Clinical faculty spotlight: Dr. Otto Sabando, DME at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center

What is it like to be a clinical student at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, NJ?

Dr. Otto Sabando, DO, FACOEP, FACEP, FFSMB, as the director of medical education for St. George’s University students who are completing their clerkships at the hospital as well as its designated institutional official (DIO), sees hundreds of new clinical students each year.

As the DME for the 526-bed acute care hospital, Dr. Sabando oversees the hands-on training students receive as part of the clinical portion of their medical education. St. Joseph’s offers all core rotations for third-year students as well as elective rotations in specialties like anesthesiology, cardiology/interventional cardiology, gastroenterology, hematology/oncology, and orthopedic surgery, for example.

Dr. Sabando has been working at St. Joseph’s for the past 17 years, however his first foray into medicine was as a hospital corpsman for the US Navy early on in his career. The lessons he learned in the military, he says, are invaluable to med students and he tries to pass on those lessons today. Dr. Sabando shared with SGU News his best advice for how med students can be successful in clinicals and residency.

SGU: What are some key lessons or attributes that students will acquire during their clinical rotations at St. Joseph’s?

Dr. Sabando: I always tell students when they start that they are starting over. The first or second year you pretty much accumulated knowledge, but now you’re actually going to interact with patients.

I expect students to learn how to converse with patients, communicate well within a team, and certainly become team members with the nurses. The nurses have a lot to teach you, so definitely respect them. And finally, to be on time and be professional. Those are the five big things I always tell them. If they can do that, then they will do well in clinicals.

SGU: What is your overall impression of St. George’s students?

Dr. Sabando: Early on in my career as a residency director here, we had several St. George’s students coming through who were really interested in emergency medicine. I was impressed by them. Their knowledge base was awesome, the way they spoke to the patients, the way they interacted with a team, I mean, bar none, they were highly trained individuals who knew that they were getting into a competitive field. So, from that to seeing students today, in general, they are well-trained and can stand on the same ground as med students from US medical schools and osteopathic schools.


“The most important advice I can give to students and new residents is don’t stop studying, don’t stop networking, and certainly practice evidence-based medicine.”


SGU: You started your career in the US Navy. What traits did you acquire while in the Navy that helped you during your medical career? 

Dr. Sabando: My parents were immigrants from Ecuador, and they really didn’t have funding for myself and my brother to go to college. I enlisted in the military and became a hospital corpsman in the Navy. That’s where I met nurses, PAs, doctors, and then I went on to field medical service school with the Marines. I really enjoyed it.

The people we served in the Marines, wherever we were stationed, the population we served at that moment, it was just an incredible feeling to be able to help them. And then having the doctors and nurses guide us as a corpsman and medics was something I never forgot.

In addition, the leadership skills that I developed, the communication, the teamwork, and the discipline, it all came from there.

SGU: You then went on to become a DO, specializing in emergency medicine. Why did you choose that field?

Dr. Sabando: I remember really enjoying all my third-year clerkships and then my very first fourth-year rotation was in emergency medicine, and it all came together. It was everything that I learned in my third year plus my experience in the military—it was a lot of acute care and triage—I felt at home. So, I decided to pursue the career.

SGU: Why do you like working with medical students?

Dr. Sabando: It’s always exciting to have that student who’s coming in eager to learn from you. There’s nothing greater than the student turning around and saying thank you for teaching me, even if it was just one patient.

While I enjoy being able to impart knowledge onto medical students, there is also the potential for them to impart knowledge onto me because they’re fresh from medical school and maybe they have something new they can share with me that I haven’t yet read about.

SGU: For a student who may be considering applying for a residency at St. Joseph’s, how can they be competitive?

Dr. Sabando: The residency directors get thousands of applications each year. In emergency medicine, for example, for the eight positions that we have, we generally average around 1,200 applications. So how do we sort through that?

  • The very first thing we do is we look at board scores. Students have already taken the USMLE 1, so really everything’s going to hinge on that second board score.
  • If you’re currently rotating with us, we’re going to be taking a closer look at your evaluations, the Dean’s letter, and anything that might make you stand out.
  • In addition, the personal statement is very important—that’s definitely going to set students apart. Program directors love reading personal statements, and sometimes residents help screen applicants as well. They may notice something that the residency director has not.
  • Finally, good grades.
  • The bottom line is you are competing against the rest of America, and you have to be the best, if not for yourself, then for your patients.

SGU: What’s the best piece of advice you received throughout your career that you can impart to students?

Dr. Sabando: The best mentors that I had were very knowledgeable because they always stayed on top of new research and reading material.

That’s what keeps you fresh, so the most important advice I can give to students and new residents is don’t stop studying, don’t stop networking, and certainly practice evidence-based medicine.

SGU: Are there any other tips you want to share with students on how to be successful in clinicals?

Dr. Sabando: Just to remind students about the importance of professionalism in the hospital environment. This is essentially an ongoing job interview, and the biggest challenge is to make sure that they’re processing, that they’re on time for rounds or, for example, if there is an issue, that they call up and inform us that they will be running late. Like any job, just be professional about it.




— Laurie Chartorynsky



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