Hello SOTGC community,
It’s a great pleasure to introduce you to the new Surgical Oncologist at UCSD, Dr. Kaitlyn Kelly. Kaitlyn specializes in minimally invasive GI cancer surgery and just joined us this year. As soon as I met Kaitlyn I knew I liked her.
Her medical career started at New York Medical college and then continued on to St. Vincent’s hospital in New York for general surgery residency. After doing a two-year research term at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Kaitlyn transferred to the University Of Wisconsin to complete her residency. She finalized her specialty training by doing a two year Surgical Oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering, then came to us in San Diego. What I like most about Kaitlyn is her willingness to teach and answer my never ending questions, her easy smile and approachability, and if you get her out of the hospital she’ll have you rolling on the floor with her funny stories. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I’ve enjoyed getting to know her.
What got you into medicine?
I had a family friend whose father who passed away from esophageal cancer when I was young. That got me interested in wanting to learn more about diseases and what causes them. At first I thought I’d end up going into research so I got a chemistry degree…and ended up going into surgery instead. My first experience with surgery was early on in medical school (between first and second year) when I went to MD Anderson Cancer center for research and got paired with a thoracic surgeon. So I was scrubbing in with him on cases and decided I really liked the anatomy and operating aspect of medicine.
Have you had a mentor along the way and if so, what are two valuable lessons they taught you?
I have had several great mentors along the way and the most valuable lessons I learned were:
- In terms of patient care: you have to continue to reach out to other people, from all departments, to get feedback on how to work with patients on all aspects of their care.
- Time management was another huge lesson they taught me. One of the main things being work/life balance and how important that is. When you’re a surgeon it’s very easy to get so caught up with your practice and patients that you let go of taking care of yourself and others in your life.
What was the biggest challenge you overcame in med school/residency or as a fellow?
When I was in medical school a very close friend of mine committed suicide. At the time I had exams coming up and had to take time off and go home for a while before I could take them. It’s funny how caught up in our own lives and what we think is “crucial” at the time, then something like this happens, and you really start thinking about your priorities and what’s important and what can be let go.
How do you maintain work life balance and what are two practical tips you can give people who are working on achieving this?
As a resident it can get really overwhelming so one of the rules I made was that on the days I had off, I would make myself do nothing work related for a whole day. I also make exercise a priority. If I can’t workout on a regular basis I can’t function at my best level.
What keeps you going on days when you’re exhausted and worn down?
My patients and my feeling of accountability I have to them. In oncology, once someone becomes you’re patient, you’re constantly responsible for them. Most of our patients come to us knowing something is wrong, but not having answer about what’s going on with their body. Being able to figure out what they have and then being able to treat or at least provide them with answers gives me the energy I need to push through.
What are two lessons that you wish you had learned earlier in your career?
- The first would relate back to prioritizing my personal life. I don’t regret any of my training, however, in retrospect I may not have chosen a path where I ended up living apart from my husband for 5 years.
- The importance of communication. When you’re in residency you feel like you have to do everything yourself. Communicating with your team members about who is doing what activities, and asking for help when you need it makes the experience so much easier and better for the patients.
What two pieces of advice would you give a woman who dreams of going into medicine?
- When you’re deciding what area of medicine you want to specialize in (IE surgery, internal medicine, etc), make sure it’s something that will fit your lifestyle and priorities. For instance, let’s say you’re a person who likes to have a 9-5 type of job and be home for dinner most nights, pick an area of medicine that allows you to have that kind of schedule.
- Once you do pick a specialty, don’t let others sway you from your goal. As a woman, you’ll meet some people who have an idea of what area you “should” practice. Never listen to the negative people, continue towards your goal and know you’ll make it
You just got out of fellowship and are starting a practice at a university medical center. What advice would you give to women who are about to leave fellowship regarding the changes they’ll need to prepare for in becoming an attending surgeon?
Get a billing procedures code book…because suddenly you’ll be responsible to know what codes to put down. You need to make sure you’re billing correctly. Also, when you finish training and depending on what job you take, you will have a nurse and an administrative assistant that are suddenly helping you. Developing a good relationship with them will be key. And taking time to sit down with them and figure out what they can help you with will make all of your jobs easier. Give them the tools and communication so they can properly be able to assist you in your practice.
What is your mantra?
“Love what you do!” When you’re driven and ambitious you will work a ton and go through periods of exhaustion, so loving what you do is key to being a happy and successful person.