Alain Bertoni, M.D., MPH


Hometown:  New York City (Queens)

Name of Undergraduate Institution: Yale University

Major(s)/Minor(s) in College: Political Science Major

Name of Medical School(s):  Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Residency and/or Fellowship: Johns Hopkins Internal Medicine Residency Program

Contact Info:

Where are you currently at in your career path and why did you decide to pursue this career path?

I am currently fairly advanced in my career path, being a Professor (in the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, and Department of Internal Medicine) and the Chair of Epi and Prevention as well.  I was influenced to become a physician by my parents, who were both also doctors. However I became interested in a more academic/research career path during my 10 years of training at Johns Hopkins, a school that places a great deal of emphasis on research. I participated in research projects as a medical student, and took a year off to do research at the NIH.  Then during my residency, I decided to apply for a General Internal Medicine fellowship.  I decided that although I could be a good physician in clinical practice, my talents could impact health in a broader way via a research career.

If you could go back and have a chat with your 1st year postgraduate self, what would you tell him/her? 

Not certain!

What advice would you give to a medical student looking to pursue a similar path as yours?

First, realize it is a long process. Everything takes time- from training to doing research projects to publishing results. Getting grant funding is an especially long and at times tedious process.  Be patient! Second, it is imperative to find mentors. If they are not offering you advice and helping you move forward, they are not mentoring you so find someone who will do this.  Once you find the right mentor/mentors, listen to their advice.

What is a major challenge you have had to overcome and how did you do so?

In medical school, during the fall of my final year, I had an accident and fractured both of my wrists, requiring several surgeries and leaving me with external fixation devices for 8 weeks on one arm and 10 on the other, which greatly limited the use of my hands.   I was able to function those weeks due to a lot of help from my wife. I learned on a very personal level the importance of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Several faculty members helped me make up the lost time in my rotations.  This was a physical challenge, and basically I overcame it with a lot of help from others.  As I reflect upon that, the lesson learned is that few people accomplish things by themselves. I now do a lot of research, but it is with teamwork – study staff, the participants, and other investigators with different skills, all of who contribute to the project.

What advice would you give to someone getting ready to start their application process to residency?

Make certain you speak with a lot of people in the field you have chosen (to make certain it is the right fit for you).  Ask faculty if they are willing/able to write strong letters of recommendation. It is probably better to have a strong letter from someone who knows you well, rather than a noncommittal letter from a “Very Important Person” who might be well known in the field but doesn’t really know you.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I enjoy answering research questions (even though it might take years of research to do so).

Do you have another professional degree? If so, how has it impacted you?

I have an MPH. This degree gave me the skills in epidemiology and biostatistics, both of which I actually use in my research.

Can you please walk us through a typical workday?

One of the things about my current position is that there is not a “typical” day.  However, in the course of a week, I usually am in clinic for one morning, I have 3-5 meetings which are focused on specific research projects, and I have 1 educational session (lecture, or one-on-one teaching).  I spend 4-8 hours each week writing (working on papers, grants, or progress reports), and at least 8 hours each week reading (reviewing manuscripts in progress, or published literature).  Finally I spend about 10 hours per week doing administrative work related to being the chair of the department, or my role in the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity.

What do you feel is the most challenging part of your job?

Most challenging is juggling the different roles I have, and balancing that with time away from work.

What has been your favorite memory so far in your career?

I have had several patients thank me for the care that I delivered to them; those are very memorable.  Also the induction ceremony into the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars was very memorable (a recognition of research accomplishments of former post-doctoral fellows at Johns Hopkins).

What gives you the greatest motivation to get up every day to go to work?

Working towards making a difference – even if it’s in very small incremental changes, it is contributing to better understanding and/or treatment or prevention of disease.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be as prepared as possible for whatever task you have to do.

How do you manage to balance your work life and your romantic relationship (and family life, if applicable)?

It is challenging at times to balance work and family obligations. I’ve been fortunate to have a very supportive wife.

Do you have any passions outside of treating patients? If so, what are they and how do you find time to pursue these passions?

I enjoy bicycling, cooking, Zumba, and traveling, especially to foreign and/or exotic locations like the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or Yellowstone.

In an alternate universe, what career do you think you would be in right now if healthcare wasn’t an option for you?

Very hard to say, but based on my college studies perhaps something government related. When I was younger, I thought the diplomatic corps was potentially of interest as a career.

Who are some of your favorite musicians? Favorite books? Shows? Movies?

I have enjoyed Prince and Billy Joel, and even set a Pandora station with these two musicians as seeds. I really enjoy Coming to America.  I have read many books by Bill Bryson.  In the past 15 or so years I’m not certain I’ve had the time to read a book twice, so can’t say I have an absolute favorite.

Thank you SO much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to not only share a part of yourself with us, but to also offer some helpful advice! Your research-based perspective on medicine is a really important one! You are deeply appreciated Dr. Bertoni!

Health Career Spotlights Home Page

Posted on December 14th, 2016

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