By Dr. Mathieu Bergeron
Having completed a residency in otolaryngology in Quebec City, Canada, I was ready for my next journey. But where would I go? Knowing I earned a position as an associate professor in one of the top pediatric hospital in Canada, Ste-Justine in Montreal, I had to find the perfect fellowship to learn from the best and bring back this knowledge with me. Who knew this journey would lead me in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I had the honor to complete a 2-year fellowship in Pediatric Otolaryngology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical. This hospital is not only the 2nd highest ranked pediatric hospital in the United States, but is the worldwide leader in performing pediatric airway reconstructions, including procedures involving the area from the top of the voice box to the trachea.
Cincinnati Children’s performs both open airway procedures (made with a neck incision into the airway) and endoscopic procedures (done through the mouth, eliminating the need for a neck incision). Cincinnati Children’s is not only the leader with its Aerodigestive program, but also with some innovation with its Upper Airway Clinic and CHARGE center. During these 2 years with my J-1 Visa, I was able to learn new surgical techniques side-by-side with incredible surgeons, such as Dr. Robin T. Cotton, founder of pediatric otolaryngology in the United States, a legend in our field. Moreover, I could spend these 2 years learning with colleagues from the States, making lifelong friendship.
During these 2 years, I learned a great deal about pediatric patients. From bedside manners to surgical skills, I knew these new abilities would be useful the moment I would get back to Canada. I also used this time to do research and improve literacy in pediatric otolaryngology, mostly about airways, persistent sleep apnea and quality of life. And working in English was a totally new experience. At first, I felt like Lumière, the candlestick from Beauty and the Beast with my accent. But with time, it became easier and my accent made sound things much fancier than they actually were (thanks to some words like cheeseburgers)!
At work, I found new friends, colleagues and mentors that will be part of life forever. Life outside of the hospital was as exciting as life inside it. Cincinnati is an amazing city. No surprise it was named one of the top 10 best cities for recent college grads (livability.com) and top travel USA destination (wallethub.com). Because of my friends and colleagues, I discovered some of Cincinnati’s classics, from Skyline Chili (still unsure about this one) to Graeter’s Ice Cream (a must!) without forgetting one of my favorite breweries, Rhinegeist (another must see!). Cincinnati is a cool and vibrant city where no weekends can be boring. From the trendy neighborhood Over-the-Rhine (OTR!) with its trendy restaurants and bars, to downtown with its Fountain Square and weekly concerts and The Banks, to hosting professional teams: the Reds and the Bengals.
Despite my complete lack of knowledge of baseball and football, I became a fan of these teams, even with their not-so-brilliant win:loss count (mostly losses, let’s be honest). Thanks to the tailgate that save the day more than once with friends prior to the game! Cincinnati’s soccer team, the FC, were there to save the day. And what’s better than to be in the USA to really feel the vibe of Thanksgiving? Thanks to this fellowship, I was able to celebrate 2(!) Thanksgivings every year, with twice the fun and food! (Canadian and American Thanksgiving have different dates.)
Living downtown allowed me to be in the center of the action, meeting with friends and being part of classic Cincinnatian activities, such as Cincinnati’s Octoberfest (the biggest Octoberfest outside Germany), the flying pig marathon, the Findlay Market, the Thanksgiving Turkey Race and also the concert series in the beautiful Opera Hall (only to name those). And I was also part of some unique events, such as a Bernie Sanders book tour! And Cincinnati will always have a special place in my heart; it is the place I got engaged!
One of the best parts of living in the States, specifically in Ohio, was the opportunity to visit other cities and states on a regular basis. Who knew I would spend a weekend in Kentucky for a bourbon tasting, Noah’s ark visit and also a derby race with crazy hats? Nashville and its vibrant life was only a few hours’ drive away from Cincinnati, perfect for a weekend getaway (and also convincing myself I love country music for few days). You want to do some waterskiing and wakeboarding? No problem! Just spend the weekend in Lake Norris in Tennessee. You feel like visiting and learning about history (and maybe having few drinks?), just take a very (very) long drive down to New Orleans. Extra time? No problem! Memphis is also few hours away, perfect for BBQ and some Elvis culture.
In summary, I had a wonderful time in the United States to complete a pediatric otolaryngology fellowship. I wouldn’t change anything; from the wonderful people I met to the privilege I had to be trained at Cincinnati Children’s. Now that I am back in Canada and working full-time in a tertiary care pediatric center, I know I got the skills to make a difference back in my country, thanks to ACGME, my J-1 visa and all the wonderful people who were part of my journey at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.