Interview with Division Chief of Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Anesthesiology at Cooper University Hospital: Talia K. Ben-Jacob MD

We all need some guidance at some point in our career. This anesthesia leader discusses what helps make her successful at the hospital and at home and her vision to pass on that generosity to provide support, mentorship and education.
University Anesthesiologist Job

The Beyond the Practice Interview Series has been created to give you an insight and advantage into the profesional side of anesthesia through interviews conducted with leaders in the industry. Dr Talia Ben-Jacob is Division Chief of Critical Care Medicine at Cooper University Hospital and founder of the new organization Women in Critical Care Knowledge and Education Group in the Society of Critical Care Medicine. Talia shares how we can start down one career path, make a change with the help of resources around us to succeed and then help the next generation that follows us.

BagMask: Can you share with us a little bit about your background? How you started and where you are today?

Talia: I attended Cornell University for college and graduate school. I completed medical school at the University of Vermont. I originally matched into general surgery at Cooper University Hospital. Toward the end of my second year, I loved the work, the procedures and the patients, but I didn’t like the sacrifices I was making in the other areas of my life. I started asking around, talking to different people and getting a feel for different opportunities.

Fortunately, Cooper had a spot open up in the anesthesia residency program. I was attracted to the anesthesia patient interaction and the ability to still be able to perform procedures. It was a great match for me because there was a pathway to practice critical care and I would still be able to be in the operating room taking care of patients while performing procedures. More importantly, it was better for my work-life balance.

After anesthesia residency I completed my critical care fellowship at Barnes-Jewish Hospital – Washington University in St. Louis and returned to Cooper to join the department of anesthesiology. Since coming back, I have been splitting my time between the Med/Surg, ICU and the operating room.

The opportunity to practice critical care has benefited my career immensely. I am able to use information I learned in medical school that is not necessarily applicable to my anesthesia practice. For example, determination of antibiotics for disease processes management of acute sickle cell crisis and treatment of complications from oncologic processes and chemotherapy. Critical Care Anesthesia, is the perfect career combination as it allows me to perform a diagnostic work-up and be a clinician involved in surgery.

Two years into my career at Cooper University Hospital I was promoted to the Division Chief of Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Anesthesiology. And not only am I a full-time anesthesiologist intensivist, but I am a full-time wife and mom to three wonderful children.

BagMask: How did you, as an anesthesiologist, become the Division Chief of Critical Care Medicine and what have you discovered with the new role?

Talia: I had never thought about becoming Division Chief until, a vacancy opened up and I was in the right place with the right credentials. I thought this would be a really unique career opportunity and challenge that would help me grow as a clinician and educator. I truly believe if you are not moving forward then you are falling behind.

I seized the opportunity, which allowed me to become more involved in the anesthesia residency program and academics. I discovered that I really enjoyed being a mentor and it pushed me to take a more active role in the American Society of Anesthesiology and Society of Critical Care Medicine. Opportunities began to open up that I never would have even thought about pursuing if I hadn’t been willing to push myself and become the Division Chief.

BagMask: Taking on a new leadership role so early on in your career is challenging. Did you have any mentors to help guide you?

Talia: Yes, I have been very fortunate to have excellent mentors through my years of training and as an attending both inside and outside of my institutions. That is why I am a big advocate of joining professional societies. I found amazing mentors through my involvement in the American Society of Anesthesiology. So many wonderful people have taken an interest in my career and guided me that I am afraid to list them for fear of leaving someone out.

BagMask: Being an amazing mom, a physician and a leader, are there any groups out there that you’ve joined or belong to that really help professional women continue to grow and support them?

Talia: There are a few groups I have found to be very helpful. I am part of a Physician Anesthesia Mom Group on Facebook and that has provided a tremendous amount of support. It’s a place where women can network, speak about their experiences or ask medical questions. It can also be a place to post silly things like “I’m out of ideas. What do I get my kids for Hanukkah?”

Women in Anesthesiology has been another great resource and place to network with some fantastic women anesthesiologists. It’s wonderful to belong to a group that looks out for one another and promotes and develops the careers of women in anesthesiology.

It was my experience in these groups and the fact there was a noticeable need in the intensivist aspect of my life that led me to become founder and co-chair of Women in Critical Care Knowledge and Education Group in the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

BagMask: That is awesome! Where are you in the planning stages and what is your vision?

Talia: We have just submitted our application to the SCCM council. We needed the signatures of 50 members in good standing to sign up for our group in order to gain approval; we probably have over 200. We currently have an informal organizational meeting planned for the Critical Care Congress in February.

Since critical care medicine is multidisciplinary, Women in the Society of Critical Care Medicine will be open to providers in anesthesia, surgery, medicine, ED and pharmacy. And not just physicians, but nurses, PAs, pharmacists and anyone that plays a role in critical medicine. The invitation is open to men also, because it has to be a group effort to achieve gender equality.

There are certain struggles women will experience throughout their training and careers and we want to provide a community working together to make it easier for them to achieve their goals. If we’re worried about provider shortages and if we really want people to continue with careers in medicine, then we have to support, advise and mentor the young. Our ultimate goal is to make it better for the next generation.

BagMask: That’s excellent and we appreciate you pioneering this new group. I have one more question for you. What’s your hope for all the job seekers out there and all the providers who are looking to grow professionally?

Talia: I hope they know they are going to have to work hard. It’s a hard process, training in medicine, but stick with it because it’s worth it in the end. I believe when you’re happy within your career and you’re happy within your home life, your children see it. And you become a great role model for your next generation.

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