Dr. Bethany Oeming is a fourth-year resident in the Anesthesia & Perioperative Medicine program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. Though Dr. Oeming thought she was destined for Family Medicine, a clerkship rotation in Anesthesia changed her perspective and motivated her to ‘follow her instincts’ about the specialty.
Passionate about patient-care and helping people of all different backgrounds and ages get through surgery safely, she also has a great love for global health. In the past two years, she has volunteered her expertise with ‘Operation Walk’ in Ecuador to assist with anesthetic care for patients undergoing complex congenital dysplasia surgery.
In this Q&A, Dr. Oeming discusses the experiences that led her to anesthesia and perioperative medicine, what she loves the most about her specialty and the lessons she has learned throughout her residency.
Can you please tell us where you were born and raised, the degrees you have and your alma mater(s).
I was born in Unionville, Ontario, but my family has moved on from the greater Toronto Area and now lives in Edmonton, Alberta, as well as Thornbury, Ontario.
I went to Queen’s University for my bachelor’s in Life Sciences. From there, I was fortunate to be accepted to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. I graduated with my MD in 2014, and stayed in London for my residency with the Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Medicine. I’ve just started my fourth-year of residency.
Did you have a role model or mentor who inspired you to follow your academic path? If not, why did you decide to pursue medicine? When did you know that you wanted to pursue your specialty?
I was one of those medical students that enjoyed most specialties during clerkship, and because of that, I thought I was destined for family medicine. That was until I did my anesthesia rotation near the very end of clerkship and something just clicked. It was very much a ‘follow your instincts’ kind of moment. I just knew I had to explore the specialty more.
I switched around most of my family medicine electives, and at the last minute I applied to CaRMS for Anesthesia. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my clerkship mentor at the time, Dr. Lynn Coveney, and some sage advice from Dr. Jeff Granton.
It’s not easy to decide on a specialty. I remember speaking to a lot with friends and family at the time. When I told my mother I was thinking of doing anesthesia, she laughed and said it made perfect sense. She then started talking about all the times as a child she caught me fiddling with various household appliances. The technical and hands-on aspect of anesthesia is definitely one of the things I enjoy most about the specialty. More importantly, though, the people closest to me seemed to think it was a good fit and I’ve never regretted my decision.
I find it incredibly rewarding to help people of all ages and backgrounds get through surgery safely, which is often a time of stress and anxiety for many patients and their families. I also really enjoy working on the labour and delivery floor doing epidurals for women in labour.
What has been your most rewarding experience to date in your residency?
My experience with ‘Operation Walk’ in Ecuador during my second and third years of residency have been the most rewarding. The past two years, I have travelled with a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals to Cuenca, Ecuador to provide anesthetic for patients undergoing complex congenital hip dysplasia surgery. This is a large problem in the area due to a variety of cultural reasons and lack of access to timely orthopedic care.
My interest in global health has been longstanding and I have found that this sort of volunteer work helps to keep me grounded and reminds me of how fortunate we are in Canada to have the resources and infrastructure that we do. I’m grateful to my department for allowing me to explore this passion and I hope to continue being an active participant in global health and anesthesia following residency.
What has been the most challenging experience to date in your residency?
I have been involved with a number of really tough and sad cases. These weigh down on you, and as time passes they add up. It forces you to harden a little bit. As you progress in your training, certain things don’t bother you as much and you almost become numb. It is challenging to navigate the wide variety of emotions that are part of an anesthesia residency. We aren’t often great at talking about it, but the long hours, back-to-back call shifts and the stress of trying to learn and perform can be overwhelming at times.
What learning from your undergraduate medical education or early residency do you return to often now as you are pursuing your residency?
One of the things that stuck with me was the emphasis on self-reflection as we go through our training and come across the challenging and emotional cases. I am always striving to be a better resident and physician, and this process helps me do that. I find it helpful to think about areas of improvement and to debrief after a particularly strenuous case. I also use a lot of the communication tools that were taught in medical school. For example, when breaking bad news, I always think of ‘SPIKES’. You can’t go through medicine without picking up a few acronyms along the way.
How do you maintain balance in your life?
Taking care of oneself is important during residency. I am lucky to have such a strong support network of family and friends that keep me from getting too worked up about the little things. My fiancé Adam has been by my side since clerkship. Otherwise, I go to the gym regularly, do yoga and play hockey quite a bit. Other things that help…cuddling/playing with my cats (or really any other animal that I come across) and watching way too much Netflix. Two of my favourite shows are The Office and Parks & Recreation.
If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
Not so much a slogan, but words to live by.
“Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”
-Captain Jean-Luc Picard (my fiancé is a big fan of Star Trek)
What are three albums that give a glimpse of who you are as a person?
This is tough. I like such a variety of music these days. I even started liking country music, which I never thought possible. A trip to Nashville will do that. If I had to pick two bands that speak most to me, it would be Coldplay and Mumford & Sons. I saw Coldplay live for the first time last year, and I’m not ashamed to admit I cried like a baby when they came on stage.
‘A Head Full of Dreams’ –Coldplay
‘Sigh No More’ – Mumford & Sons
The Game of Thrones soundtrack. Honestly, Season 7 has been insane.
If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be and why?
Personal answer: Tina Fey or Amy Poehler. They are just so hilarious.
Nerdy answer: I would love to be in the room for the first public demonstration of surgery with general anesthetic using ether in 1846 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I guess that would mean changing lives with William T.G. Morton, the American dentist who administered the ether. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the patient. We are lucky to work in a world with such amazing technology and I am always humbled learning about the history of medicine and the field of anesthesia. We’ve come so far. I often wonder what the next 10 to 20 years will bring to the specialty. I’m excited to be a part of it.
What is the most random thing you’ve ever watched on Netflix?
This one is easy: Rupaul’s Drag Race.