Match, Medical Students, Program Director Interviews

Program Director Interview Series: Arlene Chung MD, MACM | EM Residency Program Director at Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY

In this month’s addition to the Program Director Interview Series we were privileged to visit with Arlene Chung MD, MACM, to learn about the people and culture of Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY

What sets your program apart from others?

The Emergency Medicine Residency Program at Maimonides Medical Center is a three-year community-based program of 54 residents training in the heart of multicultural Brooklyn, New York. The ED cares for over 120,000 patients each year in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. We are a Comprehensive Stroke Center, STEMI Center, Level 1 Adult Trauma Center, Level 2 Pediatric Trauma Center, and the only Pediatric Trauma Center in Brooklyn, which includes a catchment area of over 500,000 children in the borough. Our residency program was first accredited in 2001 and we have successfully graduated 18 classes of residents as of 2022. In particular, we provide robust training in critical care, point-of-care ultrasonography, pain management, and prehospital event medicine. Our residents receive experience in performing advanced fiberoptic airway management techniques, transesophageal echocardiography, and ultrasound-guided peripheral nerve blocks. Under the appropriate supervision, they have the opportunity to provide medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder and advanced treatments for addiction and chronic pain.

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

The 3- vs 4-year format is rarely the make-or-break factor in choosing the right residency program. Many of the other considerations play a bigger role, like the people, the culture, and the location. Most residency programs across the country are 3 years long and I believe you can absolutely get excellent training and be prepared for independent practice in 3 years. On the other hand, I attended a 4-year residency program, as did many of our faculty. I think the important question to consider in a 4-year program is what you get out of that fourth year. Some places will feature scholarly tracks in EM subspecialities, which our program also does in our 3-year format. I’ve heard applicants voice concerns that a 3-year program may limit their options out of residency, but we’ve had many graduates from our program enter fellowships and jobs at institutions with 4-year residency programs for the past several years without any issues.

What is something students may not know about your program?

We have some amazing and exclusive moonlighting opportunities in event medicine for our residents. For example, we are the only emergency medicine program in the country that provides medical coverage for Burning Man. We send a team of residents and attendings every year to care for this pop-up city of 70,000 people in the middle of the Nevada desert for 2 weeks, and return with incredible stories, both medical and non-medical. We also cover the US Open, and our residents watch the matches with the biggest names in tennis up close. Our residents have the opportunity to travel to provide coverage for various music festivals across the country as well as sporting events and concerts at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center here at home. They get to be courtside for games or by the stage for the shows. All of these events allow our residents to learn and apply their medical skills in an exciting and challenging setting. And of course it’s a really fun and enjoyable way to practice emergency medicine.  

What range of USMLE/COMLEX Step 1 scores do you look for in an applicant for the program? Or alternatively, how do you feel about the change to pass/fail Step 1 grading?

We do not use cut-off scores. We know that standardized exam scores do not accurately predict professionalism, compassion, clinical performance, or all of the other qualities required to become an exceptional physician. We appreciate and want to get to know our applicants holistically as people and unique individuals. We care about how their collective experiences and backgrounds have shaped them and how they practice medicine.

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

Our department has an excellent track record of providing residents with the opportunity to be involved and lead original research, presentations, publications, and grants. We have experienced faculty who serve as great mentors for residents who are interested in research. We’ve matched applicants with lots of research from prior PhD programs, and we’ve also matched applicants with zero prior research. Ultimately, we believe in the value of contributing scholarship to the EM community but take into consideration each resident’s own career goals and past experience.

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

We have a longstanding and dedicated 4-week international health rotation. It is distinct from the 4 weeks of elective time that we also offer. This is less common, especially for a 3-year program, but we think that it provides an important perspective on caring for our diverse community of patients from all over the world here in Brooklyn. Importantly, we encourage ALL of our residents to travel abroad, not just those few who are pursuing a career in Global Health. We have established longitudinal sites that do not require knowledge of a second language. Each year, residents may also propose new sites, which we do our best to support from a safety and educational standpoint. Our residents have completed rotations in over two dozen countries, including Iceland, Italy, Argentina, Turkey, Australia, Haiti, Kenya, Mexico, and Indonesia to name just a few.

What are some qualities that your program looks for in applicants?

This is always so tough to answer because our residents have such a diverse range of backgrounds and personalities and yet each individual has become such an integral part of our residency family. Our ED can be a very clinically challenging environment. Applicants should be prepared to roll up their sleeves and work hard, hang in the trenches with a really fun and energetic team, and show a real passion for emergency medicine, diversity, and vulnerable populations. Our residents often have really interesting passions outside of medicine as well.

Can you describe any attributes and qualities that make applicants stand out?

We love meeting applicants and learning about their passions, both in medicine and outside of medicine. We encourage them to be their true selves and tell us their stories. It’s always inspiring to hear about their amazing accomplishments.

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