AN INTERVIEW WITH CRISTINA BALDASSARI, MD
What is a typical day in the life of an ENT?
A typical day in the life of an ENT is challenging and invigorating. An ENT doctor’s day is never boring, and our schedules tend to vary. One of the reasons that I became an ENT physician is because our specialty offers an ideal mix of clinic and operative experiences. ENT is one of the few medical specialties that allows for the opportunity to intervene surgically and establish long-term patient relationships. In my practice (I am a pediatric ENT at a tertiary care children’s hospital), I typically operate 1.5 days per week and see clinic patients for 2.5 days per week. My remaining time is spent focused on academic pursuits such as research, teaching, and committee work. As ENT physicians, we take care of both children and adults and treat a wide variety of diseases ranging from ear infections, to head and neck cancer, to sleep apnea.
What do you like best about practicing in an academic setting?
I am passionate about teaching and research. I have developed a research niche in pediatric sleep apnea and snoring. Involvement with clinical research projects in this field provides important information about how I can improve outcomes for my pediatric patients. I can identify clinical questions and problems in my daily interaction with patients and then use my research infrastructure and knowledge to design projects to address gaps in medical knowledge. In this way, I can significantly advance my specialty and improve patient care.
What are the biggest challenges to practicing in an academic setting?
As an academic ENT, one of the biggest challenges I face is balancing patient care responsibilities with academic pursuits. For example, while I am able to place an ear tube in less than five minutes, it can take up to 15 minutes to place an ear tube when I am teaching and supervising a resident physician learning the procedure. I am passionate about teaching our next generation of physicians, so I try to maintain a balance between teaching and efficiency. However, this can be challenging with a full day of surgery followed by several research meetings.
From your perspective, what is the difference in practicing in an academic versus private practice setting?
All ENT doctors, regardless of practice setting, are focused on providing the best care for their patients. ENT doctors in the academic setting are also interested in teaching and research and typically have some protected time to pursue these endeavors. Private practice physicians may also choose to participate in some teaching and research activities as well, but their primary focus is on providing quality patient care.
From a work-life balance, is there a difference?
Numerous medical students and residents have asked me over the years about being able to achieve work-life balance as a surgeon. As a female surgeon with three children under the age of six, I have been able to find a balance between family and clinical obligations. I am able to balance my responsibilities in both realms and feel fulfilled. I do not think that there is a significant difference between academics and private practice from a work-life balance standpoint. I do travel frequently because of my research which may not be typical for my private practice colleagues.
In retrospect, is there some additional training you would recommend in preparing for academic practice?
Practice management skills such as coding, billing, and debt management are topics that I would have liked to receive more training on in residency.
From a salary perspective, is there a difference?
Traditionally, private practice physicians have had higher salaries in part due to ancillary income from things like surgery center ownership and allergy and audiology profits. However, health care reimbursement is currently undergoing a transition. Thus, in the upcoming years it is unclear how salaries for ENTs will change.
About Cristina Baldassari, MD
Cristina Baldassari, MD is Associate Professor of the Department of Otolaryngology at Eastern Virginia Medical School and practices in the Department of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.