Featured Clinician: Kathryn Cullen, DO

Posted on Wed, Mar 09, 2016
Featured Clinician: Kathryn Cullen, DO

EmCare is in San Diego this week exhibiting at Hospital Medicine 2016. In honor of the annual conference, we're spotlighting Kathryn Cullen, DO, medical director of the hospitalist program at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, N.Y.

Years with EmCare: 8 years

Years practicing medicine: 8 years

Why did you decide to become a doctor? I always wanted to help people and my mother was a nurse, so she sparked my interest in medicine as a way to do it.

Why did you choose hospital medicine? I have always felt more comfortable in a hospital than the outpatient setting. I enjoy the variety of issues and acuity levels of patients in the hospital. One always has to be prepared for anything!

What career did you want to pursue when you were younger? I've wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. At first I wanted to be an OB/Gyn, but as I went through my training, my interests turned to adult medicine, then specifically inpatient medicine.

Describe one of your greatest professional accomplishments. When I arrived at Columbia Memorial Hospital, the group was very discouraged and frustrated with their work environment. I'm very proud that with Dr. Alex Strachan and Dr. Gina Puglisi, we've been able to significantly improve their work environment. The providers look forward to coming to work now. They are providing top-notch patient care, and they have grown closer as a team. 

What is in the pockets of your lab coat? When I wear a lab coat, I have my phone, stethoscope, pens and business cards.

What would be your ideal category on “Jeopardy”? I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but if I saw the final Jeopardy category was “Useless Pop Culture Facts,” I would know I was taking home the win.

How do you stay organized at work? In addition to having the best site administrator, I make "To Do" lists everyday, then prioritize. I file things right away; I don't leave them on my desk as clutter causes me stress. 

What are your tips for “leaving work at work” and not getting burned out professionally? Due to my position as medical director, I can’t “leave work at work,” but I can bring only the “essentials” home. Just as I use the drive to work to prepare myself for the day, I use the drive home to let go of the day. I put on some of my favorite music and focus only on the music and road, and when I get home, the work day is no longer in my mind. I believe that it’s important to take time for you, so I ensure that days off and vacations are protected for my providers, as well as myself. You need those days to “turn off” your mind and enjoy the important things in life: family and friends.

How are you “making healthcare work better”? Since arriving at Columbia Memorial Hospital, we have made great strides in improving not only the work environment for the providers but the care that is delivered. By increasing the number of providers on each day, we have decreased the patient load for each provider. This allows them to spend time with their patients and provide the proper care. We have also instituted multidisciplinary rounds to help improve the flow of patient and post-discharge care.  Just these few changes have starting to improve the quality of care delivered to this small community.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about work or life? The first is that ICU nurses can be your best friends or your worst enemies. Treat them with the respect that they deserve, and it will come back to you many times over. And No. 2 is at those times when you feel overwhelmed, frustrated or unsure of yourself, sit down, take 10 deep breaths and take things on one at a time.

What do you enjoy outside of work? I enjoy spending time with family and friends.

What’s your favorite inspirational quote? It may not necessarily be inspirational but it helps me not forget about the big picture: “If you hold on tight to what you think is your thing, you may find you’re missing all the rest.”-Dave Matthews

What qualities make a successful doctor? A successful doctor of course needs to be knowledgeable and proficient. However, some of the more important qualities for success are empathy, patience and kindness. Patients have to feel that their doctor is listening, understands their situation and wants to help fix it. Without that, the patient cannot trust their doctor, which is essential to a successful doctor-patient relationship.

How would your co-workers describe you? I think they would use words like hard working and compassionate.

Tell us something that most people at work don't know about you. It’s kind of silly, but most people I work with don’t know or don’t believe I was a cheerleader in high school. I guess I don’t “look like a cheerleader,” but it was a big part of my life in high school.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or historical, who would you choose and why? I would want to have dinner with Jesus. Besides hearing the story of his life from his perspective, I would want to know his feelings on religion today and how it's manipulated by some for their benefit.

What’s the most interesting place that you’ve been? I took my parents to Ireland for their 40th wedding anniversary. It was amazing. We are 100 percent Irish descent on both sides of my family, so seeing the areas where my ancestors lived was life changing. In addition to that, it has some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen in my life and the nicest people you'll ever meet.

What are you currently reading? I don’t have much of a chance to read, so when I do, I’m reading the latest JAMA or Journal of Hospital Medicine

What’s your favorite TV show? Maybe I should have gone into psychiatry because my favorite TV show is "Criminal Minds."

What personal accomplishment are you most proud of? I have struggled with health and weight issues my entire life and have had many failed attempts at weight loss in the past. I made the decision in 2013 to finally improve my health before I developed diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, etc. In October 2013, I underwent surgery, and to date I have lost 90 pounds and I’m off all medications. It’s not the weight loss that I’m most proud of; it’s having the courage to take a drastic step in hopes to be able to start living my life. It was the best thing I ever could have done for myself and is my proudest moment yet.

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