Yumi Turmelle, MD

Understanding the importance of mentorship in medicine


Yumi Turmelle, MD, understands firsthand the powerful impact mentoring can have on an individual’s life. It was the advice of a good mentor that inspired her to believe in herself and pursue a career in medicine.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Turmelle and her family came to the United States when she was eight years of age. As part of the at-work program at her high school, Turmelle worked in a pediatricians’ office, where she quickly discovered her love for taking care of patients. While she initially made plans for a career in nursing, words of encouragement from one of the pediatricians encouraged her to dream bigger and pursue a career as a physician.

“Mentoring is very important along the path. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. At the time, I knew I liked working with patients, so I chose a career in nursing. I didn’t even consider medical school as an option until one of the pediatricians I worked with encouraged me to do so. The mentoring I received was so important in helping me understand what was possible.”

After receiving her undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Miami, Turmelle completed her medical degree at the University of Florida. The encouragement and advice of mentors here helped her finalize her decision to pursue residency training in pediatrics at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital. But the importance of effective mentorship did not end there.

During her fellowship training in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Washington University, Turmelle met Ross Shepherd, MD, former director of the pediatric liver program. She credits the mentoring she received from Shepherd and other Washington University faculty for helping her make the decision to pursue an extra year of training in liver transplant and complete the advanced hepatology fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine.

Understanding rare pediatric liver disease

In addition to running a busy clinical practice focused on liver transplant, Turmelle, whose research interests include pediatric cholestatic liver diseases, serves as principal investigator of the Washington University arm of a multicenter clinical trial focused on understanding the underlying mechanisms of rare pediatric liver diseases such as biliary atresia.

The goals of the trial, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and involves fifteen centers across the nation, are to make significant advances in understanding disease pathophysiology, provide earlier and more accurate diagnosis, perform well controlled therapeutic trials and improve outcomes and quality of life for patients. The ultimate goal is focused on decreasing the need for liver transplantation among pediatric patients. Turmelle, who is currently pursuing a master’s of science in public health, seems focused on giving back to others. “It’s important to bring what we learn from our research to the community,” she says.

Committed to giving back

Outside of the medical center, Turmelle enjoys gardening, traveling and spending time with her husband and fellow pediatrician, Michael Turmelle, MD, and her young son, Luke. And, she is committed to giving back to the academic community that has mentored her throughout her fellowship and the early stages of her career. Turmelle participates in an Admissions Committee for the School of Medicine dedicated to fostering diversity among medical students and serves as the fellowship director of the pediatric gastroenterology fellowship. She notes that the School of Medicine’s commitment to providing the infrastructure and support for underrepresented groups to succeed has been invaluable. “The administration is focused on trying to develop an academician to his or her fullest potential. I had never experienced that until I came here. I literally have a community of mentors here— including my chief and my chair,” Turmelle says.

Turmelle acknowledges that students from underrepresented groups face unique challenges in determining a career path. Her advice: Be open to mentorship and building relationships. “There is so much support here for students and trainees. Relationships with patients, families and mentors shape who you are,” she adds.