Member of the Month: Edward Seto, MD
Family medicine resident looks for ways to prevent burnout before it happens.
By Perdita Henry
When Edward Seto, MD, was 5 years old, he came down with pneumonia and was admitted to the hospital. There he was, a sick little boy, trapped in a hospital bed watching nurses come in and out of the room, checking his vitals, administering medicine, making sure he was okay. And then there was his doctor — a family doctor to be precise — who would come in to do the things doctors do. He checked on his patient’s progress and interacted with nurses to find out how his young patient was progressing. While Edward didn’t understand all the phrases and terms being bandied about in this new environment, he did like it when his doctor would sit on the side of the bed and take the time to chat with him. His family doctor took young Edward’s mind off the anxious feelings that came along with being a sick kid in the hospital. Those interactions would follow Seto through high school and lead him to sign-up for a program that allowed him to shadow his own family doctor twice a week. Funny how life works, the high school junior would remember those hospital-bed chats. He would find a mentor in his own family physician, and ultimately make the decision to pursue a career in medicine.
Today Dr. Seto is leaning into his residency as co-chief resident at Christus Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency program and feeling out his new position as resident liaison. He is set to present on resident wellness during AAFP’s Family Medicine Experience, is one of 12 residents set to receive AAFP’s 2017 Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education, and will celebrate his birthday this month. He made time to speak with me about the things that inspire him, what he wished he knew before he began medical school, and why now was the time to become politically involved.
“Having reinforcement from your support system and keeping the patient at the forefront of all your studies, no matter how trivial it is, that’s what makes medicine worth it.”
What inspired you to choose family medicine? What’s your favorite aspect of it?
My interest expanded during the time I spent participating in a course offered at my high school called PACE, Professional Advancement in Career Education. I shadowed my family doc in Katy, Dr. Severino Pimentel, and was inspired to become a family doctor. He practices full-spectrum medicine and saw patients at the clinic and in the hospital. I shadowed him two afternoons a week but I decided to continue shadowing him throughout the summer after my experience in junior year and I kept in touch with him through senior year. I would visit him pretty frequently during medical school or give him a call. I was lucky enough to have him attend my medical school graduation, which was an exciting thing for me and showed me what I could be like as a physician. I wanted to be one that will be there for his patients in good and bad times.
My favorite aspect of family medicine is getting to take care of all patients. I’m very close with my family, so I feel knowing about the family in and out can point toward certain health issues an individual may be facing. As a family medicine doctor, I get to do some community health, sports medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics, geriatrics, new born care, so just the breadth the specialty drives me because I never know what I’ll be seeing when I enter my exam room door. I enjoy the variety.
How important is having a mentor early in your career?
I think it’s absolutely vital. When I speak to students, or people interested in going into the health care profession, I start with the importance of mentorship. It’s so important to have a mentor early on that can help you stay motivated. On your career path, you sometimes need someone to give you a reality check when it comes to what you want to do, help you figure out if an idea you have is something you’re really interested in, and to point out resources you’ll need to be aware of to execute your plans. I think having a bunch of different mentors is a good idea. I still keep in touch with some of my college professors who don’t practice medicine and I talk to them about life. Find people you can connect with and bounce ideas off. It’ll provide you with a better picture of where you stand and where you want to go in life.
“There’s always been this notion that family medicine is what you plan to fall back on but it has always been my inspiration and what drove me as a medical student and now as a resident.”
Looking back on your time as a medical student, what’s one thing you wish someone had shared with you before you began that journey?
It’s not as hard as everyone says it is. Don’t get me wrong, medical school is difficult. You put in a lot of time studying and you sacrifice a lot during your medical education, but if you keep the patient in mind as your end goal, you’ll have a rich experience. I think it’s nice to have that reinforced because my mentors and my family doc back home told me, “if people can go through every year, graduate, and become doctors, you can too.”
I also believe keeping the patient at the forefront of everything can be motivation through medical school or residency. I think it could help prevent burnout, increase resilience, and help with some of these big issues plaguing medicine. Having reinforcement from your support system and keeping the patient at the forefront of all your studies, no matter how trivial it is, that’s what makes medicine worth it.
You were President of your University’s Family Medicine Interest Group. Why did you think it was important to participate in your University’s FMIG?
I was president during my third-and-fourth year of medical school. I started as a first-year representative recruiting the people in my class interested in primary care and family medicine and I rose through the ranks.
There’s always been this notion that family medicine is what you plan to fall back on but it has always been my inspiration and what drove me as a medical student and now as a resident. Family medicine is the best specialty anyone could practice because it covers the whole breadth of a person’s health. We treat almost everything and refer patients to appropriate physicians when we can’t. As FMIG president, I wanted to make sure medical students understood that family medicine was not a backup specialty. It’s a great specialty at the heart of medicine and they should pursue it as a specialty. I think becoming FMIG president helped me get that message across in a way that was encouraging and not adversarial.
For me, being president of our FMIG for those two years was about furthering the conversation about what family medicine as a specialty can be, denouncing family medicine is a fall back specialty, and advocating for the specialty to the public. I have patients here that don’t know a lot family medicine doctors can provide obstetric care and can take care of kiddos. They’re often under the impression they need to go to a pediatrician or an OBGYN to receive those types of care.
You are an officer for TAFP. Why do you think it is important to participate in the TAFP governance structure?
In college, I knew I needed to get politically active because family medicine physicians are the best advocates for the patient population in the United States, especially in Texas where we have a large Medicaid group. The reason I didn’t get as active in the political realm as a medical student was because I wanted to focus my time on the actual study of medicine. I wanted to get as much information as I could so I could help as many patients as possible. How could I serve my patients well in the political arena if I didn’t know enough about the ins-and-outs of medicine and taking care of them as a physician?
The decision to become an elected representative in TAFP was a culmination of everything I’ve gone through. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I’m currently a co-chief resident at my residency program. I feel like holding the positions of resident liaison and co-chief resident go hand in hand. My goal is to bring the residency programs together and share ideas and experiences. My hope is that all the chief residents of residency programs in Texas will want to bounce ideas off each other. I hope our communication will help build a sense of camaraderie and will help us excel as a specialty.
I’ll attend AAFP’s Family Medicine Experience to present my research on mindfulness, resident wellness, and physician resilience. Part of my research was about exploring what wellness programs are offered at family medicine residencies programs and the possibility of starting standardized curriculum that could be adopted. Because our specialty is so expansive and there is so much to learn, there will be times during certain rotations when a resident might feel burned out or fatigued. I am trying to increase that awareness and provide an outlet for residents long before they reach the point of burnout.
“I am trying to increase that awareness and provide an outlet for residents long before they reach the point of burnout.”
How do you practice wellness?
I’m big on health, so I make time to go to the gym. I also visit with my family, watch Netflix, I like fantasy football, and I meditate before I go to bed. While I work hard on weekdays and have the weekends off, I figured out that I must take the weekends to do whatever I want. There are times when there are a million tasks I could be doing but I make sure to shut everything off and take time to myself. Even though I could use that time to accomplish things and get a head start on the next week, I don’t want to burn myself out. If I am burned out, I won’t be able to take care of my patients.
How do you champion family medicine?
I take care of my patients. I try to be the eternal optimist even though many of them have chronic illness or are facing mental health concerns. I think it all starts with having a very strong patient physician relationship — having those encounters behind exam room doors and being there for them.
On the other side, it comes down to mentoring, being a good chief resident, and trying to exert some positive influence on my junior residents and interns.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned in your career journey?
I know many residents struggle with time efficiency. Every time we have a milestone as physicians — the transition from college to medical school, and medical school to residency — finding a rhythm and being efficient in the work you’re expected to do is important because it’ll leave you more time to do what you want to do outside of medicine. We throw around the term “work-life balance” but I don’t like the term because when you hear the word balance you think 50/50 and as a resident it feels more like 70/30. Maybe work-life Zen is a better term.
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.