Learn, lead, and serve

Vital Signs » Winter 2017

Kate Conway, M.D., ’05, wasn’t sure she wanted to attend medical school. She loved studying biology, but she also loved theater and creative writing. So when she was in college, a wise mentor encouraged her to explore her other interests.

“I had a great mentor in the biology department at the University of Dayton. He encouraged me to explore other areas of study,” Conway said. “I graduated with a degree in biology and a double minor in English and human rights. I loved beingable to explore other fields of study.”

But she found that she kept coming back to medicine.

“I was definitely a science nerd,” Conway said recently during a break from seeing patients and teaching at the Boonshoft School of Medicine, where she is an assistant professor of family medicine and director of medical education for the Department of Family Medicine. “I loved biology. Whenever I studied the material, hours flew by. I never felt like I was burdened by studying biology.”

During the summers after her senior year of high school and freshman year of college, she worked in an internship in genetics at the Cleveland Clinic. “I saw the inside scoop of how physicians applied science with humanity,” she said. “I was hooked. I became much more interested in medicine as a career.”

Her mother’s experience as a physical therapist also influenced her decision to go into medicine. Mary Ann would share stories with Conway, her sister, and her brother about her patients. “She found so much joy in learning each person’s individual gift,” Conway said. “She went above and beyond what needed to be done as a physical therapist.”

Conway grew up in Fairview Park, a suburb of Cleveland, moving there when she was 3. The family moved from Dayton for her father’s job. Mike was a TV news reporter. He worked on human-interest stories and special reports. He was passionate about bringing awareness of organ donation to the public.

“He took us to events where donors and recipients were gathered,” Conway said. “I have always remembered their moving stories and was inspired by my dad being such a strong advocate for this cause, giving voice to people who needed it most.”

Her parents demonstrated generosity and kindness to others. “My parents told us to be aware of how lucky and blessed we are to have what we have,” she said. “They encouraged us to reach out and lift others up.”

Her parents also encouraged them to dream big and work humbly. “You can do anything, as long as you work hard and are your best self,” Conway said.

Learn, lead, and serve

She attended Magnificat High School, a girls’ Catholic college-preparatory high school, whose mission is to educate young women
to learn, lead, and serve. “It was a very comfortable environment to develop yourself as a leader and find your voice,” Conway said. “Magnificat was a place to develop leadership, service, and confidence.”

Magnificat’s motto of learn, lead, and serve also was the motto at the University of Dayton when she attended college. “Magnificat inspired me to become a self-motivated learner of the world,” she said. “UD inspired me to believe in the power of community and commitment to social justice.”

At the University of Dayton, she saw faith in action. “UD was so committed to engaging its students in outreach and service,” she said. “The Masses were the best. You were gathered with your roommates, friends, and other students from the student neighborhoods. The priests gave vibrant messages in their homilies that spoke directly to the students’ hearts.”

That commitment to outreach and service remained with her. So when she decided to go to medical school, she looked for a school that emphasized outreach and community service. She found that at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.

“I chose to attend the Boonshoft School of Medicine because of its commitment to the community,” she said. “The Boonshoft School of Medicine was committed to cultivating students into people doctors, not just science doctors.”

She recalls studying with some of her closest friends. “We picked different places on campus or throughout the city of Dayton. I think we found every library and coffee shop in the city!” Conway said. “We were both super serious and super silly together. It was a supportive group that helped all of us get through medical school.”

She stays in touch with those friends. “Being back here now as faculty, the memories of all the challenges and celebrations we had together often make me smile,” she said. “The time you spend here as a student is life changing.”

She met her husband, Ben Kimmel, during her first year of medical school. Another medical student, Christian Agricola, M.D., ‘05, introduced the couple. Like Conway, Agricola was from the Cleveland area. When they were on winter break, Agricola suggested they meet somewhere in Cleveland. “He said, ‘You bring a friend, and I’ll bring a friend,’” she recalled. “Unbeknownst to me, Christian was setting me up! I talked to his friend, Ben, the whole time. I knew right away I liked him.”

They dated throughout medical school long distance. Ben’s job was in Cleveland. He was working for Cleveland Clinic in the finance department. “We put a lot of miles on our cars and memorized every exit on I-70 and I-71!” 

Once Conway was in Cleveland, they got married during her second year of residency. “I was ready to marry him after the second date,” she said. “But it was a lesson in patience that paid off.”

Global health and refugee medicine

During medical school, she participated in the Global Health Initiative (GHI), a student organization that was founded in 2000 by first-year medical students at the Boonshoft School of Medicine. GHI’s mission is to enhance the education of WSU medical students by facilitating their exposure to both the medical issues facing people in other countries and those of people in the United States who have emigrated from other countries.

The mission resonated with Conway. She became involved in the organization and went to Guatemala with two other Boonshoft School of Medicine students and Dave Eberlein, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic’s Family Medicine Residency to work in a clinic located in a very rural area of Central America. Eberlein inspired Conway to consider global health as an extension of her interests in caring for underserved populations. “The experience made me realize that I wanted to have this as part of my medical career,” Conway said. 

But she also knew she wanted to be a family physician. “I saw the family physician as having a unique role with their patients and their families. The family physician is the patient specialist, the physician who knows the patient best. The family physician is the first point of contact and the director for a team of others all centered around the patient to provide the best care possible,” Conway said. “I knew I could be happy doing this for the rest of my life.”

She wanted to combine family medicine with global health. “That’s why I went to University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center for my residency in family medicine,” she said. “I completed the global health track and earned my Master of Public Health degree through Case Western Reserve University. This combination helped develop my physician skills toward a global patient population, seeing how to effect change for my individual patients upstream and in their community.”

She recognizes Masahiro Morikawa, M.D., M.P.H., as her residency mentor and global health rock star. “He engaged us in such meaningful work both at home and abroad. He was a humble and brilliant clinician who integrated global health medicine into everyday work,” Conway said. “To this day I still hear his words reminding me of how to care for the sickest patients. I like to share my favorite Mori-isms with my own resident team now.”

During residency she took two more trips to Guatemala to work on various community health outreach programs for the indigenous Mayan populations. She also gained experience working in refugee medicine in Cleveland. “This was an amazing opportunity,” she said. “I was doing global health right there in my own neighborhood.”

The United States has become home for people seeking refuge from war, persecution, failed states, and unremitting instability. “There is a need for refugee medicine. Ohio has been at the forefront of welcoming newly arrived refugees,” Conway said. “Within the past five years, Ohio has welcomed more than 13,000 refugees.”

After residency, she spent the next five years working in Cleveland at a Federally Qualified Health Community Center where she was the director of a refugee health program and later the medical director of a new start-up clinic specializing in refugee and immigrant populations. She worked on a multidisciplinary team with other medical professionals, including behavioral health specialists, community health workers, and nurse specialists.

“Caring for refugees helps us learn how to care for any patient who may be part of a vulnerable and marginalized group,” Conway said. “Patients who are historically underserved suffer worse health outcomes. We must work together to identify health disparities and remove barriers.” 

She saw firsthand how refugees’ health was affected by what was going on in their lives. A stressful new job or lack of one could affect a patient’s health. For younger children, difficulties overcoming the language barrier in school might affect their health. “I learned to pay attention to the other things going on in their lives,” Conway said. “Treating the refugee population is more than just treating their symptoms. You need to know some world history, geography, culture, and most of all how to listen to their story and honor their journey.”

As she started building the refugee program, medical students, medical residents, and dental students approached her about refugee medicine and mentoring their research projects. Other physicians, hospital systems, and community organizations sought her out to teach on topics of refugee health and primary care integration. “I realized that I was doing more and more academic medicine, and I loved it,” she said.

Academic medicine

She completed a fellowship in academic medicine through Northeast Ohio Medical University and contacted faculty members at the Boonshoft School of Medicine. “I had always kept in touch with faculty and trusted their advice,” Conway said. “I reached out again, asking questions about next steps in my career.”

Bruce Binder, M.D., Ph.D., invited her to come talk with the Department of Family Medicine. That invitation led to a job offer in academic medicine. While she wasn’t necessarily looking to leave her job in Cleveland and move her family to Dayton, Conway couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“I cried all of the way driving home to Cleveland, because I knew I was going to love this job,” Conway said. “I have been here for more than two years, and I love it. My career is my calling and service.”

As an assistant professor of family medicine and director of medical education at the Boonshoft School of Medicine, Conway is also newly responsible for the medical school’s international health curriculum. “Our goal is to expose all medical students to the value of family medicine and primary care in meeting the needs of our global patient populations abroad and locally,” Conway said. 

In addition to teaching, Conway spends time in the clinical setting as a family physician with Wright State Physicians Family Medicine. Medical students often accompany her during clinic sessions. She also does in-hospital patient rounds and enjoys working with the Family Medicine residents on their inpatient team. 

Conway encourages her students and residents to serve others. “Bringing that perspective to my students is a really important piece of their education,” she said. “Staying humble and remembering to put others first can bring so much joy to your daily tasks. It’s important to find happiness in the small things to sustain a lifelong, fulfilling career.”

The third part of her role with the Boonshoft School of Medicine includes research. In 2016, a team of researchers led by Conway was approved for a $15,000 award by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to support a project focused on better understanding the health perspectives of Ohio’s refugee populations. Conway and her team will use the funds provided through PCORI’s Pipeline to Proposal Awards program to build a partnership of individuals and groups who share a desire to advance patient-centered outcomes research focused on the health of resettled refugees in Ohio.

Collaborative resettlement and integrated refugee health care exists in Ohio, but it is still in the beginning stages. “Partners with skill sets from health care and medical education, community engagement, and public health must act in unison to elevate the health status of this vulnerable population,” Conway said. “Most importantly, the voice of the refugee must be at the center of emerging strategies.” 

The project aims to better understand the health perspectives of Ohio’s refugee populations. So far the bulk of best practices for health care delivery has been determined by expert opinion, national guidelines, and anecdotal experience. “To achieve full health potential, refugees need to guide our development and research further,” Conway said.

Maintaining a healthy balance

When Conway is not teaching medical students, seeing patients, or conducting research, she is enjoying time with her husband and their three children. They have two daughters, ages 8 and 6, and a 2-year-old son. Like Conway, her children are interested in theater. They are taking classes at a local community theater in Dayton. “We enjoy seeing shows together and performing the best songs back at home for each other,” she said. “I love the confidence that theater gives kids.”

Even though both she and her husband have busy careers, they make time for their family. “The key to a healthy balance? We are still figuring it out as we go!” Conway said. “We discuss our schedules and determine what’s feasible. Then when we mess up and crisscross our calendars, we know to laugh and support each other. We do our best, and we know it looks and feels pretty messy sometimes!”

She also is learning to say no more and yes more smartly. “My family lets me know when I’m getting out of balance,” she said. “My husband is very supportive, and we work hard to make sure everyone is getting what they need. Being a mom is the hardest and yet most rewarding job I have. It brings out the best and the worst in me all at the same time! I can teach a classroom of students about asthma or run a productive research meeting, but watch me try and convince a 6-year-old to clean her room. I have probably failed that test like a million times.”

In addition to her husband, Conway is close to her sister, who lives in Cleveland. “We’re really close in terms of being mommy supports to each other,” she said. “We call each other and share stories of the crazy chaos only we could love.” 

Conway hopes her students see the struggle and reward of career and family. “I try and bring a healthy perspective to my students. There is no perfect right or wrong for everybody,” she said. “We all stumble and feel lost at times. We all could benefit from leaning on each other a bit more and giving ourselves more credit than we do. Live the questions and answer your passion. You won’t regret it!”


Last edited on 03/22/2017.