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Phoenix Children's HospitalVIEW PROFILE
Growing up, Erin Garvey, M.D. (S ’16, PDS ’18), was a gymnast. Injuries pushed her to change athletic pursuits. She was a Division I springboard diver at the University of Denver, where she received the Female Scholar Athlete of the Year award in 2004 and 2005. Twice, she hit the diving board and broke her hand. Scars on her right index and middle fingers remind her why she gave up competitive athletics for a calling as a pediatric surgeon. At Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Dr. Garvey is helping to develop a colorectal practice to treat conditions including anorectal malformations, inflammatory bowel disease and Hirschsprung’s disease.
“Mayo truly is the epitome of patient-centered care. It spoiled me rotten as a health care provider. Things get done at Mayo — the patient comes in, has labs taken, and results are immediately available to the specialists and primary care provider. Need an ultrasound? It’s done the same day. And follow-up communication happens seamlessly.”
I wanted to be a physician for as long as I can remember. When I was 5, I asked my mom how to spell pediatrician.
I went to the University of Vermont College of Medicine to become a pediatrician. I wanted to teach kids how to take care of their bodies and about lifelong health and preventive care. In the first few weeks, a couple of other women in my class who I’d become friends with said, “You’re a surgeon.” They were referencing my down-to-business, assertive personality.
After the first year of medical school, we had the elective opportunity to spend time with any type of physician. I chose a cardiothoracic surgeon. The first case I scrubbed in on was a coronary artery bypass graft. I was immediately hooked. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I liked how the surgeon made an acute, meaningful, lifelong impact in a couple of hours.
During the third year of my general surgery residency at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, I rotated at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, which brought pediatrics back into the mix. I really liked taking care of the kids and developing relationships with the families.
One of my medical school friends, whose mom is a family physician at Mayo Clinic in Arizona (Carolyn Moats, M.D., FM ’00, Department of Family Medicine), proposed that several of us apply for residencies at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. I had been there for an elective during medical school and immediately loved it. The interactions with people and the city itself felt right. The four weeks I spent training at Mayo Clinic for that elective was like nothing I’d ever before encountered. The nurses were welcoming, helpful and supportive. They took time to get to know me, which enhanced care collaboration.
I worked with Kristi Harold, M.D. (S ’01, chair, Division of General Surgery). I quickly realized I needed someone like her in my life for surgical mentorship. I owe a lot of my laparoscopic surgical skills and demeanor in the OR to her. Another mentor was Richard J. Gray, M.D. (S ’00), who was just named CEO of Mayo Clinic in Arizona. At the time, he was the program director for the general surgery residency. During the dinner for residency interviews, he knew something meaningful about each applicant. He continued to have an engaging presence during my five years of residency.
After four winters in Vermont, I was ready to move to the desert. One of my medical school friends, Rachel Cain, M.D. (ENT ’16), matched in ENT, and we began residency at the same time. Our other friend had a delay due to a complicated pregnancy but later matched in Arizona for OB/GYN. I was so lucky to have these female friends in medicine during training.
I did my fellowship in pediatric surgery at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in conjunction with Mayo Clinic. Two of the surgeons I trained under at Phoenix Children’s, Daniel Ostlie, M.D. (S ’00), and Lisa McMahon, M.D. (S ’06), are Mayo Clinic alumni.
Mayo truly is the epitome of patient-centered care. It spoiled me rotten as a health care provider. Things get done at Mayo — the patient comes in, has labs taken, and results are immediately available to the specialists and primary care provider. Need an ultrasound? It’s done the same day. And follow-up communication happens seamlessly. It’s frustrating for patients that care isn’t so seamless everywhere.
It’s almost surreal to be done. I spent 15 years getting to this point. I recently did a laparoscopic duodenal atresia repair in a 4-day-old baby with one of our surgical fellows. I looked around the OR and realized I’ve arrived — this is it, I made it! I’m a pediatric surgeon; the child’s life and outcomes were in my hands. It felt amazing.
My training at Mayo Clinic and Phoenix Children’s prepared me well for this job. You can never learn everything you need to learn or see everything in the OR that you need to see. You fall back on your training, make a plan and move ahead. I have amazing partners at Phoenix Children’s. Surgeons who have 20 years of experience call their partners into the OR to show them things they’ve never seen before, and the partners are always willing to assist. It’s a very collegial environment and a great place to start my surgical practice.
I’m actively trying to find that balance. A year ago during the last year of my fellowship, my focus needed to be on work and getting the most out of my surgical training. I took a bit of time off before starting in my position on staff to spend time with family and travel. Now that training is over, I have a little more balance but am also trying to navigate the responsibilities of patient care, teaching and research. I go to the gym twice a week and have taken some dance classes I’d wanted to take for years. Working out provides stress relief, and it turns out hip-hop dance classes are a great workout!
I’ve also started health coaching family members and friends — helping them lose weight and transform their lifestyles. I like having a meaningful impact on people’s lives both in the hospital at work and outside of my job as a surgeon through health coaching.
The profession you’re pursuing will impact and save more lives than you can possibly imagine. In the process, take care of yourself and recognize the importance of your life, too. It’s easy to get caught up in whatever is happening during training and think it’s life or death, or career make or break. Usually, it’s not.
Medicine is a lifelong journey. Take care of yourself, and don’t lose your sense of self during the journey. Your patients will benefit from the best version of you.
See past New Chapter stories here.