Interview of Dr. Sean Kivlehan on IEM and Lecture Topics for UCSF’s HREM Conference

By: Guest Author | Posted on: Mar 27, 2017

This article was originally published on by Kaitlin Parks. View the original article by clicking hereDr. Sean Kivlehan, High Risk Emergency Medicine Conference 2017 Dr. Sean Kivlehan, MD, MPH, Associate Director, International Emergency Medicine Fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

You’ve been the Associate Director of the International Emergency Medicine Fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for about a year now what are some unique challenges you’ve faced with this and what’s been most enjoyable?

The biggest challenge I face is probably my own fear of screwing things up. I was surprised and honored when this opportunity was presented to me, and I can’t think of a better job. I have been very lucky to inherit such an established and well-run fellowship, and the mentorship from the current director has been incredible. A frequent challenge I face is probably familiar to most junior faculty: trying to find a work-life balance. Although the shift load is significantly better than residency, there is the intense pressure to “make a name for yourself” and get some projects off the ground. Working in international emergency medicine, I do face some unique challenges — for instance not being able to remote login to our EMR because I am in a country that has a blocked IP address. Overall though, I love my job and am grateful to be part of a department that supports my work (and near-constant travel). I am incredibly lucky to have a position that combines all the things I enjoy: working clinically, teaching, and traveling. 

You wrote about the big tent that International Emergency Medicine encompasses on ALiEM here. You are certainly involved deeply in education — is this where you feel most at home within the diverse community of IEM? Are you still finding opportunities to travel and work internationally?

International Emergency Medicine is a big tent, and so is Emergency Medicine in general. I think the diversity is something that attracts a lot of us to the specialty. I have a passion for education, but I also love clinical medicine. My current position at the Brigham is perfect: I teach residents and medical students at our main site, but also work several shifts at our community site where I am alone and can just be a doctor. Taking on a fellowship leadership position allowed me to merge interests as well: I work on my own projects but mentor our fellows as well. So, I think that although education is a core interest, I could not do without some clinical work as well. I enjoy policy and research work, and have done some disaster response in the past as well. I think it all ties together in the end.

I am still able to travel and work internationally quite a bit. I would estimate I spend a total of 3–4 months a year out of the country. In fact, I am writing this on a plane flying from Addis Ababa to Entebbe, where I will be launching a project tomorrow!

How did you get involved as a consultant with the World Health Organization? For students and young doctors what were key steps you took or opportunities you sought out to set yourself on this path?

I was in the right place at the right time. When I was a resident at UCSF, I had the opportunity to work with Teri Reynolds, who is one of the EM faculty. She was already very involved in international work, but towards the end of my 4th year she took a position with the WHO and moved to Geneva. I started my fellowship at the Brigham a few months later and spent much of the year working on projects for her.

My advice is to identify potential mentors early on in residency or even medical school. If you know you are interested in international work, find out who is doing it in your institution. Then, find a way to meet them. If you know someone in common that is great, but most people will respond to a cold email from a resident or student at their institution. Persistence pays off, and don’t take it personally when people don’t have an opportunity for you. Things change over time, and this field is all about the networking — there aren’t applications for a lot of these jobs.

Another piece of advice I give is to just say yes. When an opportunity does present itself, you need to make the time for it. You will always be busy, and it will always be a bad time — just say yes and find a way to get it done. Finally, always follow through. If you say yes and don’t deliver, then there probably won’t be another opportunity from that person.

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