David Wheeler, MD, had been thinking of a career as a pure scientist. With an undergraduate degree in biophysics and a PhD in molecular pharmacology from the University of Pittsburgh, he had been pursuing such weighty research topics as the differences between typical brains and brains afflicted by multiple sclerosis.
At a certain point, he recalls, he decided, “I also wanted something I could feel and touch and see.” With that, he went on to receive a medical degree, also from the University of Pittsburgh. The practice of medicine, he says, “has a real application. It’s not knowledge for knowledge’s sake. You could say I made the transition from mice to men.”
These days, Wheeler, a native of Haddonfield, N.J., is a chief resident in Einstein Healthcare Network’s internal medicine resident program. In deciding on residency at Einstein, he says the program offered a good balance of clinical practice and research. That appealed to him.
On the one hand, Wheeler came up through the internal medicine residency program with a focus on medical practice—and as a bonus, within a large urban hospital, where residents get to see and treat illnesses and conditions they might not encounter in many other clinical settings. He found the program’s approach to clinical practice much to his liking. “Here at Einstein, the residents are empowered to make clinical decisions, which makes them great doctors," he says.
On the other hand, residents are expected to continue to develop their research chops—and with his background, that emphasis suits Wheeler just fine. “Residents in this hospital publish more than one paper per resident by graduation,” he says. “It’s just a great package.”
In Wheeler’s case, he received an Albert Einstein Society grant running two clinical trials. Among other things, he is researching the risk of myocardial infarction—heart attack, the primary killer of all Americans—among hemodialysis patients.
"Here, you’re not just a resident—you’re a human being."
—David Wheeler, MD
The combination of strong clinical training and scholarly excellence contribute to the well-rounded nature of the internal medicine residency experience at Einstein. “It’s trained me incredibly well,” he says. “The clinical care training here is outstanding. The experiences I have here … those aren’t experiences everyone gets. And our scholarly activity is great. It’s just a great package.”
You might think that all of that activity would be exhausting. Residencies have a reputation for arduous schedules, often leading to burnout and even depression.
That’s not the case at Einstein, Wheeler says. “Here, you’re not just a resident—you’re a human being. I still get a chance to see my wife, hang out with my friends, and go hiking.” He even has the chance to pursue a hobby—making wine. “I make non-traditional wines,” he says. “I make wine out of anything but grapes—like dandelions, roots, and berries.”
This work-life balance, Wheeler adds, ultimately turns residents into better, more accomplished physicians and researchers.
Wheeler credits Glenn Eiger, MD, director of the internal medicine program, for its excellence. He says Eiger is never satisfied with the status quo. “He’s the captain of the ship,” he says. “He is almost fanatically devoted to making the program better.”
The program, Wheeler says, focuses on teaching residents how to practice evidence-based medicine—using the best, most up-to-date clinical research to inform patient care. “Because that’s his (Dr. Eiger’s) No. 1 priority, the program just keeps getting better and better.” Knowing that about the program also helped Wheeler decide where he wanted to go for his residency. “It was a no-brainer.”
Finally, as if clinical and academic excellence were not already enough, Wheeler says he was also strongly influenced by the overarching philosophy that informs the internal medicine residency at Einstein.
“Dr. Eiger told me that we should be the change in the world you want to see,” he says. “That won me over.”
- Interview with Resident Shannon Tosounian, DO
- Interview with Program Director Glenn Eiger, MD
- Internal Medicine Residency at Einstein: An Inside Look with Program Director Glenn Eiger, MD
- Perfect Match: 25 New Residents Join Einstein Internal Medicine Program