100 Women, 100 Stories: Kelly Thibert, DO, MPH
Where do you live? Washington, D.C.
What is your profession? Doctor by training. I just graduated from medical school in May 2016 but took the year before Family Medicine Residency to run a nonprofit medical association (American Medical Student Association — AMSA) here in Washington, DC. I will begin Family Medicine Residency the Summer of 2017 and I am so thrilled to see patients again!
How did you get this role and what was your path leading up to this?
My journey to my current profession, as National President of AMSA started 9 years ago. When I was a pre-med at the University of Central Florida I realized that my classmates had all of the answers to questions like: what courses do I have to take to get into medical school, what are they looking for in medical school applicants, what is the timeline for the application process? Finding out that I knew next to nothing about applying to medical school I decided that I needed to join an organization, perhaps one that helped their members get into medical school — insert AMSA here. I joined my local chapter at UCF and it was everything I needed. They gave me community service opportunities, pathways to research, ways to organize programming on my campus. But then I found out that there was a national organization. I went to their website and saw that they were about to host the “Women’s Empowerment Institute”. I applied for the scholarship to attend and was selected. I was the only pre-med at the institute, surrounded by physicians, residents, and medical students. I was in awe of these women. They were smart, they were passionate, they were leaders, and they were who I wanted to be. It was at this institute that I really got a sense of what AMSA was — which was not what my local chapter represented at all. I was inspired and wanted to become one of these women. So upon returning to my home institution I spoke to our leadership about how different we were from the National organization. Their response? “Run for President of our chapter and change it”. I had only been in AMSA for a few months — but I did just that. I served as a local chapter President for two years and in doing so, learned even more about the national organization. I attended my first National AMSA Convention in Washington, DC and was blown away by the level of engagement, enthusiasm, activism and passion of those in attendance. I wanted to be with these people, to lead with these people. I ran from the floor that year and became a national leader — a Pre-Medical Regional Director. From there it was history, I joined and led my local AMSA chapter in medical school. I kept pursuing different positions in national AMSA leadership, so that I could get a sense of all aspects of the organization. And then, in my third year of medical school I decided run for President-elect. I am so happy to have been a member of AMSA for 9 years now. It has truly given me the skills and tools necessary to be a better physician.
What did you study in school? Undergrad: I attended the University of Central Florida where I majored in Molecular and Microbiology and minored in Women’s Studies. Grad: I simultaneously pursued (and achieved) my Masters of Public Health and my Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine
How did you know you wanted to study that? My journey into medicine started in a strange way. When I was in high school I signed up for Anatomy and Physiology. That year we were dissecting things like fetal pigs, cow’s eyeballs and we finished the year with the dissection of a cat. I enjoyed learning about the anatomy and physiology so much that my teacher would provide additional dissection opportunities for me during lunch. Talking to him one day during class I asked, “what kind of a job would someone have if they wanted to dissect for a living?” He chuckled at me and said he’d never been asked that before, but proceeded to answer me. He said, “Have you ever thought of becoming a medical examiner?” I had no idea what that was and I suppose the expression on my face showed that. He told me to go home and watch an episode of Dr. G Medical Examiner. I took this as a homework assignment and did just that. I came back the next day, in awe of the work that a medical examiner does, the mysteries they solve, and how they help the families and friends of the deceased. I wanted to be like Dr. G. I asked my teacher what one has to do to become a medical examiner, his response? “Go to medical school.” I started asking him a bit more about medical school and hearing him describe it I knew that was my future. I decided in tenth grade, during anatomy and physiology that I would become a Doctor.
My journey into public health and health policy was a bit delayed. That interest started more or less when I first took a Women’s Studies course in high school (I know, I was very lucky to have this). From there when I went on to college I knew that I wanted to keep learning and decided to take more Women’s Studies courses. I got involved with the National Organization for Women along with a few other progressive clubs on my campus, including AMSA. My eyes were opened to so many new ideas, issues, forms of activism and advocacy. I decided to pursue my minor in Women’s Studies and my life was forever changed. I learned the importance of combining my loves of medicine and social justice and have never looked back.
Has anyone been a mentor to you? What role did they play and how do you feel about mentorship now? One of my attendings during medical school when I had the opportunity to do a rotation at a local Planned Parenthood clinic. Dr. Prabhakaran really has no idea how much she has influenced me, as a person, advocate and physician in training. She is that one attending that has impacted you so much, that you don’t really know how to thank them; because there aren’t enough words to express the effect they have had on your life. She has been patient with me, when I fumbled with instruments as a second year medical student and my first time in a clinical setting. She took the time to explain procedures to me and the history behind them. She never made me feel as though my questions were pestering her and in fact made me feel as though they were valid questions that deserved a conversation. I grew as a physician in training and advocate and so did my experiences with Dr. P. She took the time to talk to me about health policy, about public health about why the work she does and the work I want to pursue is vital to healthcare. There wasn’t a day of training with her that I didn’t learn something new. What I love most about my experiences is that it wasn’t limited to clinical work. She acknowledges the ties between clinical medicine and policy and thus integrates the two into her teaching. She sees this as a sensible approach to reproductive health care and that really means a lot to me. I feel like you could always use a mentor, at any stage of your life. There are so many unique people all with different lived experiences that the learning and mentoring is really limitless (if you let it be).
What’s the hardest thing that you’ve had to deal with in your career so far? The hardest thing in my career so far was probably medical school itself. Medical school is not easy. They often say that learning in medical school is like drinking from a fire hose. I would say that is accurate. You never know how you’re going to learn so much information, but then you’re at graduation day, you’ve passed all of your classes and board examinations and there you are, with the knowledge you thought you could never learn. It was hard, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
What has been a really rewarding moment in your career? Well, probably two: One would be graduating medical school See above response for a sense of “why?”
The second would have to be getting elected as the National President of the American Medical Student Association. I have so much respect for this organization and I believe so deeply in its mission and values. It meant so much that folks believed in me enough to lead them through the year ahead, to uphold all the ideals and history of our organization.
What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime? (Professionally or personally!) Personally, I would love to accomplish being a better cook!
What’s something you want young women to remember when thinking about their future? You really can do anything you set your mind to, but it won’t always be easy. Write down why it is you want to pursue whatever you wish to pursue in your future, why you’re passionate, why you love it, why the hard work won’t be an issue. And then, when times get hard, refer back to that and remember that you can do it and reflect on why you began the journey in the first place.
What’s one thing you want to try to make an impact on in your lifetime? Healthcare. Whether it is through a medical lens, public health lens or policy lens — maybe all three! We’ll see where life brings me.