Hayley Wardrip, M3 University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine
Dr. Leander Lee is a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri. He has owned his own private practice for more than 33 years. He attended medical school at Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha and trained at Washington University in St. Louis both for residency in anesthesiology and a fellowship in cardiothoracic anesthesia.
1) What is one interesting fact about you?
The interesting fact about myself is the long and difficult journey I took from being an orphan in a poor Chinese town to be educated in the U.S. and becoming a successful cardiac anesthesiologist.
2) What made you decide to go to medical school?
For the Chinese, being a physician is an honorable and respectful profession. I wanted to take care of the sick and make a good living.
3) Where did you go to medical school?
University of Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha.
4) Why did you choose to go into anesthesiology?
I wanted to be a surgeon. I have very skillful hands. After I took a rotation in anesthesia during the first part of my third year (I completed my M.D. degree in three years because I just could not afford to stay in school any longer), I found anesthesia really interesting and exciting. An anesthesiologist is the internist in the operating room, taking care of all aspects of the patient for the duration of the surgical procedure. I don't like chronic patient care or management at all. To become a surgeon also requires 5 to 7 years in training. I was so poor and I wanted to finish a shorter residency so I could start making a living. I found out, too, that in cardiac anesthesia I could perform invasive monitoring which is what I loved to do.
5) Where did you go to residency? Fellowship?
I was trained at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.
6) Why did you choose to go into cardiothoracic subspecialty?
As I said earlier, I love to place invasive monitors. Only in cardiac anesthesia can we do all these invasive hemodynamic monitoring. I love physiology and pharmacology that provide me a good foundation for understanding hemodynamics.
7) Where do you currently work?
After I finished my training, I became an attending anesthesiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University School of Medicine doing cardiac anesthesia. About a year and half later I was recruited by two well-known cardiac surgeons from Barnes-Jewish Hospital to start a new cardiac surgery program at Missouri Baptist Medical Center where I’ve been for 33 years.
8) What is a typical day for you in the hospital?
It can vary a lot from no cases, one or two cases, up to six or seven cases that are shared among three cardiac anesthesiologists. I was solo the first year of my practice working 24/7. We normally start about 6:30 a.m. and sometimes last into the evening. We sometimes work through the night.
9) What is the best part of your job?
Being able to help the really sick patients and enjoying what I love to do.
10) What is the hardest/least favorite part of your job?
Medical charting and documentation is my least favorite.
11) How many hours per week do you work?
I work 30 to 60 hours depending on the surgical schedule.
12) Do you feel you are able to balance your professional and personal life?
I have devoted TOO much of my life to my career. Looking back, I wished I had worked less and spent more time with my family.
13) What interests/hobbies do you have outside of the hospital?
I am a man with few hobbies. I always love to read but there is never enough time. I love good food and wine. I study and collect great wine.
14) Why did you choose private practice over academic medicine?
I actually love academic medicine teaching students and residents. I am a very good clinician, but I am not very good with publishing. There is not much of a future in academic medicine if you don't publish. After 17 months in an academic position, gaining more skills and knowledge, I was ready for solo practice. I loved the challenge to be the only cardiac anesthesiologist in a busy new program. I did over 400 cardiac cases all by myself the first year in private practice. I was well-rewarded financially. I did the work of two or perhaps three anesthesiologists.
15) What are you looking for when you are hiring someone to your practice?
We love to have young, energetic, dedicated and hardworking anesthesiologists. I look for a young anesthesiologist who is well trained and is still eager to learn from someone with years of experience.
16) What characteristics do you think are important in order to thrive in the field of anesthesia?
Having a great interest in physiology and pharmacology so you can manage the patient as a whole. I love the Boy Scouts spirit—be prepared and ready.
17) What advice would you give to an aspiring anesthesiologist?
Don't go through years of training to come out supervising CRNAs. You can make lots of money that way . You want to do your own cases to take care of patients.
18) If you could go back, would there be any advice you would give yourself as a fourth year medical student applying for residency?
First of all, decide where you want to settle eventually. I did not like the east or west coast or small towns. I came to St. Louis and hoped that after training I could find a job in town. I interviewed at the Mayo Clinic. It is a great place to train but unless you become employed by the clinic you have to move.
19) Would you choose the field of anesthesiology again? If so, why?
I would not do general anesthesia. I love cardiac anesthesia. Managing the hemodynamics in the critically ill is my ultimate challenge/reward.
20) Where do you see the field of anesthesiology in the next 10–15 years?
There will be a great need of well-qualified anesthesiologists due to the aging population and high demand in cosmetic surgery. There will be competition from the CRNAs if they are allowed to prescribe narcotics. In small towns, CRNAs are already acting like anesthesiologists and receive the same payment.