Women Leaders: Dr. Grigoropoulos

Interview with Dr. Katerina Grigoropoulos performed by Rachel Zarchy

Dr. Katerina Grigoropoulos: A Fellow of all Trades

You may know Dr. Katerina Grigoropoulos from her massive social media presence on Instagram, @katerinadpm. In addition to her hectic life as a podiatric wound care fellow, she has also established a non-profit organization, Sole Fit, launched a podcast, and built an empire designing stylish and whitty white coat pins, Medi Things. Dr. Grigoropoulos is truly a jack of all trades — or rather, a fellow of all trades. 

Dr. Grigoropoulos grew up in Chicago, IL and attended Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine. During her time at Scholl she started a non-profit organization, Sole Fit, a national humanitarian organization that provides new shoes to underprivileged children and educates them about the importance of proper pedal care. Sole Fit’s mission is “to promote the importance of podiatric care and provide fitting shoes for the children in our community so they can have a healthy today and an even healthier tomorrow.” Sole Fit currently has active chapters at Scholl, Kent State, Western University, and is in the process of expanding to all podiatric medical schools to become the first podiatric, philanthropic organization linking all the podiatric programs and the profession together. 

After medical school, Dr. Grigoropoulos completed her residency at Loyola University Medical Center/Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital. She is now completing fellowship in Diabetic Limb Salvage at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Q1: What is your philosophy to patient care and treatment?

A: Treat everyone as if you’re treating a loved one. It is our duty as physicians to provide the best care to our patients. We would never want to compromise any care or treatment for our loved ones. If we treat every patient with these same standards, we can assure ourselves that we’re truly providing the best care. To be a great physician, you have to try to do everything in a great way. No shortcuts, no compromises; your habits become your practice. Patients are more than a chief complaint and a diagnosis. Get to know your patients on a personal level, it will make your relationship richer with a stronger foundation of trust. 

Q2: Why did you choose to pursue a fellowship in limb salvage? 

A: Limb salvage is a composition of collaborative surgical intervention, complicated comorbidities, psychology, art, medicine and human connection. I knew from my second year of residency that limb salvage was a field I wanted to pursue. The urgency and intervention of limb threatening emergencies is an adrenaline rush for me. Patients often feel vulnerable in these situations, and it is highly rewarding to be the physician to guide them through their treatment. My vision is to become a prominent name in the limb salvage division. I knew this fellowship would provide the intense training I needed to mold me into the physician I strive to become. The faculty at my program are internationally known for their dedication and commitment to limb salvage; I wanted to learn from the best of the best and this fellowship made that happen. 

Q3: What is the newest, most cutting-edge procedure you have performed? New ways of performing traditional procedures?

A: Limb salvage does not involve much hardware or cutting edge surgical instruments per se. However, there are always new wound care products, closure devices and treatments that are being released on the market to better assist and expedite wound healing. There are great advancements in vascular procedures as well that improve pedal inflow. I foresee an exponential growth of new wound care products, offloading devices, prosthetics and wound closure devices in the next ten years. With the rate of diabetes increasing annually, technology will have to accommodate. Self monitoring devices, telehealth, pedal temperature monitoring devices, phone applications- there are exciting new things in the works that haven’t been streamlined yet for limb salvage. I’m excited to be young in my career to see the practice of limb salvage evolve before me. 

Q3: Are you working on any research right now?

A: I spent a great portion of my research time in fellowship writing portions of a textbook chapter highlighting elective procedures for the treatment of diabetic foot wounds- super excited to be published in a textbook with some of my mentors! My primary research project this year was a retrospective study evaluating microbiology and clinical characteristics of pedal abscesses with no associated wounds. We are also working on a study that is comparing SPECT-CT imaging and MRI for the treatment of osteomyelitis. 

Q4: Did you have any female role models in podiatry while you were in school or residency to help you navigate the field?

A: My greatest female role models in podiatry were my senior co-residents in residency. I always looked up to their compassion, charming bedside manner, surgical and multitasking skills. They were natural leaders who always inspired me. I was fortunate to have strong female residents in my program to learn from. When I was a student at Scholl, Dr. Stephanie Wu, a podiatric wound care specialist, was always a physician I admired. She was the spark that ignited my passion for wound care and limb salvage. 

Q5: Long term, what do you hope to accomplish or contribute to the field of podiatry?

A: I hope to demonstrate what it looks like to pursue your passions. Once I realized I wanted to pursue limb salvage, I took that passion, ran with it, and am still running with it.  In a podiatric generation that predominantly specializes in cosmetic, reconstructive or orthopedic surgery, I want to be an example for all who wish to pursue wound care and limb salvage. I want to normalize this path for students and residents since it is a specialized field of podiatry that will exponentially grow and be in the highest of demands. The legacy I leave behind is very important to me. Whether it’s helping underprivileged children receive new shoes through Sole Fit to mentoring pre-meds, podiatry students and residents, I want to positively impact and influence as many individuals as possible. For my female colleagues out there, I want to shatter every glass ceiling I encounter and close the gender gap so it’s easier for the generation following me. Closing the gender gap to me means we all eat comfortably at the same table without fear of losing our seat. I think it’s going to take many bold, unapologetic women to close the gap over time. Women need to better support one another; I hope to lead by example and help as many women achieve their career goals. Taking yourself to the top without helping those around you won’t close the gender gap. A true, revolutionary leader will be one who opens doors for those around them. If one of us breaks the glass ceiling, that ceiling can be fixed in a day. If there’s a glass ceiling being shattered every single day… they will have no reason to replace it.

Q6: What do you do to treat yourself when you’re stressed, busy, or tired? What do you do to take care of your mental health and/or what would you recommend for women in school or residency who are struggling with their mental health?

A: Boxing has been a life saver for me this year. Releasing stress is key in residency and fellowship training. There’s no better release for me than punching a bag very aggressively for an hour. When I am tired, I like to decompress by watching my favorite shows on Netflix. When I am feeling creative, I design new pins or create social media content. It’s important to focus on activities and passions outside of medicine to prevent burnout. Your mental health is sacred and you should do everything in your power to protect it. I definitely have periods where I struggle with my mental health, and I am not afraid to say that. There’s days I’m on point with my work-flow, feeling positive and high energy. Then, there are days I contemplate every major life decision I have ever made, can’t get out of bed, and feel completely unmotivated. Humor is my coping mechanism; comedy makes me happy, and laughter is my medicine.

I was going through a dark phase at the end of my second year of residency. I took it upon myself to enroll in Second City improv classes (something I always wanted to do), which was a huge emotional and mental release for me. I found so much joy going to weekly classes and connecting with people who also use comedy to light up their life. I think for anyone struggling with mental health, it’s important to recognize your struggle and seek help. Make time for yourself and find activities and hobbies that bring out the best in you. Surround yourself with positive people and energy; you become your environment and subconsciously that can really affect you.  Put yourself first, do what feels right to you, follow your instincts and never compromise your happiness. It’s not worth it. 

Cherish what you have, own gratitude for your circumstances as difficult as they may be (difficult times are often followed by a silver lining), take care of those around you and most importantly, take care of yourself- both physically and mentally. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t let the superficial lens of social media dictate your worth.

You have the power to change. Everything in life is temporary, both good and bad. Stop being so hard on yourself. Celebrate your victories. Appreciate what the universe is offering.

  Interview with Dr. Katerina Grigoropoulos

performed by Rachel Zarchy