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February 21, 2019

Once a patient, now a research fellow: Kelsey Stuttgen, Ph.D. is paying compassion forward

By Sharon Rosen

Kelsey Stuttgen, Ph.D.

One minute the young girl was skiing; the next she had fallen, had severe pain in her leg and was rushed to the hospital. It could have been a scary time filled with questions about the road ahead.

But for Kelsey Stuttgen, Ph.D., the compassionate care delivered by her orthopedic surgeon and care team at Mayo Clinic was more than healing – it changed her life. Dr. Stuttgen has now come full circle. She has returned to Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester, Minnesota, as a research fellow in the Biomedical Ethics Research Program, ready to pay forward the compassion she received.

All roads led back to Mayo Clinic

As a patient at Mayo, Dr. Stuttgen developed a special bond with her orthopedic surgeon that spurred her love of science and inspired her interest in the medical field.

She says that physician, Edgar Hicks, M.D., along with her care team at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, made her hospital stay and recovery much easier with their compassionate, reassuring care.

“Dr. Hicks’ bedside manner was calming and gave me hope that I would fully recover. I was also impressed by the collaboration among my care team members. As a result, I regained my strength and am able to lead an active lifestyle, cycling and competing in half marathons,” says Dr. Stuttgen.

She stayed in touch with Dr. Hicks over the years and asked him to serve as a research mentor while earning her undergraduate degree in biology at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Their research explored how antibiotics for rotator cuff surgery reduced the risk of infection.

“It was rewarding to work with Dr. Hicks and see the scope of care that he and his colleagues provide patients. It’s this expertise that sets Mayo apart,” explains Dr. Stuttgen.

During college, Dr. Stuttgen was first introduced and intrigued by the rapidly evolving field of genetics and the doors it opened for patients. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in human genetics from Johns Hopkins University.

“I was drawn to genetics because of its versatility and relevance to so many areas of medicine. With new technologies like CRISPR gene editing and lower cost DNA sequencing, genetics is improving our understanding of many diseases, allowing both patients and providers to be more informed about how genetics can affect the health of individuals and their family members,” says Dr. Stuttgen.

Her experience as a Mayo patient, coupled with Mayo’s leadership in genetics and bioethics drew her back for her research fellowship.

“I am excited to learn from and collaborate with Mayo Clinic and Center for Individualized Medicine researchers who are at the forefront of the genetics and bioethics fields. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work with experts across many areas to address critical issues facing providers and patients today,” says Dr. Stuttgen.

Helping patients and families navigate genetic testing

While at Mayo, Dr. Stuttgen hopes to build on research she began during her doctoral studies on parent-child communication of genetic test results.

“We want to help patients who are at risk for or have a hereditary disease navigate those difficult conversations with family members. We also need to consider broader issues. What is the best way to return results? What results should be returned? Ultimately asking all of these questions – in a field like genetics that is relatively new and rapidly evolving – is critical to providing patients with the support they need and the same compassionate care I received,” explains Dr. Stuttgen.

Learn more about bioethics research

Read about bioethics research underway within the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine Bioethics Program:

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Tags: #Dr. Edward Hicks, #Dr. Kelsey Stuttgen, #Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program, Bioethics, education, Genetic Testing, genomics, mayo clinic, Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, Precision Medicine

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