Progress Notes

Becoming a pediatric otolaryngologist: Q&A with Dr. Yi-Chun Carol Liu

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of Progress Notes posts featuring Baylor College of Medicine students interviewing physicians and faculty members in recognition of Women’s History Month 2020. Read the first post.

 In this post, Nicole Alexander talks with Dr. Yi-Chun Carol Liu.

Dr. Yi-Chun Carol Liu is an assistant professor in the Bobby R. Alford Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and a pediatric otolaryngologist at Texas Children’s Hospital. Her practice encompasses the treatment of patients with chronic ear disease, sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, and microtia.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Liu at an otolaryngology conference with subsequent opportunities to shadow her and conduct research projects. She has been an amazing mentor over the years and a tremendous advocate for not only her patients, but her students as well.

Dr. Yi-Chun Carol Liu

In the following Q&A, she shares her passion for otolaryngology and experiences as a female surgeon.

Q: Why did you decide to go into otolaryngology? What moments have shaped your career?
A: I decided to go into otolaryngology during my third year of medical school when I realized I like surgical procedures. My original plan was to become a pediatrician because I love working with kids, but I think my nature of wanting to see the result of my work quickly drew me to surgery. At the same time, I wanted to maintain a balance between surgical and clinical practice – and ENT is one of the few subspecialties that offers this. I have a pretty equal 50/50 practice of clinic and surgery.

The surgical procedures of ENT are so intricate with head and neck anatomy, and it has much variety that is so intriguing. I wasn’t doing an ENT elective, but I walked into a surgical operating room one day while on general surgery when there were no other cases, and it just drew me in right away.

Q: What is the most fulfilling part of your job? Most challenging?
A: I think working with kids is the most fulfilling part. I love working with them, talking with them, and, at the same time, operating on them to improve their quality of life. That makes me want to go to work every day.

Working with kids is also the most challenging. The challenging part is having to make a difficult surgical decision regarding a child.

Q: How are you able to balance personal life with your career?
A: It took me four to five years after fellowship to learn to draw a line in between. I make a conscious effort not to check my email when I get home. If I have to do work after hours, I set time boundaries for myself. Otherwise, I would work on stuff all the time. It’s important to know when to say stop and it’s okay to wait.

Q: Have you ever experienced any specific obstacles or resistance as a woman surgeon in otolaryngology?
A: It’s not necessarily a resistance from the medical field but within myself. The decision to have a kid is the hardest obstacle. It is deciding if I am ready to have more responsibility in life, and that is more put on by me than anything else. Especially in pediatric ENT –we are actually more dominated by female surgeons, compared to ENT overall.

Q: On the other hand, are there any advantages to being a woman in this field?
A: Nowadays with the changing environment, female surgeons are actually being looked at favorably because we are usually known to be good at multitasking. As a woman, you are expected to do a lot – balance families, balance career – so I think already knowing how to do that makes you a very successful candidate in surgery. Most of us all have families and still maintain a successful practice.

Q: What attracted you to academic medicine?
A: I’ve always wanted to know if there is a better way to treat a disease or manage a difficult situation. In academic medicine, working closely with others who focus on research and quality improvement is a constant challenge and helps to sharpen your skill. You are never really stagnant; you never do the same thing over and over again.

Q: What is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to your students?
A: I think some female medical students are scared of going into surgery, but they shouldn’t be. The field of medicine is becoming more open minded and more willing to make changes if necessary. In addition, as a female surgeon, the sky is the limit. I feel like sometimes female surgeons are not going for leadership positions because they don’t think they can, but I think a lot of times we can do a much better job.

We should be aiming to take over more leadership positions and make the actual changes we want to see in the field of ENT.

-By Nicole Alexander, third-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine

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