Medical Student Council, Medical Students, Advising, Match, Program Director Interviews

Program Director Interview Series: Michele L. Dorfsman, MD | University Of Pittsburgh Emergency Medicine Residency Program

Next up in our Program Director Interview Series is Michele Dorfsman, MD, sharing details about the Univeristy of Pittsburgh Emergency Medicine Residency Program. Dr. Dorfsman tells us more about EM in The Steel City. 

What sets your program apart from others?

The University of Pittsburgh Emergency Medicine Residency Program provides trainees with an outstanding clinical experience under the guidance of very experienced, nationally and internationally renowned faculty. As an academic, university-based, urban program, each of our faculty members specializes in a particular niche within EM. We offer fellowships in EMS, Toxicology, Ultrasound, Critical Care, Simulation, Education, Research, Sports Medicine, Informatics, and others. Exposure to many of the different niches within Emergency Medicine allows our residents to make an informed decision about their future career path.

The acuity of our patient population is very high, and therefore our trainees emerge with a wealth of experience. We offer quite a diverse variety of training sites, and rotating in different environments makes our graduates extremely adaptable. We offer training in a high-acuity Level I trauma center which serves as a major tertiary care referral center, an urban Level I trauma and burn center serving a primarily underserved community, a women’s hospital providing much of our OB/GYN experience, a dedicated children’s hospital, a community hospital only 20 minutes from our other facilities, and a specialized oncology hospital. We continue to offer a prehospital field physician response rotation as well as a flight program.

We pride ourselves on inspiring and promoting leadership in our trainees and we have a long, rich history of training leaders in the specialty. Our primary focus is education. Our mission is to create expert, compassionate, physician-educators. We hope to inspire intellectual curiosity as well as providing administrative experience and the foundation for continued education and professional development.

Over the past three years, we have completely revamped our didactic curriculum, designing it for adult learners. Our didactics are held in a variety of interactive formats, incorporating simulation and small group learning for much of our time together weekly. We also have a dedicated faculty member who designs a modular asynchronous curriculum.

One of the greatest parts of joining the “PITT EM Family” is that we have built a rich, close, alumni network since the inception of the program in 1981. The collegial and friendly atmosphere here fosters camaraderie, and we really enjoy our yearly alumni reunions as a result of our trainees’ experiences here. Residents come to Pittsburgh for the program, and their co-trainees and faculty become family. 

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

I don’t think you can truly generalize across all three-year programs or all four-year programs. Our residents get a really unique training in a relatively short period of time. We are able to provide extremely robust clinical training in three years, in addition to having unique prehospital rotations and an inpatient toxicology rotation. We also offer pediatric anesthesia and pediatric orthopedics, which are not standard in many programs. We have found each of these rotations to provide extremely useful experiences. While we as a three-year program may have less dedicated time for elective rotations and research, we find that our residents are able to complete meaningful scholarly projects and make the most out of their electives with the help of our elective rotation director. The beauty of a three-year program is that what a trainee chooses to do after graduation is their personal choice. Many of our residents go right into clinical practice, and others choose to participate in a fellowship to “jump-start” their career in a particular niche.

What is something students may not know about your program?

We have over 90 faculty members at our different sites dedicated to the education of our trainees. Each faculty member chooses their own area of expertise that they are passionate about. Having a diverse faculty allows for more personalized mentorship and guidance. Our alumni network includes individuals in each of the 50 states and abroad. Many have done fellowship and are working at community and academic programs, and others are working in almost every imaginable venue including locum tenens, cruise ship medicine, telemedicine, urgent care, critical care, and global health.

What range of USMLE/COMLEX Step 1 scores do you look for in an applicant for the program?

There is no strict cutoff. We are more interested in the application as a whole.

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

More than anything, we seek to have diversity in our residency. We love when our trainees are interested in research, and we can foster that interest, but research experience is certainly not required prior to residency. For those interested in research, we continue to remain a leader in EM research, and we were one of the original six programs selected by the NIH to create a K12 Emergency Care Scholars Program. We offer a research elective rotation, as well as a research fellowship.

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

Our elective rotation director has helped us to expand our offerings. We now offer electives internationally, domestically, and locally, and we are continuing to add additional rotations depending upon the interests of our trainees. Many of our trainees choose to spend their elective time abroad.

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

Fit is everything. Most of all, we want to match individuals who wish to participate in all of our offerings and make the most of their time with us. We want to train individuals who seek a close, collegial environment. Each one of our residents contributes to the program in a unique and special way. We offer leadership opportunities during training, and our senior trainees mentor the more junior residents as they advance through the program. We work as a team, and support one another more than anything.

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

Qualities that make an applicant stand out are enthusiasm, strong work ethic, adaptability, flexibility, leadership, and service. Sense of humor is a plus as well

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