2020 Top Doctor: Kelly Lee Wu

Editorial StaffMarch 19, 2020
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Photography by Steve Craft
Photography by Steve Craft

Hospice & Palliative

Med School/Year Graduated: Tufts University School of Medicine, 2008

Years in Practice: 6

It’s difficult to imagine a more emotionally taxing line of work than palliative medicine. What inspired you to pursue it?

I was born with a congenital heart defect that was repaired at the age of 9. I had such a wonderful experience as a patient, which impacted my life and my career aspirations. Today, I get to pay that gift forward every day in the care I provide to patients. I love that palliative care’s sole focus is the experience of the patient and their personal goals.

What is the key distinction between hospice and palliative medicine?

Palliative medicine provides relief of the patient’s symptoms, support for patients and caregivers, and help with medical decision-making during serious, potentially life-limiting illness. This can occur at any stage of that illness, and may occur concurrently with treatment for the disease. Hospice has similar goals in terms of managing symptoms, although it is intended for patients who are anticipated to be in the final six months of their life, and are no longer pursuing treatment for their disease.

What are some common misconceptions about your field?

Many people think palliative care is about end of life. Instead, my focus is on giving my patients the ability to live their best life. I wish more patients would seek support from palliative care earlier in their disease. We can help.

How do you maintain healthy emotional boundaries in such an emotionally charged field?

I embrace the emotions of my patients and families. I find it very rewarding to be able to help them at such a significant time in their lives.

What are some moments of levity you’ve experienced with patients or their families over the years?

Several months ago, I was seeing one of my patients for a follow-up visit. We were chatting about life. He and his wife told me about a painting they had recently bought of a beautiful bird. The painting had a lot of meaning to them until one of their friends noted that it looked like something X-rated. They were never able to look at the painting the same way. It is not uncommon that I get to share both the highs and lows of life with my patients. It is so important to share a laugh about something simple, too.

What is something silly or mindless you do to unwind after work?

I enjoy dancing with my three kids. They are 4 years, 2 years and 10 months [old].

“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be…”

A teacher. Luckily for me, my job as an academic physician at Mayo Clinic allows me to incorporate my love for teaching in my day-to-day activities. I work with medical students, residents and fellows at various stages in their training.