Originally from Diamond Bar, CA, Emily Lau, MD, completed her residency program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital before choosing to continue her training in the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. A member of the class of 2021, Dr. Lau shares what drew her to Mass General, the culture of the program and her experience as a trainee during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: Why did you pick this program and Mass General?
A: I would say first, the people; second, the culture; and third, the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program. I have made some of the best friendships of my life in the fellows’ room—long nights of discussing cardiology, eating popcorn and just chatting about life are memories that I will always cherish.
Q: What has your experience been like in the program thus far?
A: The Mass General Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship has completely changed the course of my career and opened my eyes to opportunities and career paths that I never thought possible. The clinical training is robust and rich. The research opportunities are plentiful. The people are extraordinary. Coming to Mass General has been one of the best decisions I’ve made!
I am pursuing a clinician-scientist pathway with a focus on women’s cardiology. Mass General boasts one of the few leading women’s heart centers in the country, and training under the mentorship of those experts is a unique experience. I have also had the opportunity to attend regional conferences with a focus on women’s cardiovascular health sponsored by the Mass General Cardiology Division.
Q: What has been surprising about the program, or something you did not anticipate when first selecting it?
A: You become a cardiologist on day one of the fellowship. As a fellow, you are the primary cardiologist to your patients from the moment you step foot in the door. The patients are not your attendings’ patients—they are 100% yours. They look to you as their cardiologist, and no one knows your patients better than you do. It is an extraordinary responsibility and privilege. I’ll never forget telling a senior catheterization lab attending that my patient needed a coronary intervention even though it was a high-risk procedure.
Q: What is one challenge you experienced as a fellow, and how did you overcome it?
A: Cardiology is a challenging and rigorous field, and you realize very early on how important it is to be a patient advocate, more than ever before. As an internal medicine resident, I was used to advocating for my patients to get services or the appropriate medications. As a cardiologist, you are advocating for your patients every day. Should they go to surgery or get a percutaneous intervention? Is a computerized tomography scan (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan the right test? Every decision is an important moment for advocacy. That was a new challenge for me, but through the guidance of our program leadership and cardiology mentors, each one of us is taught how to become the very best patient advocate.
Q: What has your experience as a trainee been like during the time of COVID-19?
A: COVID-19 will likely be the biggest challenge of our lifetimes. It has not been easy as a trainee during these difficult and uncertain times, but working alongside extraordinary co-fellows and faculty who embody the spirit of medicine has made this experience one that we will remember always.
Q: How would you describe your experience with your mentors in this program?
A: I have been extraordinarily fortunate with mentors. At Mass General, you don’t just have one mentor, you build a mentorship team. Mentors take all shapes and sizes, from your co-fellows to the division chief. My mentors have helped me aspire to heights I never thought possible because they are truly invested in my success and happiness.
My primary career/research mentor is Jennifer Ho, MD, an advanced heart failure/transplant cardiologist at Mass General. Before meeting Jen, I never thought that I had the talent to pursue a career in clinical research. Jen has inspired and empowered me to believe that I can become a leading clinician-scientist in the field of women’s cardiology. Jen is an extraordinary physician and scientist, and her mentorship has meant the world to me and has quite literally changed my entire career trajectory.
Q: What advice would you give to someone with the same career aspirations as you?
A: Five years ago, I could never have imagined standing where I am today. My advice is to be willing to try and to fail spectacularly! The opportunities are tremendous. As long as you remain open-minded and perseverant, you are certain to have an extraordinary journey.
Q: What does the future of cardiovascular disease care look like to you?
A: I think that precision medicine, genomics and big data are going to be a huge part of clinical medicine. This is such an exciting time for medicine—cardiology in particular—and Mass General is at the center of it all!