Katerina “Kathy” Tsapos Parmele, The Woman Who Does it All

I met Kathy in 2009 when we became neighbors in Edgewater, Maryland. Initially, I knew little about what she’d accomplished and what she would continue to do in due time. A mother, a doctor, a wellness coach and a triathlete, she embodies what it means to be an accomplished woman.

Her Campus South Carolina: Where did you obtain your undergraduate and graduate degrees from? What year did you complete these?

Kathy Parmele: I graduated magna cum laude in biochemistry from Harvard in 1993, I got my medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997 and I graduated from Emergency Medicine Residency at the University of Pittsburgh in 2000.

HCSC: Did you have a favorite clinical rotation throughout your residency?

KP: Probably my most memorable rotation was Trauma Surgery. That was back when it was "OK" to be Q2 (in the hospital every day and all night overnight every other day). I saw and learned a lot, but it wiped me out physically. That was definitely a "trial by fire" rotation.

HCSC: At what point did you decide emergency medicine was for you and was that always your original intent?

KP: In college, I thought that I was going to be a molecular biologist. I worked in a lab all four years of college. I realized that I wanted to go into medicine after volunteering at Boston Children's Hospital and noticing that I was making more of a tangible, palpable impact on human beings as a volunteer than I was by doing bench research. That was when I decided to pursue medicine. As far as emergency medicine goes, I was enthralled right from the very beginning. I arranged a club to get first-year med students to rotate through the emergency department as shadowing students (to give us some clinical exposure). Then throughout all of my rotations, I realized that my favorite part of medicine was the "figuring out" part. When a patient comes into the hospital with a complaint, (s)he usually comes through the emergency department. The ED is considered the hospital's "front door." I wanted the chance to make the initial diagnosis. Management of the issues after the initial diagnosis wasn't as exciting to me.

HCSC:  What has been your greatest trial and triumph since your career began?

KP: My greatest triumph has been my ability to stay active in a career with a very high burnout and suicide rate. Physicians have the highest rate of burnout and suicide than any other profession. Emergency physicians have the highest rate of burnout than any of the medical specialties. Being able to continue to practice in a way that is not only sustainable but also personally richly rewarding has been something at which I've had to work very hard. I realized that other medical professionals are probably going through similar struggles, which is why I started the medical health and wellness website, www.HealThySelfHealThyWorld.com. If I can influence even one physician to be able to stay in our profession and continue to impart tens of thousands of hours worth of knowledge and wisdom to his/her patients then I will have triumphed in the best way possible; by paying it forward.

My greatest trial is the flip side of my greatest triumph. Burnout has cost me emotional and spiritual heartache and has resulted in compassion fatigue on many occasions. Fortunately, I was able to recognize this in 2017 and regroup. Meditation and mindfulness have been key at helping me survive, recover, and thrive.

HCSC: Is there any advice for those wanting to pursue a career in the medical field, and more specifically emergency medicine, that you would want to impart?

KP: Medicine, and emergency medicine, in particular, is a challenging but rewarding profession. Before choosing this very difficult life path make sure you expose yourself to situations where you get to witness first-hand what the everyday business of medicine is like. Choose to shadow a doctor for many shifts or, better yet, get a job as a scribe. You'll get to see exactly what the life of a physician is like; that way if you still think it's right for you you've had ample opportunity to evaluate your choice. But my biggest bit of advice if you choose to go into medicine is to start practicing health and wellness skills right now. Start a meditation/mindfulness practice on a regular basis (the Insight Timer App is free and has over 12,000 meditations). You will need to find balance and grounding to counteract the stressors of medicine.

HCSC: If you were employing someone for the position you hold now, what do you feel are some of the most important qualities and skills to have on a resume?

KP: An emergency physician needs to be resilient of mind, body and spirit. This job is demanding mentally, physically, and spiritually. A good candidate would also need to have excellent communication skills and, in my opinion, to be successful in the ER would need quick intelligence and a sense of humor.

HCSC:  Did you utilize any external resources in reaching the position you now hold?

KP: When I was searching for a position, I knew that I wanted to live in Annapolis. I simply called each Emergency Medicine Director for each hospital within a reasonable radius and asked if any openings were available. I then submitted my resume.

HCSC: What questions should someone ask themselves when determining what kind of medical career to pursue?

KP: Someone considering medicine should realize that they will be giving up a great deal of their 20's social life, including being with family and friends. Once that decision is made the next step is to decide both what fuels your passion as well as what kind of work-life balance you expect to have. Emergency physicians have the advantage of being able to work part-time, although they have to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ob/Gyn physicians have to be available for deliveries on nights, weekends, and holidays. Dermatologists hardly ever get called for emergencies and usually have weekends off. You have to balance lifestyle with interest. Fortunately, that decision can wait until the 3rd year of medical school.

HCSC: Would you mind telling us more about your health and wellness coaching?

KP: I am passionate about the health and wellbeing of others, which is why I went into medicine in the first place. Obviously in the ED we "put out fires" that were often lit many years ago by the lifestyle choices that each individual makes. By lifestyle choices, I mean that 80% of chronic disease is determined by diet, exercise, stress management, sleep, social connections, and use of substances. Eventually, I will transition out of the emergency department and work as a lifestyle medicine health and wellness coach. Coaching involves a coach-client relationship that is geared toward helping the client reach his/her health goals. These could be weight loss goals, stress reduction goals, exercise goals, or a need to get off of medications and reverse chronic disease. In particular, I am passionate about culinary medicine and the use of proper nutrition for vitality and longevity. While I am willing and able to coach any person, in particular, I'm interested in coaching physicians and other medical professionals in order to help them be as healthy as possible to be able to continue to practice medicine. When a physician quits medicine all of the years of experience, knowledge, and wisdom disappear from the doctor-patient relationships of the world. With more experience come better patient outcomes. I hope to be able to help the healers heal themselves... as in "Physician heal thyself." This inspired me to name my company HealThySelf HealThyWorld, LLC. A subsidiary of this is my coaching site, www.CHEFCoachMD.com, where CHEF stands for Culinary Health Education Fundamentals. Eventually, I hope to lecture worldwide on these health and wellness topics and perhaps someday open up a health and wellness retreat center on an island in my homeland, Greece. Stay tuned, and good luck!