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News & Press: eConnections

Mentor Spotlight: An Interview with Dr. Ellie Kiell

Monday, October 1, 2018  
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When considering who to interview for the AWS Mentor Spotlight, I wanted to highlight a female surgeon who balances her many roles with grace and embodies the type of surgeon I hope to become. This past year, I've had the privilege of shadowing Dr. Kiell in clinic and the OR. Seeing her interact with patients, her willingness to teach student-learners, and the way she balances work and home-life has largely inspired how I hope to practice medicine in the future. She has fully served as a strong female-role model to me and I hope that her words can be a source of encouragement for other women reading this. - Syndey Thomas

Dr. Ellie Kiell is an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and completed her residency at Wake. She completed fellowship training in pediatric otolaryngology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. While at CHOP, she began her Master of Education at Penn, which she completed this past summer.

What drew you to surgery and ENT as a medical student? How did you then choose pediatrics?

In medical school, I really liked the diagnostic side of neurology. When I realized I wanted to be a proceduralist, ENT seemed to be a place where I could be hands-on, there was a decent amount of diagnostic neuroscience, and I fit in with the people.

I knew I wanted to be in academic medicine, so I always planned to do a fellowship. I thought I would do neurotology for a longtime during residency, but I realized that I really liked the breadth of ENT which I still get in peds. As much as I enjoyed taking care of older people, I really loved taking care of kids.

You mentioned you had always planned to go in to academic medicine. What was your reasoning for this?

I really like the community of medicine and felt that wasn't as readily available in private practice as in academics. I learn best by bouncing ideas off other people. People around me are constantly up-to-date on the issues and I like to stay current on that, too.

There are a few different ways you can change medicine: to be at the forefront of research and translational medicine, how we treat patients clinically, and teaching the next generation of providers. What we do doesn't matter as much if we aren't teaching the next generation to do it, too.

Do you feel like you faced special challenges as a woman in a male-dominated field such as surgery?

I was raised by a mom who didn't work, and my parents had very traditional gender roles. I don't feel like I had a working female role model, but I never felt like I couldn't do what I wanted to do. In choosing a place to do residency, I did pay attention to seeing if there were female role models at the program.

I decided to have kids as a resident, though I initially never thought I would. When you decide it's time to have kids, it doesn't seem to matter what else is happening in life. The program director for OB/GYN happened to be my OB at the time and she really encouraged me to go for it. There was also an ENT resident ahead of me who had a baby a few months before, so that helped open the door, too. Even at a place where I always felt supported in my decision to have a baby, there were moments that stood out to me as different because I am a woman. After I got pregnant, all my evaluations said things like, "she's really doing well for being pregnant" or "doing well for having just had a baby." I know a man wouldn't have an evaluation that said he was doing really well for being a new dad.

What advice would you give women who are pursuing surgery and/or surgical subspecialties?

Don't be afraid to do it if it's what you want to do. You need to understand your own values and priorities, understand they might change, and that that's okay. Whatever it is that you want, find a mentor and someone who can help you make those decisions. Be open to things changing and someone giving you advice that might change your mind. Live your life while it's happening. Don't wait for your training to be over. You won't ever get the time back.

You've recently completed your master's in education. How do you hope to use this in your practice going forward?

I've been charged with reshaping our curriculum for residents and how to better educate medical students, PAs, and other providers who may not be ENTs, but still deal with ENT topics in their practice. Eventually, I'm interested in more defined position within the realm of education, whether it's program directorship or something within the medical school.

How do you maintain a balance between being a wife, a mom, and a surgeon?

You have to understand that it's not going to be a perfect balance every day but over time, if you maintain a level of contentedness in each of those, it does balance out in the long run. I also have a fantastic husband and have somehow convinced my four year old that if I miss things it's because I'm taking care of a sick child, and he thinks that's okay!

You have to be honest with people up front that you won't be able to do everything you want to do but the things you really want to do, you'll make happen. I got out of an overnight call one Friday and got in the car while my husband drove 8-hours to one of my friend's weddings. We left the wedding early and drove home, so I could be here for a 5 AM, 24-hour shift Sunday.

I sometimes feel guilty about outsourcing help for things around the house, but it allows me more time with my family. There are still certain things that are important to me that I make sure I do. Some people think I'm crazy, but I make our Halloween costumes. You can't do it all but accepting that is a big part of it.