Match, Program Director Interviews, Medical Students

Program Director Interview Series: David Andonian, MD, MPH Program Director at SUNY Upstate Medical University

In the latest installment of our PD Q&A series, we are highlighting the SUNY Upstate Medical University Emergency Medicine Residency Program. We spoke with the current PD Dr. David Andonian, MD, about what makes his program unique and what he looks for in potential residents.

What sets your program apart from others? What is something students may not know about your program?

SUNY upstate is the busiest trauma center outside of the five boroughs in the state of NY, seeing on average ~1200 traumatic admissions per year. We also have one of the largest catchment regions in the state of New York and one of the biggest in the country. This provides us with an opportunity to learn from our patients presenting with a wide array of medical ailments. We serve a large population of underrepresented minorities and underserved patients including refugees and those seeking asylum from all over the world, as Syracuse has been identified as one of the safe havens for refugees and asylum by the US government. We have the unique honor of providing medical care to people from across the globe that have had a significant lack of medical care. We have a very high-volume system, seeing over 115,000 patients per year and covering multiple campuses including: the adult downtown trauma center, the pediatric emergency department within the Golisano pediatric hospital, our community campus on the Westside of Syracuse, and the VA Hospital emergency department.

What are the benefits of attending a 3 vs. 4-year EM residency program?

Although we are a 3-year program, the volume and acuity in combination at our institution provides a unique opportunity for learning that we are able to encapsulate within 3 years.  Our off-service rotations are concise and condensed to provide maximal educational benefit without any loss of time and training in the emergency department. This also provides an opportunity to explore fellowship education that may be looked at less favorably if one were to complete a 4-year residency. To that same point, we have nearly every fellowship within our institution including pediatric emergency medicine, hyperbaric and wound care, sports medicine, emergency ultrasound, international medicine, medical toxicology at the upstate New York Poison Control Center, wilderness medicine and emergency medical services (EMS).

How do you feel about the change to pass/fail Step 1 grading?

A passing grade is more than adequate for the USMLE step 1. Understanding the basic sciences at a fundamental level is critical for the growth of a physician's career, but we have seen over many years that someone’s Step 1 exam score does not have any corollary to their success in their career. So, for me and our program, passing is more than enough. Furthermore, we also have come to learn over many years that standardized tests do not define a person's aptitude on a global level and I feel that the Step 2 score gives a much greater insight into a person's potential as an emergency physician than the basic science focused Step 1.

What kinds of opportunities for research exist? Do you look for residency candidates with research experience?

We have a very robust research team that is dedicated to the emergency department. Specifically, we have Dr. Wojcik, who is our research director and a PhD on staff, as well as several research coordinators and assistants that collaborate with her. We strongly encourage and guide residents to explore more than their minimum requirement of research for graduation and many typically do. Moreover, we certainly have the support to help nurture that. We love to see applicants that have done some research/have experience in the past, but it is not a mandatory requirement per se. We have a large faculty body that are equally driven to support and explore research interests of our residents, myself very much included.

Do you have opportunities to explore global health at your institution?

We do have plenty of international opportunities. We have two established rotations in India as well as Kenya (that we have sent residents to for many years) to do electives as senior residents and explore the health system/practice of medicine in those two regions. We have also established ala cart electives in other international locations in years past including (but not limited to) Africa and Trinidad and Tobago. We do have some financial funding allocated to supporting these interests for our residents and faculty. Although Hawaii is a US state, we also have an established (and funded) senior 1-month elective to explore and learn tropical medicine on the island of Oahu. 

What are some qualities that your program looks for in applicants? Can you describe any attributes and qualities that make applicants stand out?

The most important qualities/attributes that we look for in an applicant is one that is extremely hard-working, maintains a thirst for learning, and has expressed kindness and compassion throughout their early career. We hope to see attributes that highlight a person's willingness to be part of something greater than themselves and collaborate with their co-resident/faculty to help provide the best care as the largest safety net hospital in our region. We pride ourselves on being a part of something that is more like a family and look for somebody that will embrace that.

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