Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Ansert by Rachel Zarchy.
Getting to Know Dr. Elizabeth Ansert: A Resident’s Take on Podiatric Medicine
Are you a non-traditional applicant to podiatric medical school? Are you working in another field and considering a career shift to practice medicine? Non-traditional applicants are more common than you think. Last month, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Elizabeth “Lizz” Ansert during an externship at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she is completing her podiatric residency.
Born and raised in Louisville Kentucky, Dr. Ansert stayed close to home during college, attending Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. While in undergrad, Ansert also worked as a police officer in central Indiana. She enjoyed her work in the police force, but strived to make more of a long-term impact in her community. This drove her to pursue a masters degree in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. After completing her masters, Dr. Ansert worked as a psychotherapist for two years, but did not feel completely fulfilled in her profession at that time. She craved a career that required hands-on skills that also provided immediate recognition that she was making an impact in someone’s life. After exploring career options, she found podiatry to be the perfect fit. Podiatric medicine is hands on, clinically and surgically, and addresses both the mind and body. It allows a physician to make immediate changes in a patient’s life, with surgery, orthotics, new shoes, as well as a long-term impact, with lifestyle changes, wound care options, and following a patient through their treatment from start to finish.
Dr. Ansert completed her podiatric medical education at Barry University and is now in her second year of residency. She is planning to pursue a fellowship after graduation.
Q1: What is your philosophy to patient care and treatment?
A: Treat the patients as if they were our family. We all want our family members treated in the most professional, caring, and effective way possible. While we still must remain our professionalism, the level of care we’d want our family members to have is the care I believe all patients should receive.
Q2: Why did you choose to pursue a fellowship in limb salvage?
A: To me, limb salvage is very rewarding work. I find that I’m happiest in the wound care center or in the OR for wound cases. Often, the procedures I see podiatry doing is for the prevention of amputation (or at least a higher level of amputation), which means a lot to the patient and their families. I also see the look on patient’s faces when the wound is progressing, and they are so relieved and excited. While the other aspects of podiatric care are great, I get an immediate gratification seeing wounds that are closing because of the teamwork of the physicians, the patient, and their support system. On the flip side, when they aren’t closing, I like the challenge of figuring out why. Wounds can be so complicated and have so many factors that play into it, but when you find the missing piece that allows for progress, it is so fulfilling. The other aspect of limb salvage I enjoy is that you’ll never know what you’re going to get with some of the patients. Wound care changes rapidly and wounds themselves can change just as quickly. So, there’s always something new to address or figure out, and I enjoy the challenge.
As far as wanting a fellowship, I have a strong desire to not only further advance my podiatric clinical and surgical skills, but to take steps toward my overall career goal of becoming a leader in the field of podiatry. I also want to learn various skills to advance the field as a whole and improve overall patient care through evidence-based practice. I want to build on my residency training by learning techniques from other highly specialized podiatric physicians and become the best physician I can be. From my interactions with fellowship-trained attendings and current fellows, I believe that fellowship training is the epitome of top clinical and surgical training and gives future patients some of the best and most advanced care possible.
The combination of my love for wound care and wanting advanced training is what overall drove me to pursue a fellowship in limb salvage.
Q3: What is the newest, most cutting-edge procedure you have performed? New ways of performing traditional procedures? New instruments or hardware?
A: One of the female attendings we work with at my residency program is extremely intelligent and inspiring. She has developed an STJ fusion technique that minimizes incisions and skin necrosis with an excellent fusion rate. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in quite a few of these surgeries with her. Other attendings have also been exploring new products that have developed. Getting to see these new products applied and the patient’s clinical progression is also an exciting part of my residency training.
Q4: Are you working on any research right now? If so, please explain.
A: Yes, I’m working on several research projects. One is a new lapidus fixation technique. Two more have to do with limb salvage and amputation, and a final one reviews how students and podiatric education has been impacted by COVID-19. I also am hoping to start a few forensic podiatry projects soon as well.
Q5: Did you have any female role models in podiatry while you were in school or residency to help you navigate the field?
A: Yes, two amazing people I have met recently are soon-to-be fellowship graduates. They are not only amazing in their podiatric skills, but extremely supportive and genuine people. They both have such a strong drive to advance podiatry while helping the females in the field, which I think is just so important. In such a small field, I believe that women need to support and help each other whenever possible instead of tearing them down or being a roadblock. I love that I found two people who also share this belief. They also genuinely want to cultivate a community of podiatric women that advance future female podiatrists as well as the field and show that through their actions.
There was also an attending I met during externships who I have watched take on a lot of leadership roles. She inspires me to keep reaching for new levels of leadership as well.
Q6: Long term, what do you hope to accomplish or contribute to the field of podiatry?
A: Ultimately, I hope that I can help create a culture of equality and inclusion in podiatry. Unfortunately, there still seems to be biases in podiatry. While I believe the vast majority of podiatrists are not included in this, research has demonstrated that wage gaps and discrimination still exist in the profession. One of my goals would be to help rectify this.
I also want to advance the overall field of podiatry with researched, evidence based interventions that help treat patients more effectively.
Finally, I want to give podiatric care to underserved communities. I hope to maybe open a community clinic or work periodically in a community clinic to give needed podiatric care domestically as well as go on medical missions to various countries to give podiatric care abroad.
Q7: 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: This varies depending on what I need. I try to work out 3-4 times a week just to release some tension and feel positively about myself. I think positive attitudes toward yourself play a big role in our mood. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with things I have to do, I’ll sit down and make a list of tasks I need to accomplish (preferably small tasks that aren’t overwhelming if possible). Then, I take one task at a time and complete it as best I can. This way I am methodical in how I get things done and can see myself achieving what I need to do. Additionally, if I am really struggling, I’ll find a message of encouragement and repeat that to myself or write it on my mirror so I see it frequently. This, again, changes my attitude.
Another piece of advice I have given to others and used myself is to keep sticky notes by my mirror. When you’re feeling a little down or overwhelmed, you can write something positive about yourself or a note of encouragement when you wake up. This goes up on the mirror so you see it as you get ready and you can internalize it. The next morning, you write another note and add it to the previous day’s notes. Before too long, you have a space full of positive and encouraging things you can review. Again, this goes back to self care and feeling good about yourself.
While everyone is different with their mental health, research has shown that burnout and mental exhaustion are very real. This can be especially true as a student, resident, and young physician. So, my biggest advice is to carve out at least some time for yourself to decompress. It’s vital to not only us, but our learning and patient care. So, if we are feeling worn down, like we don’t have the same level of care or compassion, or someone is telling us they notice a difference, take it seriously and give yourself some time.
Q8: What is something you are passionate about outside of medicine? It can be a hobby, an interest, anything!
A: One thing I love doing is going on different adventures with my fiance. Since we are in New England, we’ve traveled to different states and areas within driving distance to us. One of my favorite trips was to Acadia, Maine. We went hiking and almost got lost a few times, but the views were so amazing. It was so worth it.
Another thing I recently found as a passion is going to different breweries and trying different craft beers. This has now become a favorite hobby of mine that I get very excited about each time I think about it. Once things are a little more open, I hope to visit as many New England breweries as possible before the end of my residency.
I’ve also always loved forensics. I had a previous career in the criminal justice field, so naturally I’m drawn to various areas of the field. One of my favorite areas is forensic psychology, which I ended up getting a masters degree in. So, I love learning this field.
Interview by Rachel Zarchy, Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine 2022