Elahna Paul, MD, PhD, is the medical director of the Kidney Transplant Program and director of kidney care in the MGH Herscot Center for Tuberous Sclerosis. A career in research served as the turning point for a rewarding career in clinical care – a decision she hasn’t regretted since.
What do you like most about your job?
The people around me: patients, families and co-workers. My patients drive me to be the best doctor that I can be. Their families honor me with their trust. My colleagues and coworkers share patient-centered goals, strong work ethics and empathetic attitudes that help us all get through the bad days and make for many good ones.
What is one piece of advice you would give a woman entering the field of medicine and/or healthcare?
It can take a lot of time effort to attain career goals in the biomedical field and you may discover along that way that goals need to be revised and reshaped. If you are not enjoying your work, then make a change. There are too many professional opportunities and community needs to stay on a career path that is not motivating and gratifying.
Describe your journey into health care.
I selected a career in medicine during high school, naively assuming students excelling in English and history became lawyers while those excelling in math and science became doctors. But the pre-medicine classes in college were a drag while the detective work of biological research caught my fancy. Science or medicine? I couldn’t choose.
When I learned of a double track option—a combined MD and PhD program aspiring to train “physician scientists”—I happily signed on the dotted line. It sounded so romantic in a nerdy sort of way. The physician-scientist speaks the languages of both medicine and science, brings real life clinical questions to the otherwise esoteric research laboratory and translates scientific discoveries into effective treatments for patients. In truth, this was also a way for me to procrastinate. Science or medicine? I’d do both for a little while.
Fast forward 20 years, give or take, and I had my medical and PhD diplomas on the wall, completed my residency and fellowship in pediatric nephrology and completed my post-doctoral research. Then, finally, my first job! It was at Mass General.
I tried to run a lab, I enjoyed seeing kids in clinic, and I struggled to write grants and I thrilled to be on call. I got an NIH R01, I published, and the harder I worked in science, the less confidence I had in my clinical skills and the more unhappy I became. Decades of procrastinating at last careened to an abrupt halt. In the most difficult decision of my professional life, I shut down the lab and turned away from science. Amazingly, I have not once looked back or regretted that choice to work full-time with kids, parents, trainees and colleagues. I love being a doctor.
What is special about MassGeneral Hospital for Children?
Collegiality and opportunity. I thrive on the team spirit found in the clinics and corridors and offices of Massachusetts General Hospital and MGHfC. Doctors, nurses, therapists, assistants and more collaborate to care for our kids and their families. Problem solving, mutual respect and "best foot forward" are community values that make this hospital special.
There is a richness of medical complexity that lets you develop expertise in a clinical field while also continuing to learn new things. You can hone skills as a medical educator, participate in a research project or join community outreach initiatives.