Life as an Acute Care Resident

FAQ Session with our 2020 Residency Graduates

Kristina Lam '20, PT, DPT

Hometown: Alameda, CA

Undergraduate: UC San Diego

DPT school: Creighton University

Acute Care Experience Prior to Residency: 

6 wk rotation in Texoma Medical Center (ortho, trauma, ICU)

16 wk rotation in Texas Children’s Hospital in Pediatric ICU

Fun fact:

I have travelled to 44/50 states – most of those during my time in PT school



Lauren Stoll '20, PT, DPT

Hometown: Lancaster, CA

Undergraduate: UC Irvine

DPT school: UCSF/SFSU c/o 2019

Acute Care Experience Prior to Residency: 

12 week rotation at UCSF Mission Bay – Inpatient Adult Acute Care (surgical oncology, ICU). 

12 week rotation Alta Bates Summit Medical Center – Adult Acute Care (Ortho, cards, neuro, med/surg, ICU)

Fun fact:

I love making homemade lotions and candles!


1. What is there to do in SF? How do you like living in SF/California?


K: There is SO much to do here in San Francisco. I am a Bay Area native and I moved away for 8 years for various schooling but missed all the diversity the Bay Area and California had the offer. Apart from the beautiful weather (I was never made for the Midwest winter or hurricanes in the South), there is always an event, festival, farmer’s market, etc. going on in addition to all the local bars, new restaurants and wine country just a car ride away. Some of my favorites are going to Healdsburg, Napa, and Sonoma for wine tasting, going to various Farmer’s markets (there are multiple every day during the week) and taking my 1 year old goldendoodle Sunny to the dog beach on the weekends. There are times I miss the simplicity and calmness of the Midwest/South but living in a big city means there is never a dull moment and there is something for everyone.

L: Like Kristina said, there is SO much to do in SF! It’s a big city, so you can always find something new and exciting to see or explore. The Bay area is so diverse, and not only are there cool things to do in SF proper, but there are also fun places to explore in East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley), North Bay (Marin, Sausalito), and South Bay. SF is also by the water, so there are often fun beach/outdoor activities as well. There are tons of places to exercise (indoor/outdoor), live sporting events, the arts, pretty much anything that interests you! My favorite thing to do is to find really great places to eat! Since I was raised in California, I might be a little biased about my love of living here, but SF is VERY different from southern California, and I never thought I’d end up living in SF. I’m originally from a small suburb, so transitioning to city living was challenging at first. Since I went to PT school at UCSF/SFSU, the transition to residency at UCSF was very natural.


2. How does the salary compare to cost of living?

K: In terms of salary, we are part of a union as PT residents and our salary and benefits are lumped together with medical school residents. As you all may know, cost of living is REDICULOUS here in California but even more so for the Bay Area with the big tech boom. This personally almost deterred me away from applying to UCSF as rent is significantly cheaper in Texas (where I was planning on residing if I did not get this residency). Upon onboarding, I was pretty shocked at how much we were compensated (base salary, housing allowance, and meal allowance on campus) and it is definitely sufficient enough to pay rent and groceries/utilities and still having enough left over for social activities. Budgeting is still very important but it’s doable. Fun fact - you can defer your student loans while doing a residency to help offset some financial pressures. There are also student housing options which are convenient as there is a free shuttle that goes between all UCSF campuses, so a car is not a necessity but an added bonus. Most staff take public transportation as you will find California traffic is terrible.

Since UC is a public institution, salaries are published online for the public. We all know that we are taking a pay cut as residents; however, our salary in this program is about 80% of an entry-level PT salary, which is not bad. SF is SUPER expensive, so we have to be able to survive, especially when we are seeking post-professional educational opportunities. Our institution is unique because we are unionized, so we automatically enter into a prescribed contract, and it is a salary package that includes your base salary + monthly housing stipend + meal stipend. It is definitely possible to live comfortably on the salary we make as residents. You may not be able to have a 1 bedroom apartment to yourself in the city, but you can definitely find private rooms for rent for pretty reasonable. I personally live within walking distance of the medical center because I HATE commuting; however, if you don’t mind a commute, you can definitely find more reasonable housing options outside of the city. There are also great student/resident housing options as well that are less than market rate and are pretty nice! There are tons of options, so it’s about finding what works the best for you.


3. Why did you choose to a residency? What set UCSF acute care residency apart from others?

K. Since I applied to PT school, I was always looking into residencies as I knew I wanted to specialize … little did I know that it would switch from neuro to acute care within my last year of PT school. I always was drawn to the idea of furthering my own learning and getting involved with teaching in a PTA or DPT institution. When researching acute care residency programs, most gave a simple and very general blurb of what services to expect, admission requirements and some gave the curriculum outline but I knew there were a few select things I was looking for in the program. I was looking for the 1:1 mentoring, experience in all floors/patient populations (ICU was an added bonus) and teaching. When I interviewed it was presented as a “pick your own adventure” residency which made it more appealing and more individualized. Living it today, I would agree that this statement holds true – you can truly tailor this experience based on how you want to grow as a clinician – whether that be more teaching opportunities, research, special experiences on various services, etc. As long as you communicate your expectations clearly and understand your bandwidth, it is all possible.

L: Ironically, I was not onboard the residency train while I was in PT school – probably because I definitely did not see myself specializing in ortho or neuro, which are typically the most popular PT residency programs. I also didn’t even know acute care residency programs existed until I was heading into my 3rd year of PT school, and even then, I did not make the decision to apply until right before my last clinical experience. I knew that I wanted to stay in SF and stay connected to the UCSF/SFSU DPT program, so when I learned about the UCSF acute care residency and the specific opportunities to teach within the program, I became very intrigued. I have always known that I was passionate about acute care physical therapy, and I wanted to also have the opportunity to acquire advanced clinical skills, provide a service to the community, and to have 1 on 1 mentoring that will further my professional growth. I did not apply to any other acute care residency programs, but even if I had, I would still choose UCSF. I can’t speak to other programs, but our residency program has always been transparent about giving us the freedom to curate this experience for ourselves, as long as we are meeting the minimum requirements for accreditation. This kind of personalizes the residency experience to maximize our learning and growth.


4. What have you enjoyed the most about residency? What was challenging about residency?

K: My 2 favorite components are teaching in the DPT classes and mentoring. Not being an affiliate of UCSF prior to my residency, mentoring initially was utilized more to understand the culture of UCSF, learn the ins and outs, personalities and the work flow of each individual floors (as they have their own cultures as well). It has since progressed to working with specific patient populations, learning facilitation techniques and introduction into the ICU. For teaching, we are very involved in a various classes throughout the year (mostly with PT1s) from labs to lectures to being patients for practicals.


The most challenging aspect of residency was probably when I first started here at UCSF – I didn’t know where everything was, what these acronyms were that people were speaking of and the west coast culture was significantly different than the South and Midwest (where all my clinical rotations and schooling were located.) However, after my first two months, it got easier and everyone was EXTREMELY patient and supportive as I struggled to slowly become more technologically competent and learned the culture here at UCSF.

L: My favorite highlights of this residency program are facilitating learning with the DPT students and the personal mentoring. These are two attributes that I know I would not have experienced had I simply taken a staff PT position, especially as a new grad. A challenging aspect of the residency program is the steep learning curves as you rotate through services (which is totally to be expected). UCSF is a tertiary medical center, so you will be exposed to extremely complex diagnoses and patient presentations that you would not see anywhere else, and this can be extremely overwhelming. Although this can be challenging, it makes for amazing learning opportunities.


5. What is the realistic time commitment that you need to devote to residency?

K: I think on average I spend about 50 hr/wk w/ all the residency tasks we have however some weeks are heavier than others.

L: I would agree with Kristina on this one. We really try our best to maintain good work-life balance; however, work does tend to ramp up depending on various projects or if we are preparing for exams.


6. Do you have time for social life?

K: This was the number one question I asked all my friends who did residency and it made me nervous because a lot of my friends said “no.” But I am happy to say I do have a social life! (Yay!) I am always hosting friends/family from out of town, taking weekend/day trips, or have plans with friends. It is all about how you balance your time. It became clear to me early on that I didn’t want to lose myself or be a victim of burnout so early on in my career/residency - so I make it a point to set aside time and create boundaries between my home and work life. Our residency director and UCSF are fully supportive of having a good work balance life and taking “mental health” days if needed/ when warrented. We are given a good chunk of days for PTO/illness to encourage a healthy work life balance. Lauren and I have utilized them very well (:

L: YES! Residency programs are a ton of work, and we do have a TON of various responsibilities, but you start to really get into your own flow and schedule within the first few months. Make yourself a priority so you have the capacity to give to others! You also get 20 vacation days to use throughout the entire year so USE THEM!


7. Do we interact with other residency programs?

K: UCSF is unique in that they have multiple campuses and unfortunately the ortho residents are in Mission Bay and we are located in Parnassus (if you google it, they are completely opposite sides of the city). We do have occasional didactic classes with the ortho residents and it has been a nice support group to have while going through our respective residencies. In addition, we have a monthly national journal club with all the other acute care residencies where we each take turns choosing an article and leading a discussion.

L: We occasionally interact with the UCSF ortho residents (we love them!), but we don’t often collaborate because our worlds are very different. As Kristina mentioned, we do a virtual journal club with our acute care residency counterparts across the nation, and that’s a very cool experience!


8. What are your future plans post residency?

K: I am currently looking at acute care PT opportunities in the Bay Area, Southern California and Texas. I have done some light paroozing of LinkedIn and various other job websites but no deep diving yet. April and May are proving to be our busier months, so my job search will continue when everything starts to die down.

L: Immediately after residency, I would also love to stay in the Bay Area as a practicing acute care clinician. I would love to continue my career trajectory at UCSF, if the opportunity arises! Definitely keeping my eye out for various opportunities


9. What is one piece of advice that you wish you knew prior to going into this residency?

K: My one piece of advice is don’t be afraid to ask questions. Being the first resident that did not graduate from UCSF, I was completely overwhelmed with the acronyms, navigating different buildings/campuses, and keeping track of schedules that changed day to day – I just couldn’t establish a routine. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (trust me you won’t sound incompetent)! When I started asking questions and finding my voice and my place/PT style is when I truly felt like I was gaining everything I wanted from a residency and took hold of “creating my own adventure.” No one else knows your expectations or can clarify your confusion unless you ask questions. Everyone is here to support you, your learning style and your professional/personal goals!

L: Lean into feeling a little uncomfortable at times, and give yourself patience and space to ease into the transition of being a new PT (for those of you who are new grads), AND being a PT resident. There are going to be learning curves, new opportunities, and challenging times, and that’s ok! We are a close-knit group, and there are tons of resources and support to help you navigate this very unique time.