My three days at Dominion Fertility with Dr. John Gordon have been a wonderful formative experience for me. I stayed in my brother’s dorm at Georgetown University, and although I was originally planning to take the bus, Dr. Gordon generously offered to pick me up and drop me off on his way to and from the clinic. My goal for this Princeternship was to learn more about the everyday work of a physician and further consider whether or not I want to continue on the pre-medicine track. After shadowing Dr. Gordon these three days, I know that I would enjoy being a doctor, and I now feel confident moving forward in my study of medicine. I also have a more objective view of the pros and cons both of working as a doctor and of having a private practice.
Each morning of my Princeternship, Dr. Gordon picked me up from Georgetown at 7:15 am, and we headed over to the Arlington office. On my first day at Dominion Fertility, I felt well prepared because I had read the three books that he had mailed me a few weeks before, but I was still a little lost as he discussed the different types of treatments that are offered at his practice. He explained the schedule for the next few days, and when we got to the office, he introduced me to the other doctors, nurses, and staff. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and I soon adjusted to the pace and rhythm of the office. Mornings were spent doing vaginal ultrasounds to monitor the status of growing eggs or check for various problems, after which I shadowed either the embryologists or Dr. Gordon during egg retrievals or embryo transfers. At first, I had difficulty understanding what was actually happening on the ultrasound screen, but I was excited by how quickly I began to understand what was going on and even predict what Dr. Gordon would determine from the screens. In the afternoons, he often had consultations with new or current patients to discuss treatment options, and I realized that much of his work also involves counseling, educating, and providing emotional support.
During the day, we also drove to different locations to see patients, visit with other doctors, and for Dr. Gordon to give a lecture to medical students. We ran a few errands along the way, and although he joked that I would report spending my Princeternship at Home Depot and Guitar World, I actually appreciated seeing the doctor’s everyday life. I realized that in private practice, a physician has more flexibility in his or her schedule, but, as Dr. Gordon pointed out, the doctor also becomes a small business owner. I noticed that he did spend a fair amount of time managing the business and considering ways to make the practice more efficient and cost-effective. Being somewhat independent also gave Dr. Gordon the flexibility to teach and do research, including writing several successful books, which I feel provides stimulating and rewarding diversity to his job.
As for the specialty of reproductive endocrinology, I learned an incredible amount about the complex facets of this new and developing field. Although I am still far from choosing a specific field within medicine, I found infertility treatment to be challenging intellectually and rewarding emotionally. Reproductive endocrinology is an extremely unique specialty that still faces much controversy and is not fully understood, but when successful, the results are undeniable. As Dr. Gordon likes to say, “once you’re pregnant, you’re 100% pregnant.” There is nothing more satisfying for an infertility doctor than to have a patient come in with a happy, healthy baby. On the flip side, reproductive endocrinologists face tough ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. For example, one morning a couple came in for embryo transfer, and Dr. Gordon informed them that four healthy embryos had been produced during the in vitro fertilization. Since the couple only wanted to use one, he asked if they would like to freeze the remaining three for future use. The wife asked to have them disposed of, but the husband wanted to save them in case they changed their minds. This situation raises many fascinating but unanswerable questions. Is an embryo a human being? What is its legal status? Who has custody of the embryo? What if a woman has no more eggs but has frozen embryos from a previous marriage that she wants to use, but the ex-husband disagrees? Should gender selection or other genetic testing be allowed for purely aesthetic reasons? These and other questions make the daily work of a reproductive endocrinologist challenging and stimulating.
I am so thankful to Dr. Gordon for allowing me to shadow him and sharing his experiences with me. It was wonderful to meet an alumnus with such enthusiasm and school spirit, and seeing someone who has advanced to the point where I hope to be in twenty or thirty years has made me feel so much more comfortable and confident in my plans for the future.