Leisha Elmore, MD

Leisha Elmore, MD
Former MD student, Class of ‘13
General surgery resident, Washington University School of Medicine

Leisha Elmore, MD, celebrates at Match Day.

When Leisha Elmore, MD, now a general surgery resident, was thinking about medical school, Washington University School of Medicine was not even initially on her radar. At the time, she was completing her undergraduate studies at Duke University.

“I knew nothing about Washington University, which is bananas to me, in hindsight, because it’s an amazing powerhouse, both medically and research-wise,” said Elmore.

During a pre-med fair, Elmore met Lisa Stevenson, MBA, Assistant Dean for Student Diversity and Engagement from the Office of Diversity Programs. Stevenson made such an impact on her, that Elmore decided to add Washington University to her list of schools she would apply to. She credits Stevenson for why she ended up at medical school here and stayed on after for her residency.

Why medicine and research?

Elmore was drawn to medicine in part because her mother’s side of the family had such a high incidence of cancer – 10 of her grandmother’s 14 siblings developed colon or uterine cancer. Elmore liked the fact that with medicine, you get to work with a diverse group of people and no two days seem to be the same.

She also discovered the wide range of research opportunities available at Washington University. The MD program encourages second-year medical students to work with a faculty mentor on a research project or shadow a primary care physician. “I thought I absolutely hated research,” said Elmore. But as someone who tends to challenge herself to do things she doesn’t think she is interested in, she figured this was an opportunity to give research a chance.

She also realized there was more than one type of research she could work on. “The traditional idea of research is that you’re pipetting and running gels and you’re sitting in a lab at the bench.” She chose, instead, to do clinical research examining breast cancer outcomes with Julie Margenthaler, MD, FACS, a surgeon specializing in breast cancer.

During medical school, Elmore was also part of one of the first Master of Population Health Science (MPHS) classes to graduate. The one-year program is geared towards clinicians, but allows medical students to join. “It’s a really neat experience for a medical student because you’re there with both resident trainees and attendings,” said Elmore.

During her time in the program, she worked with Graham Colditz, MD, DrPh, chief of the Division of Public Health Sciences, on a study looking at the impact of nutrition on breast cancer recurrence. She appreciated the opportunity to see a clinical trial in action and teach nutritional interventions to patients diagnosed with breast cancer who had been through treatment. “The MPHS program gives you a really broad picture of how to conduct research that you can apply to various types of clinical research, which I think is really important.”

A school that stands out from the rest

“Someone asked me ‘Why would you ever want to leave WashU?’ And that was the first time I thought, ‘Hmmm… Why would I want to leave WashU?”

Elmore also liked the fact that the Surgery Department had a Division of Public Health Sciences, something she did not see elsewhere when she interviewed for residency positions. Still, it took her some time to realize she wanted to stay put after medical school and do her residency here.

She remembers when she began her residency interviews: “Someone asked me ‘Why would you ever want to leave WashU?’ And that was the first time I thought, ‘Hmmm… Why would I want to leave WashU?’ I have amazing mentors and amazing people that support me here. And it’s a phenomenal research program, where we have top notch care.”

Another plus to staying in St. Louis was the broad patient population she would get to treat. Patients include the un- and under-insured, professional athletes from the Blues hockey and Cardinals baseball franchises, as well as those who travel from more rural communities to receive care they might not have access to back home.

As a surgeon, Elmore also appreciates that Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where she is a resident, is a level 1 trauma center. Not to mention the amazing surgical advances that have come out of the university, including the first lung transplant. “It’s pretty epic,” said Elmore.

Elmore is now working with acute and critical care surgeon Isaiah Turnbull, MD, PhD, looking at burnout in surgical residents, something she knows all too well. So far they have found that about two thirds of surgery residents meet criteria for burnout, a number that she said is worrisome and could impact patient care. Also interesting is that they found that women who were married or had partners were more burned out than single women.

A caring community focused on diversity

While Elmore might feel burned out, herself, from time to time, she knows she can always drop by the Office of Diversity Programs when things get stressful. From friendly chats with the staff, to dinners with director Will Ross, MD, MPH, Elmore noted the office has been a key part of her life at the medical school. “When you’re in a place where you don’t have any family and you come in not knowing anyone, they do a great job of making you feel like you’re part of a family,” she said.

Elmore also thinks the school is making progress with addressing diversity and inclusion on campus – a key goal, given the diverse patient population she and other physicians are treating. One program she notes in particular is the diversity and inclusion training now offered to all faculty and staff at the school. The time for the trainings is blocked out so faculty and residents like Elmore are certain to be free from clinical responsibilities and can attend the sessions.

Elmore also appreciates the Resident and Fellow Diversity Initiative, a collaboration between Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital that helps connect trainees from diverse backgrounds. “I think it’s an awesome way to encourage further diversity at the institution and potentially lead to some of the fellows and residents staying on as faculty,” said Elmore. “When you feel a part of a community, you’re more likely to stay in that community.”