My Conference Experience: Q and A with Neil Kothari, MD

April 16, 2021
Neil Kothari, MD is the Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Neil Kothari, MD is the Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. An active tweeter during the 2021 Annual Educational Conference, we asked him about his experience at the event, which was held virtually in February.

ACGME: Tell us a little about your path in medicine and how you got here.

Kothari: Growing up, I witnessed the hard work and effort my immigrant parents poured into their family, their respective jobs, and the local community – they achieved the American dream through sheer will and zeal, yet always remembered to be grounded and give back to those less fortunate. Medicine afforded me the opportunity to pursue a career dedicated to service to others. After graduating from New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), I pursued internal medicine training at NYU/Bellevue. Teaching medical students and interns on the hospital wards while taking care of patients provided me with my “Eureka!” moment and was the most satisfying educational experience I had had to that point. I realized my career would be spent in medical education, and was excited to rejoin NJMS after my training. Over the years, I have held many MedEd leadership positions, from running pre-clerkship clinical courses to serving as internal medicine residency director. For the last 5+ years I have managed the GME programs at NJMS as associate dean. Overseeing 600+ residents and fellows across 45+ training programs has been a wonderful challenge and opportunity!

ACGME: What made you want to participate in the Annual Educational Conference?

Kothari: The ACGME Annual Educational Conference is an outstanding meeting that has helped build a vibrant and robust GME community. The conference provides the space for residents, coordinators, program directors, and DIOs to learn and grow together. Too often clinical concerns take center stage at most hospitals and academic medical centers. Working to promote the value of GME can sometimes be difficult in a world consumed with revenue and financial considerations. This meeting is an opportunity to refocus our energies, and to be inspired and rejuvenated toward our common goal of improving medical education. It literally helps to sustain many of us in graduate medical education!

ACGME: What was your experience like? What did you think of the virtual platform (ease of use, navigability, access to and variety of content, networking tools, activities, etc.)

Kothari: I was really, really impressed with the virtual platform this year. From the opening animation where you enter the large convention center to the ease of accessing the various features from the main lobby area, it was a smart and easy-to-use interface. Sessions were easy to join, and changing to a different topic when desired was similarly straightforward. I appreciated the attempts to provide different tools for networking including the chat/message board area, and the set up for meeting and interacting with vendors was outstanding. Some other features that worked really well and contributed to a sense of community and fun were the photo booth and the scavenger hunt. I enjoyed the Virtual Museum Tour, and the Second City Improv Show was a definite hit with my whole family, including my children.

ACGME: What did you expect from this year's conference? What were you looking forward to?

Kothari: I honestly didn't really know what to expect this year, but I knew the plenaries and didactic sessions would be top quality as always. I was interested to see how workshops would function virtually, afraid they would suffer from lack of in-person interaction, but it all ran relatively smoothly especially as participants used the chat features extensively.

ACGME: Which session(s) had the biggest impact? Why?

Kothari: The Closing Plenary by Camara Jones on the ‘seductive somnolence of racism denial’ was one of the best talks I've ever attended. Dr. Jones is a master storyteller, and she did an incredible job of highlighting how racism permeates our entire society. She then identified barriers to health equity and discussed tools to begin to dismantle this system. Her words left a lasting impression on me, and I hope to heed her call to action in my ongoing work as a medical educator. Her talk should be required viewing for all doctors!

ACGME: What was your greatest takeaway? What was the biggest surprise?

Kothari: While our world has changed dramatically since the 2020 conference in San Diego, the GME community remains vibrant and committed to quality medical care and education. I worry so much about the mental toll this pandemic has inflicted on our trainees and clinician educators. And yet, despite all of the challenges and heartache, our community has continued to bond together! The clinician well-being movement has never been more important, and I was excited to see a strong focus on improving the learning environment and caring for each other.

ACGME: Will you come to the next Annual Educational Conference – whether it is in person or virtual or a hybrid experience? Why/Why not?

Kothari: I will absolutely attend whether it be virtual or in-person. This conference rejuvenates my soul and always provides new ideas to bring back to my home institution. It also affords an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.

ACGME: The theme of this year's conference was “Meaning in Medicine: Mastering the Moment.” Where do you find your personal meaning and joy in work? How did this theme resonate for you at the conference/how does it resonate in your work life?

Kothari: Treating patients with COVID-19 infection has been one of the great challenges any of us will ever face in our professional careers. And yet, it's the small moments when treating such vulnerable patients that nurture us, and provide the strength for us to keep going, patient after patient. Holding a patient's hand as they struggle to breathe. Facilitating a cell phone call to allow a patient in isolation to videoconference with his family for perhaps the last time. Or helping a patient to drink water who is stuck on non-invasive ventilation. It's been a year of constant and unrelenting stress, illness, and unending death. But taking a moment to appreciate and reflect on the privileged work we do helps us to keep going, to find meaning and purpose in our life's vocation. As medical educators, we also need to foster this realization in our trainees, and help them to see the joy and meaning in the care we provide each moment. I thought the conference theme this year was perfect, all the more reason because of the unique moment we are in.