Rajee Hari:
Hello, everyone.
Welcome to Protean Pulse, a healthcare podcast from ProteanMed.
I’m Rajee Hari, president and CEO of ProteanMed, a healthcare staffing and recruiting solution provider based out of The Woodlands, Texas.
I have with me guest who has a very interesting career path who has successfully straddled the world of both locum and permanent jobs as an anesthesiologist.
His name is Dr. Woo, and he was born and raised in El Paso.
Let’s hear from him about his career and his insights into the world of healthcare.
Welcome to Proteon Pulse, Dr. Woo, I’m excited to have you as my guest today.

Dr. Woo:
Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.

Rajee Hari:
First thing that really struck me about your career is your journey, where you literally transformed from an engineer to a medical physician.
So you have your undergrad and a master’s in electrical engineering, and then you completely pivoted into medical field.
So what exactly happened there?
Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dr. Woo:
Sure. Actually, my interest in medicine kind of came a little bit later on in my undergrad journey there.
My dad is an engineer, and so ever since I was small, I always wanted to do electrical engineering.
I wanted to either work for intel or some of those big companies.
As I was going through minder grad, the.com bubble burst and jobs were kind of hard to find.
And I was like, okay, I think I’m going to need to find out what else I can do.
And actually, my older sisters are both in medicine.
They’re both physicians. And so I kind of picked their brains and I said, do you think this is something that would be worthwhile?
And they’re like, absolutely, go ahead and look into it.
So my senior year of undergrad, I took just a little biomedical engineering course that we had.
I actually was very interested in more of the anatomy and physiology aspect of it, a little bit more so than the engineering, although both very interesting.
And so I spoke to my professor, and he was like, you know, my daughter’s in medicine.
I really think you should make the switch and just kind of look into it.
Since I didn’t have any of the prerequisites for medical school or for premed, I knew I needed about a year and a half to do that.
So I was like, well, let’s be productive.
And I’ll get my Masters in electro engineering as well, at the same time trying to study for the MCAT and everything.

Rajee Hari:
That’s amazing.
That’s just really something that the audience can pick on.
It doesn’t matter what your base is, you can still become a physician if you have the passion for it.
That’s extremely interesting.
Can you say that you got your inspiration from your sisters?

Dr. Woo:
Yeah, it was a little bit of everything.
It was very different seeing what my sisters kind of went through for their biology undergrad and through medical school, because they’re a little older than I am.
And I saw it from a distance, and I thought, yeah, it’s very interesting.
It’s very good for them. It’s a long road.
And honestly, it was just kind of that first foray into the biology anatomy aspect of it, which I honestly never really looked into.
And it was then that I was like, okay, this is something I can kind of get on board.
And really, it was just something that I felt would be more fulfilling.
Even though engineers can do some interesting, good things, I think medicine was sort of where I’m, like, I never knew that spark was there, but it kind of ignited that passion there.
And I was like, all right, let’s go full force into that.

Rajee Hari:
Yeah, you found your inner calling right there.
So tell us a little bit about your medical journey.

Dr. Woo:
I went to medical school in Dallas. At UT Southwestern.
Absolutely amazing experience training.
I wanted to explore a little bit outside Texas because I knew eventually I always wanted to come back and stay in Texas.
So I thought going to the Midwest, Chicago, would be a valuable learning experience.
And it was. It truly was.
It was great to have gone through that.
And then shortly after graduation, from there, after doing my fellowship, I decided to come back to Texas, to Houston.
My sister practices here, and she already knew one of the kind of the bigger groups that operates here out of Houston.
And so when I moved here in 2013, immediately joined them.
And, yeah, that kind of started the process there.
And I was with them for several years, did a little bit of full time anesthesia, full time paying, a really broad spectrum of things, and leads me to now.

Rajee Hari:
Yeah, just doing a little work. Interesting.
So you’ve worked both as a permanent employee and as a locum employee.
So what do you think has been your experience working as both Locum and as a perm employee?

Dr. Woo:
Permanent employee?
Well, there’s certainly pros and cons to each as a permanent employee, which is the bulk of initially what I knew of.
There’s stability. Not too many things you have to worry about, right?
You just go to work, you’re done, you know your colleagues, you know your schedule.
So there’s some comfort in knowing that for sure, the stability there.
But as a Locum, I think it does offer a lot of advantages, not to mention financially, but also just different opportunities that if you decide my interest is taking me, say, either if you want to go outside of the States, I haven’t done that quite yet, but it is a possibility.
And so I think that in itself is very enticing, something to look at.
You can kind of choose a little bit what you want to go into, say if you just want to practice in an outpatient facility you look at the locums opportunities there that are there or at bigger hospitals.

Rajee Hari:
So how do you adapt yourself to this different setting as a locum?
Their infrastructure might be different so how do you adapt to those things quickly when you do the locum?

Dr. Woo:
Oh, you’re totally correct. Yes.
Every facility is different. The equipment, the resources.
I think the field of anesthesia kind of lends itself to having to be adaptable and using what you you have.
And so you have to sometimes be either creative, of course, never at the expense of safety, but it’s something that you can either work with a lot of the latest and greatest toys, I’d say the big hospitals and some of the smaller facilities where sometimes equipment can be very expensive.
You just know the fundamentals.
You have your machine, you have your say, video laryngoscope for the difficult cases.
As long as the basics are there, I think it’s actually, for me, I find it to be, fortunately, not much of an issue to adapt to the different places I’ve seen.
And that really all goes with the training I had and with the experience.
And so just sort of building that up.

Rajee Hari:
Have you faced any challenge being a locum?
And how did you overcome it?
Any specific challenge or in general main challenge that you have faced?

Dr. Woo:
Well, I think I have to say I’ve been very blessed as far as the opportunities that have come up.
They’re there, they’re plentiful.
It’s just a matter, I think, of handling different personalities per se.
You can think of that.
Different facilities have different people.
That I would say probably that’s the most challenging thing, just to make sure that when you present yourself, you’re there as a team player.
You’re there to help out as much as you can.

Rajee Hari:
I always think of anesthesiologists as the people who bring you back into this world.
When you’re in that Operation Theater, when you’re on that bed and they’ll be talking to you, next second, you’re fast asleep, and then you wake up and the first person you see is usually the anesthesiologist.
So have you had any interesting or memorable experience as a physician in this field?

Dr. Woo:
Oh my goodness, yes.
I mean, it’s been on both sides of the burden, there being physician, and also on the other side, just doing full blown aesthesia.
Sometimes you have these really difficult cases, and these patients have undergone quite a few obstacles, and they’re very sick.
And when you’re able to kind of help them out, I think it’s been a real in a way, I guess, yeah.
Just a real opportunity to help them out.
It’s just a great thing.
Gosh, some of the cases, there’s so many that you do so many every day, right?
And any specific example?
I’m sorry, I’m kind of blank it’ll come to me.

Rajee Hari:
Let me know.
That’d be very interesting for the audience as well.
I know all the physicians are also mentors, right?
So you must have some mentees and also what would be your advice to the incoming anesthesiologist fellows or those who are considering entering the field?

Dr. Woo:
Yeah, I really think the landscape of healthcare is going to undergo a lot of changes in the next, like ten to 15 years.
I think the rate of change just even in my career has been quite quick from when I started just graduating and now it’s just hard to keep up.
And so you really need to always have an awareness of the state of affairs, talk to as many colleagues as you can, educate yourself as far as what is in a way kind of the politics right, that kind of interject ourselves into healthcare, where is the direction going.
So you can kind of plan in advance.
You definitely need to do the work.
But unfortunately, how we’re operating now, we really have to be aware we can’t just do the work and just focus on patient care.
Ideally, that would be a wonderful thing and not have to worry about everything else.
But it can be a very complicated picture and so I think that just educating yourself, never burning any bridges, explore all opportunities and just have an open mind, I mean, that’s going to be the trickiest thing.

Rajee Hari:
What do you think would be top three qualities that medical graduates should have to pursue anesthesiology?

Dr. Woo:
I would say, always have a curious mind, curiosity, a certain degree of patience.
Because change can like I said, it can be quick or small, but you have to see in the big picture, you have to just have the patience to be able to sit back and just say, okay, in the end, or in ten years from now, what are things going to look like?
And I think to have a sort of a temperate mentality, try not to swing too, not try to get your emotions into it too much because a lot of times you’re there to offer some stability to.
Sometimes the craziness that we can experience either in a clinical setting where a patient is crashing or even just in a non clinical setting, just in the hospital itself, they kind of look to us, say, okay, well, if stuff gets really hairy.
The anesthesiologist a lot of times is going to be the focusing force or at least to be able to coordinate things.

Rajee Hari:
So mental health is huge, right?
Doctors, physician burnout is something that we are hearing a lot, especially after the COVID.
Tell us a little bit about your experience during COVID and also now after COVID, what the changes that you’ve seen and also a little bit about the physicians mental health and how to cope with it.

Dr. Woo:
Yes, that’s a very good question.
COVID was unbelievable.
Yeah, I was working in one of the main hospitals up here in the Woodlands and we saw so many patients that had COVID, and it was early on in the stages where there were so many different unknowns.
We still had to take care of patients and go full force into that.
And so that was scary, I have to admit, before we had any other options, we were hoping the masks were enough, we’re hoping the personal protective equipment was enough.
And my daughter was under a year old, and so I think that added another element of just like, oh my gosh, I hope everything’s going to be okay.
So that was tricky, that was scary.
But thankfully we came out of the pandemic after a few years and afterwards, I think physicians never quite got a chance to recover because they still then not only did you have to deal with the stress of however it impacted your clinic or the hospitals and also the acuity of the patients that you saw just coming back from it.
We were never able to just sit back and just say, wow, this experience, and kind of just process it.
We just had to go back to work, back to the patient load, and now with more restrictions and now the politics are in it.
And so I think we’re kind of, in a way, there’s so many more things that we had to concern ourselves with.
That burnout, definitely, I think is a significant thing that I’m glad that now there’s more attention being placed on it, which is great because as doctors, we’re still humans, right?
We’re tired all the time, but we still have family obligations and we got to go back to work and we want to make sure that everybody is healthy and good.
And so I think the interest in it is a wonderful thing to see.
And I see physicians, in a way, starting to take a step back a little bit.
They’re kind of reducing their hours, going into locums positions where they just say, I want to have a little bit more control, to be able to say, okay, maybe I’m just going to take some time off or just, I’m going to work harder.
I feel good.
So I think those are some of the challenges that we’re facing right now, is really the shift in the mindset for the physician because we are working.
But it’s been good though.
I’ve seen more camaraderie lately, which is great.

Rajee Hari:
That’s interesting that you said that locum is kind of like a buffer that you get to get out of this continuous perm job stress.
So do you see a lot of physicians coming into locums now versus perms in the past three years?

Dr. Woo:
I do feel like it’s in the conversation a lot more, absolutely.
And I think as that opportunity comes up, I’m curious to see how the new grads are going to perhaps consider that as a viable option or do, say, like a part time gig and then also have their locums on the side as well. Just have a little bit more control over their schedule, which can help out for burnout, right.

Rajee Hari:
That’s so true.
I mean, we all need that buffer and that breathing space, right?
That’s what I felt with the physicians and the healthcare industry in general was I mean, they were on the go go during the COVID pandemic, and then, oh, the pandemic is over. Let’s continue. Right.
There was no break for the healthcare workers in general, and I see that amongst my friends, amongst the community, and I felt like this is a lot.
I mean, just because the pandemic is over, we are just jumping right back into our old schedule.
It’s a lot of stress.
And thank you for that little insight.
What is your go to hobby in terms of stress diffuser?

Dr. Woo:
Honestly, my daughter. She’s four years old, so, honestly, whatever she’s playing, that’s enough of us to diffuse my stress.
Her energy level, just her optimism of the world is just like hanging out with her.
That’s the fun part right there.
And then, of course, with her bedtime, then I’m like, okay, then I can maybe binge on a few TV shows and hang out with my friends.
That’s what makes it work.

Rajee Hari:
Great. Thank you so much.
I really appreciate your energy that you brought into this podcast today.
And also, I love the way that you talked about your transitioning from one field into the medical field and also your journey and your insight into your locum life.
It’s really interesting. Thank you so much.
I really wish you the very best.
I hope we can have you back later on again and see how the locum journey is still continuing or what changes you’ve made to your life as well.
So thank you so much. Absolutely.
It was a pleasure having you on our podcast.
Thank you so much, Dr. Woo and everyone, thank you for listening.
Subscribe to Protean pause.
I will see you in the next episode. Thank you so much.