as they learned to adjust to their new life-altering impairments. I felt privileged to be their personal cheerleader while optimizing their medical and emotional well-being at their time of transition. I cherished the opportunity to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of therapists, case managers, social workers, and psychologists to give our patients every chance possible to return to a normal life and achieve their goals.

  1. What’s the best part and the worst part about your work day?

The best part of my work day is witnessing and celebrating my patients’ improvements. This year, I cared for a young patient who suffered a severe brain injury from a car accident. During the first two weeks of his admission, he was confused, combative, and could not articulate words. However, one day with his mom beside him, he suddenly uttered his first word since his brain injury: “mom.” From then on, he made steady incremental progress such that by the time of discharge some weeks later, he could engage in simple conversations and answer questions accurately. Small success stories like these are not uncommon in the world of PM&R, which makes it an absolute joy and privilege to be part of this field.

The most frustrating part of my work day can be when working with insurance companies who cannot cover the specialized equipment that my patients need. For many patients, without their specific custom wheelchairs, commodes, walkers, and braces, their well-being, productivity, and relationships often suffer.

Stay tuned for our next HCP Spotlight!




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