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Alumni Spotlight: Dr Melanie Watts

We're starting a new feature emphasizing the residency experience and pathways our graduates have taken after Highland. We've got an incredibly inspiring community of grads distributed across the globe, each with a unique story of career and personal development. First up, Dr Melanie Watts, Highland class of 2011!

Above: Mel Watts (left, middle) surrounded by both UCSF (R1 Neill, R2 Zhang, R4 Murphy, R3 Graterol) and Highland EM (R3 Montgomery and R2 Sherpa) residents at sign out after her last clinical shift at UCSF in August. Special shout out to Highland EM '07 and Highland US '08 Dr Nate Teismann (back, right), who joined in the celebration as well.

What was your first job out of Highland, and where have you been since then?

I started out with a great combination: a) Academics and Teaching with a 50% time position at UCSF just as their program was getting going full swing and b) the high volume high acuity madness of Eden as a per diem and c) the under resourced rural small ED up north in Lake County as Sutter Lakeside. Highly recommend trying out multiple different practice settings!

What's your favorite residency memory from Highland?

How proud I was of myself as in intern, not for learning a stellar resuscitation, but being able to get down to the cafeteria and back in less than 3 minutes with meals for myself and all of the attendings on that day, AND knowing exactly which ones didn’t eat anything white or mushy and who didn’t eat anything with ears and who would be sad if I didn’t bring a dessert, even if they said they didn’t want one.

What is the most valuable thing you learned at Highland?

The importance of balancing optimism and pragmatism to be able to practice effectively in absolutely any setting. You need to never lose track of the Gold Standard but be able to creatively mold that into the form of whatever resources you have in any given moment. If you constantly try to put the Gold Standard peg into the hole of an under-resourced setting where you don’t have IV’s much less an MRI, you will be frustrated and burn out quickly. But if you allow yourself to feel helpless and accept sub-standard care, then you will not be doing right by your patients.

What do you wish you focused more on early on in your career?

The value of cultivating a raft of mentors to help guide you early in your career both during and early after residency. This requires active work, the raft doesn’t just miraculously appear.

What are your next steps and future goals related to EM?

Clinical teaching and thus Academic EM is at the heart of how I derive satisfaction in my job, so I don’t imagine ever doing something that doesn’t involve some amount of Academics. But I am currently temporarily redirecting what this looks like in order to pursue full time one arm of my EM interests: Global Health and EM in low resource settings. At this moment I am living in London, as a student again (!), getting my Diploma in Tropical Medicine at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. We will then be moving to Bhutan to teach EM and work with the teaching hospital and Ministry of Health to scale up Emergency Care capabilities.

If you could live in any historical era, what would it be and why? (shout out to Chief Kilaru for this one)

We just went to Iceland, so the kids are obsessed with the Viking Sagas. It would be fascinating to live in an era of that level of exploration and discovery and reliance on working with nature (But could do without the pillaging and raids part…and the status of women. Perhaps on further consideration, we have it pretty good right in the here and now!)

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