This week’s Meet a Mom is Kelsey Martin, M.D.! She’s a hematologist and oncologist who teaches at Yale University School of Medicine and practices at Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center in Orange, CT. We spoke to Kelsey about her joint background in the treatment of blood disorders and cancer, supporting other women in medicine, her working mom strategies and more.

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself, including how you ended up living in Westport?
I was born in NYC, but I grew up from preschool age through high school in Westport.  After that I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Dublin, Ireland and then NYC.  Now we are back in Westport, which is a lot of fun – seeing what’s changed and what’s the same. I have a husband, Scott, son Cody (3 and a half), daughter Emrys (1 and a half) and dog Oliver (a huge Goldendoodle who is 4). We moved to Westport about 2 years ago.  It’s been a blast running into people I haven’t seen since high school.  I ran track when I went to Staples and now my son loves running on the track there – it brings me a lot of joy.

We’ve tried to get outside more during the pandemic – it’s been a nice way to explore parts of Connecticut I never knew.  And music. Lots of music and dance parties in our house as a way to decompress.

Love the dance party tip – a classic and a great idea these days! Can you share a bit about your professional background and why you chose this path?
A combination of personal experience (my mom is a 3 time cancer survivor!)  and passion for the science of it.  When I was in medical school, amazing changes were taking place in terms of cancer treatments.  I knew I wanted to be part of it.  Hematology…I had great professors which drew me in.  It’s a bit of diagnostic challenge sometimes, like putting a puzzle together. It’s also an area with broad scope.  I work with pregnant patients, geriatric patients.

Sounds fascinating. What is your favorite part of your job?
The mix of science of humanistic qualities of medicine.  There’s always opportunities to learn more.  Helping someone feel better.  Building trust with patients.  It’s never boring.  Every day brings a new challenge.

Does any moment stand out for you when you thought, this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing?

Two things spring to mind.

  1. The time I spent during my fellowship training at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.  All off a sudden things seemed to gel.  I found great mentorship, particularly in strong women in leadership positions.  I honestly felt that I found my soul mates of fellowship colleagues – it was four of us and we just clicked.
  2. A second was when I decided to transition my career from NYC to Yale and patients (including one who is a doctor himself) followed me. Or continue to email me. I was so flattered.

How do you handle the toggle between work and home life?
A lot of coffee.  Seriously.  I set a timer early so that it’s the first thing I do when I wake up.  With two kids I have added in a second cup.  I also try to work out every day – usually boxing. It keeps me mentally in check.  My days tend to go better when I exercise first thing in the morning before the kids wake up.  Usually my afternoons and evenings are less predictable and this way it’s done.

My other working mom strategy is learning to say “no” at work to tasks that I don’t have the bandwidth for that may not add much value to my career.  It’s taken time (and confidence) to do this, but I think it’s fundamental.

Multitasking when it makes sense: working out with a friend for example is a great way to kill two birds with one stone so to speak.  Or listening to podcasts while I drive as a way to catch up with what’s going on in the world.


 

How has COVID-19 affected your practice?
March and April were intense – the unknowns.  Patients were scared to come to the doctor’s office. One of the biggest changes was the rapid inclusion of telemedicine or video visits with patients.  I worked from home (and still do sometimes) doing such appointments.  Never in a million years would I have pictured that.  Cancer doesn’t stop – so our patient volume ultimately picked back up pretty quickly.  It impacted my practice too because I felt that I needed to advocate from a public health vantage point and help disseminate truth when at points there has been a tremendous amount of disinformation about the virus. Also new is I’m taking care of many patients with hematologic complications from COVID-19.  There have been many hard days.  It’s hard for our patients’ families.

 

One thing I’ve heard repeatedly from medical experts is not to put off routine care like physicals, mammograms, etc. Why is this so crucial?
Definitely.  Firstly, going to the doctor’s office is safe.  I feel safer at work than in the grocery store! All healthcare workers are screened and wearing appropriate PPE.  All patients are screened. Tremendous changes have gone into effect to limit the number of patients coming through the doors so that distancing is possible.  Preventative medicine is key to long term health.  When it comes to cancer screening – this is our best opportunity for cancer cure: early detection.

How have you explained COVID-19/quarantine/masks/etc. to your son?
My son is 3 and a half.  At first, I think I went about it all wrong, in all honesty.  We talked about ninjas and superheroes wearing masks.  Then when I realized the pandemic would be with us for a long time I went with the truth.  We talk about germs.  He likes math and numbers so we count to at least 20 seconds when washing our hands.  The first time he had to wear a mask (to the dentist’s office) it was a disaster.  He just wouldn’t wear it and I didn’t push it thereafter because we really weren’t going anywhere.   Then when the Governor required children 3 and up to wear masks in school I just went with the truth again.  A germ called COVID and we have to wear our masks to stay healthy.  I looked to fantastic advice from our pediatricians at Village Pediatrics in Westport.  I think he learned by watching his peers in his class too.  These kids are so tough and remarkably resilient.

You’re involved in initiatives to promote women in medicine. Can you share a bit more about that?
Sure, I am part of a few groups within Yale University – SWIM (Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine) and WCC (Women Faculty Forum ).  These are organizations who work together to foster gender equity through research, promote scholarship of women, raise awareness of issues relevant to women and to advocate for women with respect to these issues.

Nationally, there’s a tremendous amount of research which points out that women are paid less than men even at the highest levels of academic medicine – this is important because it calls into question the common explanations for gender disparities (childcare, household responsibilities) and highlights a pervasive structural problem that needs to be addressed. Women continue to lag behind men in the number of tenure and leadership positions in academic medicine.

If we can help women rise to the top – then we will help gain the authority necessary to effect change.

Why is supporting other women so important to you?
There were times in my life where it seemed like there was constant competition. Somewhere along the way I became tuned into the idea of the power of the pack or the Shine Theory.  Let’s amplify each other!  If you hear another woman has a great idea – give them credit! Think about how powerful that is.  Women also need mentorship and sponsorship.  Building an inner circle of women the so-called squad will help us get to the top.  It helps us know our worth. It’s a path towards removing gender bias and promoting gender equality. Let’s help each other succeed.

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