Faculty Profile - Interview with Jill Catalanotti, MD, MPH, Director, Internal Medicine Residency Program
Tell us a little about yourself, your current position, and why you decided to pursue medicine.
I am an internal medicine primary care physician and director of the internal medicine residency program here at GW. I grew up in Elmont, NY (which is on Long Island, just past Queens), in a family that has a healthy distrust of medicine and a general dislike of physicians, but that always emphasized the importance of honest hard work and service to others. My mother was a middle school Earth Science and Phys Ed teacher in Queens, my father was an elementary school custodian in Brooklyn, one of my sisters is a hairdresser and the other is a social worker - so between us, we are pretty useful! My uncle's experience with HIV/AIDS in the 1990s impacted me greatly. This, combined with my love of biology and the challenge of becoming the first physician my family might like, inspired me to consider medical school.
How did you become interested in your field?
When I volunteered to teach Sex Ed in a local middle school during college, I decided I would go to medical school to become a gynecologist. Halfway through med school, I learned that gynecologists are surgeons (not for me!) and that what I really loved was office-based gynecology - contraception and honest conversations with patients about sexual health - which is actually primary care! During my primary care clerkship, I realized I loved caring for underserved patients and that I loved seeing patients in a more "real life" setting, one in which they had their own clothes on rather than hospital gowns and where we could strategize about how to successfully implement care plans in practical ways. Once I made the decision for internal medicine, it was always clear to me that I would be a generalist because I love being a Jack-of-all-trades in all aspects of my life, from work, to home life, to hobbies. There's really nothing that would bore me more than having expertise in only one small slice of a field!
What brought you to GW?
I moved to DC and joined the faculty at GW in the summer of 2008, after finishing residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. I honestly never thought I would live in DC, but my husband, Chris Fonzone, was offered a job as an attorney in the Civil Appellate branch of the Department of Justice. I applied to lots of different sorts of primary care jobs in the area but was especially intrigued by the prospect that by joining GW's faculty, I could also use my MPH degree and teach two college-level public health courses. My mother says she always knew I would follow in her footsteps and become a teacher. (In truth, I'll never be half the teacher she was!) I taught those college courses for my first five years here and it was some of the most fun I've had in my professional life - college students are even more idealistic than medical students and it was so energizing to introduce them to public health and medicine! In the past five years, I've taken on the role of residency program director, where I do less classroom-based teaching but much more career counseling and mentoring, which I also love! I've also worked with my colleague Dr. David Popiel to start the Underserved Medicine and Public Health (UMPH) track of our residency program.
What has been your most memorable moment at GW?
Probably my most memorable moment at GW (or, near GW) was during a summer volunteer shift at Miriam's Kitchen, when I was assigned to hand out free toiletries to the guests. Several asked me if we had any unscented shampoo, which I had thought an odd request. One of the guests later explained to me that she was homeless and lived on the streets and that scented shampoo attracted more bugs. It was a brief interaction, but it caused me to reflect on the depth of what it means to be homeless, the hardships that the Miriam's Kitchen guests, some of whom are our patients, encounter in their day to day life, and how very lucky and privileged I have been to never have had this experience.
What library resources or services have you found to be the most useful?
Hands down, our most helpful library resource is our LIBRARIANS! We are so lucky to have an incredible group of knowledgeable and endlessly helpful librarians who have been a constant source of support for me, as well as our students and residents. I was lucky to have taught PCL (the old name for a CSR-type course) from the beginning of my time on faculty alongside some of our librarians, and to have been adequately introduced to their skills! Laura Abate even attends morning report for our residents most days to help out with real time research and to post practical articles to our reading list in real time!
How do you spend your free time? (or What do you do to relax?)
I have lots of hobbies, each of which I probably do somewhat superficially (see my Jack-of-all-trades tendency above). Music and dance have always been my greatest loves - I play the flute with the Arlington Concert Band, I've been teaching myself to play the ukulele, and I'm often caught singing or tap dancing in elevators. My husband and I have a two-person book club and also enjoy running road races (I cap out at about 10K though!). I love traveling, especially internationally to areas that are developing or somewhat rural. I try to join community service activities when I can because I always feels so energized during and afterwards.