Robert Hull, MD
With both military and cardiology training, this interventional fellow is headed toward a career in structural heart disease.
Robert Hull, MD, is an interventional cardiology fellow at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center (New York, NY), Growing up in a military family, he always knew he wanted to serve, so took the opportunity to enlist in the United States Air Force upon enrolling in medical school at West Virginia University School of Medicine. Hull completed his internal medicine and cardiology training at the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium. With plans to further train in structural heart interventions next year, Hull plans to carry out his commitment to the military and then settle into a clinical career treating structural heart patients.
Why did you initially decide to pursue cardiology?
After college, I spent time in the biomedical field and that piqued my interest in cardiology. I was involved with pacemakers and ICD implants, and the exposure to the amazing things that could be done in the field convinced me to start studying for medical school. In residency, I was really attracted to cardiology because it is a very empowering field where we can do a great deal to help our patients. We have a great patient population and are capable of providing them definitive treatment. The teamwork and collaboration in the field were also very appealing to me.
What led to your decision to join the Air Force?
A lot of individuals in my family have served. Since I was a young boy I wanted to join the military to give back and continue that tradition.
How do you think your military training has influenced your perspective as a clinician?
I am proud of my military training—I was very fortunate and received excellent training. Military training has a distinct mindset that provides a unique perspective. Being in the military has also given me the opportunity to see the different strengths and viewpoints that individuals with different backgrounds and training bring to the team.
What would be your advice to someone considering going down a similar training pathway?
If it's something that somebody feels called to do, I can say from firsthand experience that it's a very rewarding career. You have the chance to interact with fantastic patients, devoted mentors, and a very unique scope of practice. It's been rewarding so far, and I wouldn't change a thing.
What has surprised you the most about going into interventional cardiology?
I am constantly surprised at how deep the water is. There is always more to learn. It is a rapidly expanding field that continues to be at the forefront of medicine, and I have benefited from excellent mentors here who have helped guide me. Dr. Ajay Kirtane has provided me personal guidance and helped me with my growth, and this whole institution has been supportive. One of the most surprising things has been watching the revolution of structural heart disease treatment. I can remember being early in my training and seeing the groundbreaking work with TAVR and watching how that transformed the way that we care for our patients with valve disease. That's been interesting to watch that wave and now be riding it.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing interventional fellows today?
A lot of the flipside of it being such a vast field is the ask of learning it all. It is impossible to learn it all in a relatively short amount of time. Whether it is a year or two, I think that just getting to where you have a good foundation to continue being a lifelong learner and actively engaged in improving and learning is the goal. That's one of our big challenges.
With four children at home, how you balance out your work and your family life? What advice you might have for others wanting to do the same?
I've been blessed with four children (ages 6, 5, 3, and almost 2), and I have an amazing wife. Really, she is our bedrock. What I have tried to do is be fully invested in the different areas while I am doing them. When I am in a procedure, I try to be totally focused and committed to that, and when I am at home with my family, I try to focus on being a dad and husband. I could say that by far the most rewarding thing in my life has been my family, and it's always great whether it’s a good day or a bad day to come home and see my wife and children. It's truly the best part of my day.
My advice is if it's right for them, there is never an easy time to have a family. We can always talk ourselves out of it, but you can always make it work. It is never something I have ever regretted. I would just encourage people considering starting a family, because the world could use as many good parents as possible. Also, having a good work environment and community is critical. I am very fortunate here at Columbia that they are very understanding and family centric, and I have amazing co-fellows who also have children. That has been a source of resiliency, so I think that finding that kind of strength in the community and leaning into it has been a helpful thing for the challenges that inevitably come with it all.
What are you most looking forward to after you finish your training?
I feel like I have been given this skill set, this gift from my training. I am like the kid on the bike with the training wheels and I know they are about to come off and I am going to see how far I can pedal. I am excited to take that next step and translate what these great mentors have taught me into my own individual real-world practice, to try to start helping people and creating a footprint in my own area.
What is something that people might not know about you?
I enjoy trying to learn different languages. I speak a little bit of Spanish and German, and I have been working on Mandarin. Being in a diverse environment like New York has been a great place to get exposed to other languages and cultures.
What his nominator, Ajay Kirtane, MD, says:
I nominated Robbie because his background is so unique, especially given his commitment to service in the military. This has, of course, led to some entertaining interactions in the cath lab. One time, one of the general fellows was nervous on their week in the cath lab and was play-by-play narrating every single action: “Inserting needle, injecting lidocaine, removing needle” and so on. Although it was driving me a little nuts, I was hesitant to say anything because I didn’t want to be perceived as insensitive. Robbie just jumped in and said: “Thanks, but no extraneous information is needed. We call it ‘keeping a sterile cockpit’ on the plane in the Air Force.” It was just perfect. We all are really looking forward to his continued success both as an advanced interventional fellow next year in addition to what he goes on to become in the military!
*To nominate a stellar cardiology fellow for the Featured Fellow section of TCTMD’s Fellows Forum, click here.