September 13, 2023

Women in Medicine month, Part 2: Q&A with Elewski and Elie

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Women in Medicine Elewski 01Women in Medicine month, recognized in September, is a celebration of women's accomplishments in medicine, biomedical science, medical education, and leadership roles. The Heersink School of Medicine Office for Diversity and Inclusion is proud to lift up the women who contribute to our mission through their dedication and innovation.

This month, we sat down with five women who serve as department chairs to learn about their journeys of moving medicine forward.

In Part 2 of our series, we hear inspiring moments from the career journeys of Boni Elewski, M.D., chair of the Department of Dermatology, and Marie Carmelle Elie, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine.

Boni Elewski, M.D.

Q: What most excites you about your work?

Elewski: To improve the quality of life of patients. Much of dermatology is good detective work, putting together often subtle clues to make a diagnosis.

Q: What factors influenced you to choose a career in medicine/science?

Elewski: My father has a skin disease – psoriasis – that adversely affected his quality of life. Psoriasis affects about 3% of the population and can vary from a mild presentation to the entire skin being covered with red, itchy, disfiguring plaques. Many patients also have disabling psoriatic arthritis and suffer from other comorbidities, including cardiac disease, depression, and metabolic syndrome. My goal in entering medical school was to understand this disease and other skin diseases and to help others. Fast forward many years later, there have been important advances in treating this disease so that no one need suffer with psoriasis. (One of the major discoveries was actually at UAB!) My goal is that my students will someday ask me, “What did psoriasis used to look like?”

Women in Medicine Elewski 03Q: What advice would you give to your younger self or a mentee in the early career stage?

Elewski: Keep focused on your goals. One of my favorite quotes was from Winston Churchill after losing the election: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Q: What challenges did you face getting to your role?

Elewski: When I was in medical school, only a very small percentage of medical students were women. In my graduating class, there were about 20 women out of 240. As a resident, it was not unusual for patients to ask me when the doctor would see them, even though I would introduce myself as their physician. Maternity leave during residency did not really exist, and one of my fellow residents took only a few days off after delivery.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Elewski: I was the third woman to be elected president of the American Academy of Dermatology, the largest international dermatology organization.

Q: What are your top 3 favorite Birmingham restaurants?

Elewski: Bottega, Fish Market, and Satterfield's

Women in Medicine Elie 01 2Marie-Carmelle Elie, M.D.

Q: What most excites you about your work?

Elie: It’s a real privilege to be part of a group of incredible people and leaders at UAB. The opportunity to bridge the field of Emergency Medicine with so many strong multidisciplinary partners at a large academic institution is a dream opportunity, and I am honored to come to work every day.

Q: What other areas are you leading right now?

Elie: I’ve recently been appointed to the international Surviving Sepsis Committee and have the opportunity to contribute to the advancement of the care of a prevalent condition that impacts hospitalized patients throughout the world.

Q: Tell me about a woman who inspired your career.

Elie: I’ll tell you about three: Lynne Richardson is one of the foremost researchers in health services research in the nation. She has been an inspiration to me in pursuing research to make a direct impact on the populations that we all serve. One of my favorite lessons from her is to never compromise your integrity. It can be difficult to be your authentic self when you are underrepresented and less visible than your peers. Being true to yourself and embracing all of your strengths and vulnerabilities arms you with the best defense when facing a world of great pursuits.

Donna Carden is a former chair in emergency medicine at LSU and a researcher in acute lung injury and population health. She has also inspired me over the years to pursue my dreams and “to fear not” what challenges may come ahead. Fear is a powerful emotion invoked by others but most of all ourselves; it’s easy to convince ourselves to hide, conceal our talents, or simply capitulate to a lower standard when we don’t trust we’ve got what it takes.

Finally, Tammie Quest, a national leader in palliative care, once said to always pursue that which will bring you personal joy, never letting anyone dim your internal light. This is also a message about dignity and faith. We all deserve respect and the provision of dignity. It’s what allows us to hold up our heads with pride and gives us the power to share compassion, patience, and love with others. Taking care of our body, mind, and soul is a sacred ritual that we should attend to intentionally.

Q: What factors influenced you to choose a career in medicine/science?

Elie: In college, I was fortunate to have been mentored by a basic scientist, William Blaner, and was awarded a small research grant that supported my apprenticeship in his lab. It was this work that inevitably kept me engaged and motivated to pursue health care and science.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self or a mentee in the early career stage?

Elie: Don’t allow the traditional conformities of the world to limit your imagination. Women are frequently asked to fit into specific roles and acculturated to limit their “ask.” Once you’ve done the professional and, importantly, the personal leg work, feel free to present the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and go for it. There exist no limits to your aspirations, only those that you self-impose.

Women in Medicine Elie 03Q: What challenges did you face getting to your role?

Elie: The converse of believing you live in a limitless environment is to assume the sum zero game. The opposing entities that espouse the idea that there is a scarcity index take an uncompromising hardline stance which leads to poor communication, silos, and barriers to progress. My approach is to engage in honest dialogue and build relationships and synergies that benefit everyone.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Elie: The collaborative work with faculty, nursing staff, and leadership to raise awareness, obtain state support, and prepare for the future state-of-the-art emergency department to provide access to the Birmingham and greater Alabama community.

Q: What are your top 3 must-do activities in Birmingham?

1. Go to the Jazz Festival.
2. Walk, hike, meditate in the beautiful outdoors.
3. Eat at some of the best restaurants around: Helen, Automatic Seafood, and Rougaroux are some of my favorites.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where we sit down with Cheri Canon, M.D., Adrienne Lahti, M.D., and Teresa Wilborn, Pharm. D., Ph.D.