Erin Kiehna is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital. She’s also the Chief of Neurosurgery at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.
Dr. Kiehna is Novant Health’s first pediatric neurosurgeon, arriving in Charlotte via Los Angeles two years ago. As of 2018, only six percent of board-certified, practicing neurosurgeons are women.
I visited Dr. Kiehna at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital to find out how she works.
(1) How do you stay organized?
Post-it notes, the notes section of my phone and my housekeeper.
(2) What’s a gadget you can’t live without?
Unfortunately, probably my iPhone. I’d love to live without it, but I can’t.
(3) Do you use social media? If so, do you have a favorite platform?
I have a Facebook account, that’s it.
(4) What time do you go to bed and what time do you wake up?
I’m a night owl so I can be up until 10, 11 or 12, easily. I’m definitely not a morning person, so I’d say 45 minutes before I have to be somewhere.
(5) Do you listen to music at work?
In the operating room, we do listen to music. We listen to SiriusXM and I let us vote on the station. We honestly listen to a little bit of everything.
We don’t listen in the critical portions of the case, but I think it helps when you’re setting up the room in the morning and getting everything ready, and then when you’re closing at the end of the day.
We usually have something more upbeat when we’re wrapping things up.
(6) What do you do during the first hour of your day?
I make sure I don’t have any texts or emails I have to respond to right away.
And then I usually grab a La Croix from the fridge, jump in the shower and get ready for work.
Then I usually grab my car from the garage, swing through Starbucks and then hit the door, whether it’s to the hospital to make rounds in the morning, the operating room or to clinics depending on the day of the week.
(7) What do you actually do here?
I have the unique privilege of taking care of children from when some of them are fetuses, all the way up to adulthood.
On my clinic days, I’m meeting children and their families in the office and talking about different findings that other pediatricians or neurologists may have noticed, and coming up with a plan.
Unfortunately, a lot of what I see in my clinics is not necessarily something that needs surgery, it’s more something that needs counseling.
And then I always round in the hospital every day. When I’m there, I’m going to see patients before and after surgery, whether it’s in the nurseries upstairs, the neonatal intensive care unit or the pediatric wards and pediatric ICU.
On the days I’m going to the OR, those are the really exciting times where we get a chance to help make a child’s life better, trying to cure seizures, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy and the many neurological conditions that our patients face.
(8) What everyday thing are you really good at?
I would like to say pediatric neurosurgery! (laughs).
But I would say my goal every day is to help reassure families. Because I realize that anytime somebody comes to see a neurosurgeon, they have already assumed that it’s going to be bad news.
And I really look forward to the instances when I can reassure them, and help give them a plan of how we’re going to work through this together.
(9) What’s one skill that enables you to be successful at your job?
(10) What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
(11) How do you decompress after a challenging day?
Grabbing a bite with friends and colleagues. And being able to find closure on tough events of the day, so that you can go home and rest and relax and get ready for the next day.
(12) What’s a situation that makes you feel nervous or intimidated and how do you prepare?
I would say that there are many surgeries that we do often in pediatric neurosurgery. But there are a few surgeries that we do more rarely, only a couple times a year.
For example, I have an awake brain surgery coming up. And so how I prepare for difficult surgeries is that I spend a lot of time going over the MRIs and CT scans and imaging.
In the computer, we can build 3D models. We can spin them around in space so that you can visualize yourself walking through every step of that surgery.
And then it’s a lot of meetings with everybody else on my team. So meetings with the radiologists, with oncologists when it’s a tumor, with neurologists if it’s an epilepsy case. We have a lot of multidisciplinary conferences where we all get together.
And then I would say the night before, it’s just walking through it in my mind. Getting a good night’s sleep. Getting Starbucks in the morning.
(13) What’s the last thing you do before stepping into the operating room?
Tie on my scrub hat.
(14) Why do you love Charlotte?
I had a chance, between school and training and fellowship and jobs, that I’ve lived in many cities big and small across the U.S., from New Haven, Connecticut and Charlottesville, Virginia, which would be on the smaller side to Toronto, Los Angeles and even Auckland, New Zealand.
And I think that Charlotte brings the best aspects of the small town living, where you have these beautiful, vibrant communities within a bigger city and all the amenities that a big city has to offer.
I think the people that live in Charlotte are absolutely fabulous.
(15) On a scale of 1-10, how accurate is “Grey’s Anatomy”?
“Grey’s Anatomy” actually uses real footage from operating rooms. When I lived in L.A., scriptwriters would contact me to ask what was realistic.
So they do have medical directors and people who review the scripts.
But for the overall question of how accurate it is, I’d say…”Grey’s Anatomy” shows real diagnoses and real procedures and diseases that can affect anybody anywhere in the world, but the scenarios of how things play out between patients and physicians and what real life is as a resident or a fellow or a physician might be a little bit skewed. (laughs)
(16) When you’re not at work, what might we find you doing?
I love to run, if I’m leaving town I love to scuba dive, I love to hike, I like to do adventure travel, those would be my big things. I like to read and paint in watercolor.
(17) If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you be doing?
We always used to joke in residency, when times were tough, you would throw out all the other jobs you could be doing. It’d be like, “I could be the Hallmark card lady, she always seems to be having a great day!”
We’d throw out the most random jobs and you’re like, “I could TOTALLY do that.”
But I’d probably still be involved in medicine. I love working with my hands, and I love being able to improve the quality of life of children.
Love learning how people work? Here’s the whole How I Work series including interviews with Miss USA 2019 Cheslie Kryst, Governor Roy Cooper, developer David Furman, elevator lady Cherie Berry, Hornets player Cody Zeller, restauranteur Frank Scibelli, lawyer Michael A. DeMayo and Charlotte Checkers COO Tera Black.