The first fellow to graduate from a year-long cardiology training program started by Sanford Health and the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine is working as an interventional cardiologist at the health care organization in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Announced in 2016, the interventional cardiology fellowship program offers one position annually. It began July 1, 2017.
The first fellow, Shenjing Li, M.D., Ph.D., a native of China, received a Ph.D. and medical degree in Shanghai. He came to the United States to complete an internal medicine residency in Orlando, Florida. In July 2014, Li began the three-year cardiovascular disease fellowship program at Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When he completed that fellowship in June 2017 and heard about the new interventional cardiology fellowship, he was interested.
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Major cardiology referral center
The medical center’s cardiovascular institute is a major referral center for the region. It has high standards, a high patient volume and a record of successful outcomes. It’s the perfect environment for training interventional fellows to master the techniques.
“Interventional cardiology is very intense, fast-paced and demands critical thinking,” Dr. Li said. “It’s quite unique in that we can intervene in a severe heart attack, save a patient’s life and get them back home to their daily life feeling normal in a day or two. Our outcomes are good.”
Dr. Li enjoyed working closely with the three faculty members: Adam Stys, M.D., Tom Stys, M.D., and Marian Petrasko, M.D., in a three-on-one environment. “I had personal attention. They take time to be involved in every case. Before the procedure, we focus on planning, patient safety, what additional support the patient might need, and we discuss risks,” said Dr. Li.
“During the procedures, I was the primary operator with the faculty there to observe, guide and pinpoint anything that needs attention. After the procedure, they observed my follow-up phone calls and charting. They summarized every case and gave me feedback on what I did well, and what areas to work on. They taught me so much. My skills improved dramatically.”
Related information: Find a Bemidji heart specialist
Learned latest procedures
In addition to coronary intervention work in the catheter lab, Dr. Li also learned other state-of-the-art cardiac procedures including transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), MitraClip and WATCHMAN.
“The cath lab staff, they know me well,” Dr. Li said. “They taught me so much, they challenged me.”
The program is the most advanced post-graduate medical specialty training program in the Dakotas, according to Dr. Adam Stys, interventional cardiology fellowship program director. “During his year of training, Dr. Li performed many more interventional procedures than required by national standards, and he attended 13 national and international conferences where he presented abstracts. He scored in the top tier on specialty national tests.”
At the completion of his fellowship, Dr. Li was highly skilled and prepared for an interventional cardiology position at Sanford Bemidji Heart and Vascular Center. He joined a growing program that offers comprehensive cardiology and vascular services to northwestern Minnesota.
“Our faculty is proud to have him join the Sanford interventional cardiologist group,” said Dr. Stys.
Darla Fjerstad, fellowship program coordinator for cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology, had a close working relationship with Dr. Li and provided support during his fellowship. In addition, she got to know him and his family on a personal level.
“We lived on the same street,” she said. “I feel like he’s one of my sons, and his kids are like my grandchildren. I take great pride in his accomplishments. He’ll do very well in Bemidji. I wish him the best.”
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