Photo by C.J. Martin
It’s too hot. It’s too hick. It’s Houston — or is it? The nation’s fourth-largest city is getting a second look that’s leaving many pleasantly surprised. Houston is hot — so much so that it landed at the top of Forbes’ list of coolest cities to live in 2012 and at no. 7 on The New York Times’ list of 46 must-visit destinations — in the world. And both BBC News and Business Insider recently published their respective lists of reasons why Houston is one of America’s best cities in which to live.
Aside from its oil and gas industry, affordable real estate, and guaranteed good food, one of Houston’s most attractive assets is its medical community. At the heart of that community is Texas Children’s Hospital, to which some of the most renowned physicians in the world flock. Attracted by the opportunities that abound in the Texas Medical Center and by the cultural richness of the city, many of the world’s physicians start their careers here as residents in hot, hot Houston.
In a corner office at Texas Children’s Hospital, Krishnan Subrahmanian sat across from Physician-in-Chief Mark Kline, M.D., on one of his final residency recruitment visits. Subrahmanian, who received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and was attending medical school at Stanford, was nearing the end of his program at the prestigious university, graduating at the top of his class. He was invited to many top pediatric hospitals for interviews, but this one felt different.
“Dr. Kline had a level of attention on everyone’s story and showed special interest to everyone who applied,” Subrahmanian said. “He had gotten to know us before we even came to his office, and he actually cared. It’s important to me to see leaders who genuinely care about their people.”
Subrahmanian would ultimately be awarded a residency at Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine and is currently in the second year of his training in Global Child Health.
Tolulope Adebanjo, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, also is a second-year resident. With a bright smile and friendly demeanor, she is quick to tell you her dreams of working at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her honesty and passion for making a difference are evident.
“Being at Texas Children’s, you’re at one of the best children’s hospitals in the country,” Adebanjo said. “We see diseases and conditions that most pediatricians in the world have never seen.”
What won Subrahmanian and Adebanjo their spots at Texas Children’s wasn’t just their smarts; it was what Kline calls “accessible brilliance.” It’s his abiding requirement whether he’s interviewing residents or heads of service.
“You can find all kinds of brilliant people, but pick someone you want to be around,” Kline said. “Recruiting what we value culturally is how we actively shape our culture.”
An Open Mind
In the same office where he interviewed Subrahmanian — and where he interviews about 350 pediatric residency applicants each year — Kline now sits alone. This time, he’s the one with the nerves. It’s the day before the latest batch of medical school graduates learns their fate for residency programs. Today, the hospitals find out which graduates are heading their way. Kline knows a match isn’t only important for the futures of these bright new recruits; it also plays a major role in Texas Children’s reputation and future.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do,” Kline said. “It’s an investment in what we will look like 10, 20, 30 years down the line. Nationwide, numbers show about 80 to 85 percent of doctors will practice where they did their residency training.”
Kline’s one of those residents who stuck around. His selling point to potential residents? He tells them with confidence that Texas Children’s is an institution that will broaden their horizons and open doors they never imagined. He asks residents to come in with an open mind and allow their careers to take shape here.
“I’m the embodiment of what I’m talking about,” Kline said. “My path took an entirely different direction into HIV/AIDS work, then global health and now hospital leadership.”
The Chosen and Choosing
When pediatric global health resident Nathan Serazin talks about his experiences at Texas Children’s, his enthusiasm makes it pretty clear why he was on Kline’s list of top candidates. But the process of selecting a residency is a two-way street — students choose to apply to programs that they feel suit their interests and abilities.
“The Texas Medical Center is Houston’s gift to the world.”
— Former First Lady Barbara Bush
“You can’t help but be impressed by what goes on in the Texas Medical Center,” Serazin said.“You know in each of these beautiful buildings there’s cutting-edge work from researchers working to make a breakthrough in neurosurgery or oncology. You can’t help but be excited because you know that’s the caliber of people you’re working with.”
Serazin, who graduated from Northwestern Medical School, never thought he would wind up in Houston, but his decision was greatly impacted by the Texas Medical Center. It’s the largest single employer in Houston and the largest medical center in the world. Twenty-one hospitals, eight academic and research institutions, and 50 total not-for-profit institutions make up the complex, which is larger than downtown Dallas.
The Texas Medical Center is a breeding ground of brilliance, with the largest concentration of medical professionals and experts anywhere on the planet. Last year, more than 7.2 million patients visited one of the 290 buildings that sit on the 1,345 acres that make up the complex. Research from the medical center averages a new discovery every other day.
These fresh new physicians appreciate the exposure to the spectrum of diseases, and the patients, scientists and doctors who will shape their careers.
“You get excited thinking one day you want to be one of those people who’s making the breakthrough discoveries,” Serazin said.
When he was considering places to apply, Subrahmanian was similarly inspired by the opportunity to make a difference. “I believe in the responsibility and opportunity that we have in this country to really change lives through health care,” he said. “When I was trying to make the decision for residency, I tried to think about which institution really practices that and is trying to make that a reality.”
Houston’s Diverse Appeal
With a year of their residency complete, Subrahmanian, Adebanjo and Serazin all agree they made the best decision for their careers. What might surprise them most is their newfound appreciation of the city they call home. As the fourth-largest city in the United States, Houston offers each of them something to satisfy their diverse interests.
For Subrahmanian, it’s the food. Hailed by The New York Times as “one of the country’s most exciting places to eat,” Houston offers an incredible variety of food — from the exotic to the down-home — and Houstonians take advantage, eating out more than residents of any other city in the country.
Adebanjo appreciates the diversity. For her, it’s about fitting in and the open-mindedness of the community that allows so many different cultures to blend seamlessly. She has found a warm welcome in the local Nigerian community — one of many ethnic populations in Houston, which has become the most racially and ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the nation.
The quality of life in Houston has gained the city a spot in Serazin’s heart. He notes the diversity of activities available and easy accessibility. The Houston Museum District, located just next to the Texas Medical Center, has 19 museums in a 1.5-mile radius. Houston has more parks than any other top 10 metropolitan area. And there are plenty of professional sports, including the Houston Texans football team, the Houston Astros baseball team, the Houston Dynamo soccer team and two-time NBA champions, the Houston Rockets.
Whatever brought them here, the residents are among an elite group of professionals who call Houston and Texas Children’s Hospital home. Whether they continue their careers here or find another match moving forward, they forever will be shaped by the experiences of their first years in health care. And for Kline, that’s a realization and a responsibility that’s not to be taken lightly.
“I know with each choice I make, I’m impacting the future of medicine,” he said. “Through these young doctors, I’m touching the lives of kids around the globe whom I will never meet.”