Resident Options: Rheumatology, An Interview with Paul Sufka, M.D.

Our Residency Options series focuses on the wide variety of specialties and areas of practice that medical residents may consider.  We interview MDs and explore their decision making process when they decided what career path they would take.

This week our guest is Paul Sufka, M.D. who is a board certified rheumatologist with Health Partners.  Paul works at the Specialty Center and Regions Hospital in St.Paul, MN, along with RiverWay Clinic in Anoka, MN. He is also an assistant residency director for the University of Minnesota Internal Medicine Residency Program. He received his M.D from the University of Iowa Medical School in 2005, and completed internal medicine residency at the University of Minnesota in 2008. Following this, he spent one year at Regions Hospital as a Chief Resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota. Dr. Sufka completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June of 2011 with the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. Paul is interested in the use of technology in medicine and is active on social media, is also one of the co-founders of The Rheumatology Podcast, and he blogs at Here is our interview:

Did you have a mentor during Residency?

I probably did, but I think only to the point it was required. It didn’t benefit me very much.

If you have never worked in Private Practice, why did you choose not to, or what played a role in keeping you from doing so?

I currently work for Health Partners, which is the largest nonprofit healthcare organization in the country; it offers both health insurance plans and runs a multi-specialty physician group. Because I worked in HealthPartners’ clinics and Regions Hospital throughout my training with the University of Minnesota internal medicine residency and rheumatology fellowship, I was very familiar with them prior to joining. I did consider opportunities to join private practices coming out of fellowship, but I decided to join HealthPartners for a number of reasons, the most important being that I wanted to stay involved to some extent with the teaching of residents and fellows, but did not want to spend 100% of my time doing it either, which was an option that HealthPartners already had in place. Also, because HealthPartners is also an insurance provider to many of our patients, we are able to keep costs down for patients and to get many of our patients some of the expensive drugs that are now being used in rheumatology with overall less difficulty. Being part of a multispeciality group also allows me to see extremely complex cases and sometimes more rare cases on a more frequent basis, which keeps things interesting. In the end, this was just a great fit for what I wanted to do.

What are the currently the biggest challenges your face professionally?

Managing time. As modern physicians, our time is our greatest asset, and it is being pulled in every direction. You really have to learn to delegate well, which means being a good leader. Being a good leader doesn’t just mean telling people what to do, but getting everyone to do their part to get things done for the patients and the group. During residency, we are often given a fair amount of scut work, which often has little or no value in learning how to be a better physician, but is necessary to make sure that patients get the care they need. Once you move into practice, your time becomes even more valuable, so delegating these tasks to other team members so that as much of your time as possible can be spent seeing patients, interpreting labs and tests, doing any necessary research and making decisions regarding patient care.

What decisions would you change on your path to Residency?

I wouldn’t change anything that I did. I’m happy to say I was very open minded about every specialty, and I actually liked so many things that I had a difficult time deciding what to do. In the end, I decided that I didn’t want to be a surgeon, that I liked having adults adults rather than kids as patients, and enjoyed seeing a good variety of problems, which led me to internal medicine. After I started internal medicine, I initially thought I was going to go into cardiology or critical care like many others, but found that I enjoyed rheumatology the most because doing it had very interesting conditions that were diagnosed and managed by being a very skillful clinician.

What advice would you give a Med Student about to graduate and go into their Residency?

Know how to take care of yourself, and stick to it, no matter what. Residency is extremely demanding and because of the long hours, it is easy to let yourself become sedentary, but one of the best things I did was always take time to work out. It has been suggested that exercise might actually help with learning and the formation of memories, and hopefully it helped prevent some of the ill-effects of prolonged sitting as well. In addition, you have to try to eat well, sleep, workout, and maintain relationships with friends and family. While the balance is likely to be shifted towards residency most of the time, if you let things get out of hand, you’ll do poorly in every area.

What advice would you give a student considering Med School?

Learn as much as you can about what you’re getting into and be extremely sure that it’s what you want to do. While being a physician carries a certain amount of respect, the commitment required to get through it is all consuming. Medicine doesn’t come easily to anyone. You’ll find that despite being in the top of your undergraduate school, you’ll have to work harder than you ever thought you would because of the quantity of information there is to process and understand in medical school. Make sure that you’re going into medicine because it’s really what you want to do.

If you think you’re going to become extremely rich becoming a doctor, you’re not. If you’re going into medicine for prestige, you’re going to be unhappy. If you’re going in knowing that you’re going to spend many years working very hard to help people, even though sometimes things won’t work out as expected or you won’t get any additional thanks, but you’re happy that you’re making an important impact on someone’s life, then medicine might be for you.

If you are a physician who is interested in sharing advice on their area of practice, please contact us via email.

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