Kelly Quinley: Interview With The Right Fit HIPster Award Winner

The 2016 Right Fit HIPster Awards is a collaboration between Medelita and FemInEM with the purpose of celebrating and rewarding women EM residents who have identified a problem facing physicians, patients, or their community, and who have done something about it. With over 45 submissions from highly qualified applicants, our judges selected the top five winners who we felt most strongly have embodied this goal.

This week, we sat down and spoke with winner Kelly Quinley, who has been recognized for her development of an emergency physician training program focused on the management and counseling of patients presenting with first trimester miscarriage, including the use of manual uterine aspiration.


Kelly Quinley MD The Right Fit HIPster Winner

Name: Kelly Quinley

Age: 35

State: California

Resident program: 4th year EM resident at Highland Hospital in Oakland

Medical school: University of Pennsylvania Medical School

Passion project: ED care for miscarrying patients

Favorite movie or TV show: This is Spinal Tap and The English Patient

Current book: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Mara

Favorite hobbies: Running after two small boys! I also love cycling, yoga, cooking, traveling.

Now for the real questions....

What would you have been if you weren’t going to be a doctor?

I think I would have been either a journalist or would have furthered my education in art history. I actually did do a short stint of journalism before medical school, but I could also see myself being a professor of politics and art history if I weren’t a doctor - I have a huge interest in political propaganda art, in particular.

Best advice for people considering a career in medicine:

My advice for someone considering medicine as a career should take a step back and consider what kind of person you are so that you can best decide which field is the best fit for you - for example, what I know about myself is that I like variety and I thrive in a high-energy, fast-paced environment - which is exactly what EM is about. Or if you’re a ‘project person’ who likes to be hands-on and oversee things from start to finish, surgery might be a good field for you. If you enjoy working with people and seeing how conditions develop over time, internal medicine would give you that aspect of building strong relationships with patients.

Every field of medicine has unique benefits and disadvantages, and you need to learn how to manage those tougher aspects. Think about what drives you in life and your career and how you like to do your work when choosing your path in medicine.

Best words of advice you’ve received:

This is something that applies to anything, not just medicine: some days you win, and some days you lose. Life is a long-term game, so give yourself a pat on the back when you do well. Likewise, don’t beat yourself up when you haven’t done so well - learn from the experience instead. You make your own happiness in life, but in medicine people come to you because they’re sick and they need your help. It can fill you up to heal people, but there will also be times when it can be very taxing.

This advice is especially true in Emergency Medicine, because so much of your day depends on which patients walk through the door and that’s something that isn’t in your control. I believe the world is bringing you who they need to bring you at that time, so it’s been important for me to realize when things are not in your control, and always be learning from those experiences. What you do control is the energy you bring to work each day, and if you come in with a good attitude you will have a better day and take better care of your patients. People bring that same positive energy back to you.

Most inspiring role model:

I actually have two role models, and for different reasons. My mom, she was a nurse who also raised four kids. She is warm, compassionate, and taught me to really listen to people, and I use those skills every day as a doctor. Her final job before retirement was to help military families with special needs children to find resources in their community for better health. 

My father, he was raised by a single mother and became a dentist. He is fair, friendly, has a great sense of humor, and was beloved by his patients and coworkers. He also prioritized his family, and never missed a sport game or chance to help with homework or school projects. I really appreciate that both of my parents managed to be so present for our lives - I understand this challenge so much more since making my career choice.

What is the most important skill you’ve developed on your path to becoming a doctor?

I’ve come to appreciate that all personality types have something awesome to give to their patients, which is so often true in EM. You have extroverts, introverts, multi-taskers, single-taskers, and they all have benefits when it comes to playing an important role in their patients’ care.

What do you love most about what you do?

I took a very circuitous path to medicine. I actually took a human rights internship for the German parliament, and I also spent time as a journalist and as an investment banker in New York. What these were all missing was that human element. I think that’s why I went into medicine, because all my patients have a story in their lives and I love getting to hear them and be a part of them. Emergency Medicine specifically appealed to me because of the nature of the work, I get to give my patients answers right away and can help people right then and there.

What is the most inspiring patient or clinical experience that you have had?

When I was working in patient wards during my first year of residency, I cared for a middle-aged man who had come to the States from Sudan. He was ill with terminal cancer. One of the most inspiring things that I’ve been a part of in my medical career is how we worked to help get the man well enough that he could get on a plane back to Sudan so he could spend his last week of life with his wife and family there. We weren’t even sure he would make it, but our whole team worked together - physical therapists, palliative care team, and so on - to make it happen. We all were cheering him on as he boarded his flight and he sent us back pictures with his family from his last week. It was incredibly heartbreaking but also beautiful at the same time.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve seen for women in healthcare?

There are so many, where do I begin! For starters, I’m a resident with two kids, and I had my first child as a medical student, and my second child during residency. This probably applies to any woman who is a parent with a job, but it’s challenging balancing time for your family and for your job. You never feel like you’re doing your best at either.

It’s also disillusioning that female physicians today make 20% less than men for performing same job. Perhaps employers see it as a disadvantage that a woman who becomes pregnant will be less productive, and many people continue to perceive maternity leave as some sort of vacation. Maternity leave is the hardest job you’ve ever done, and it’s 24 hours a day, so it’s definitely not a break. I am fortunate that at my place of work they have been very willing to work with me in regards to scheduling and my pregnancy, pregnancy is just viewed as an exciting part of life, but not all women have that privilege.

What is the biggest challenge for healthcare system today?

We need to focus more on preventative medicine. Our healthcare system is great at pulling out all the stops for people once they are sick, but we’re not doing a very good job of keeping them from getting sick in the first place. This also applies to mental illness - our country does a very poor job of prioritizing patients who suffer from mental illness and that deeply affects their lives, their ability to get jobs and be healthy, and it affects their families and our communities as well.

What do you plan on doing with your $500 award?

First, I’ll put it towards getting a babysitter and taking my amazingly supportive husband out to dinner! The rest of it will probably go towards paying off my student loans.

How do you try to convey a professional appearance?

If you wear a clean, white, pressed coat, it can be seen as a symbol of the role you have taken on in caring for people. You look like you take your job seriously when you come into the workplace with a professional image, which can instill more trust with your patients. That said, many emergency physicians wear only scrubs, so it’s important to have clean scrubs, and a bonus to have your name embroidered on them. I do also think you should not fear accessorizing to still feel like yourself at work.