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Faculty Spotlight: Emily Sterrett, MD

Friday, December 7, 2018
Emily Sterrett

This week’s faculty spotlight shines on emergency medicine physician Emily Sterrett, MD. Sterrett talks to us about how she became interested in pediatric emergency medicine from a very young age, her desire to work where she could grow a quality improvement program, and her recollections about her most significant mentor.

How long have you been at Duke? How did you decide to come here?
I joined the faculty at Duke in October 2016 after completing fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s. I was eager to join an academic group that would support my interest to grow a quality improvement program--Duke offered just that! Clay Bordley, Jamie Fox, Don Ellis, and Heather McLean were my biggest cheerleaders during recruitment, and they haven’t let me down!

What are your responsibilities within the Division of Emergency Medicine? What does a typical day for you look like?
I laughed when reading the prompt to describe a ‘typical day’! I don’t think there is such a thing in our line of work. We work a variety of 8-hour shifts in the ED, scattered fairly randomly throughout the week. Part of the fun of the ED is the variety--no two shifts are the same, and you can never predict what will come through the door.

When I’m not in the ED, I can usually be found around the hospital or CHC, teaching and mentoring a variety of students and trainees, and supporting the administrative functions of the pediatric emergency department. I am one of the medical directors in the Pediatric Emergency Department, in charge of our quality improvement efforts and special projects.

How did you first get interested in medicine? What made you decide to pursue pediatric emergency medicine in particular?
Medicine is the only thing I ever wanted to do. At a young age, I helped take care of my ailing grandmother. She contracted HIV in the early 80s during an intense tumor de-bulking surgery. Some of my earliest memories are of helping her with ostomy changes and being with her when she passed at home. I was fortunate in that these were positive and healthy experiences for me, undoubtedly providing the foundation for my next several decades.

The ultimate decision to practice pediatric emergency medicine came pretty easily. I didn’t have the attention-span to be a surgeon or deliver babies, and I much preferred pediatrics to adult medicine. I like critical care, but dislike rounding and carrying a pager at home. I don’t mind runny noses and spending the time to reassure anxious parents. I like to keep moving and emergency medicine keeps you on your toes!

What’s one thing you wished more of your patients knew about emergency medicine or medicine in general?
No patient or parent likes waiting around my waiting room. Particularly in the winter, wait times can get long in the pediatric emergency department. I want my patients and parents to know that I don’t like keeping them waiting either. I want to get everyone evaluated and back to the comfort of their own home as quickly as possible. Here in the Duke ED, we are making that happen! If you hadn’t heard, we are staffing our busiest hours this winter with TWO pediatric attending physicians. Here’s a shout-out to our hospital and department leadership for their support to help us get kids the appropriate care faster!

What are your specific interests in the field of emergency medicine?
Quality, quality, quality! Reliably delivering evidence-based, patient-centered, efficient care to all patients is the goal. It is also a science and a dynamic challenge. I’ve dedicated my early career to improvement and implementation science, and I’m eager to equip more folks with the tools to deliver best care to their patients.

Is there any research or other special projects you are doing or plan on doing?
I’ve been fortunate to mentor improvement teams in several divisions over the last two years. Together, we’ve tackled migraine headaches, fever in high-risk populations, safe patient handovers, and standardizing child abuse evaluations. My personal research interest is in increasing the application of risk-based, radiation-focused trauma assessments in the emergency department.

Who was your most significant mentor and what knowledge did you gain through this collaboration?
I’ve had several excellent mentors in medicine, but the person who comes to mind is my great-aunt Mary Pearl. She was a school teacher by trade, and in retirement pursued a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. She came from a modest but hard-working family and maintained a duty to serve others her whole life. In the 1990s, she campaigned fiercely to instate the CHIP legislation. She is my guidepost for persistence, determination, and fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves.             

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?
My guys! My husband and two sons fill my extra hours with fresh-air, hilarity, dance parties, and reminders that each day is a gift to be savored. When there’s a little time left over after practicing football passes, cooking dinner, and reading Harry Potter at bedtime, I enjoy yoga, gardening, and oil painting.