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March 7, 2019

From Patient to Researcher — Kelsey Stuttgen’s Road Leads Back To Mayo

By In the Loop

Kelsey Stuttgen was in 7th grade when a broken leg landed her at Mayo Clinic. Years later, that experience would guide her decision to become a researcher.


When Kelsey Stuttgen, Ph.D., fell while skiing and broke her leg, the then-7th grader worried about what the accident would mean for her future. She especially wondered whether she'd be able to run again, something she loved to do.

She found the answer to that question at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, where orthopedic surgeon Edgar Hicks, M.D., repaired her leg and eased her worries. "Dr. Hicks' bedside manner was calming and gave me hope that I would fully recover," Dr. Stuttgen tells the Individualized Medicine blog. And fully recover she did, going on to run, bike and even climb tall buildings.

But it turns out the skiing accident did have an impact on her future. Just not in the way she expected. Today Dr. Stuttgen is a research fellow in Mayo Clinic's Biomedical Ethics Research Program. And she credits Dr. Hicks with helping guide her career path. The two stayed in touch after Dr. Stuttgen's surgery, and he served as her research mentor while she was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Dr. Stuttgen says it was that experience that solidified her desire to become a scientist, revealing to her "the importance and the potential impact science and medicine can have on a person's life. Ultimately, that's why I've chosen a career in science. Not only am I passionate about it, but I see it as a way to hopefully make a difference in the world."

After completing a degree in biology, Dr. Stuttgen earned a Ph.D. in human genetics from Johns Hopkins University. "I was drawn to genetics because of its versatility and relevance to so many areas of medicine," she tells Individualized Medicine. She was drawn back to Mayo Clinic, she tells the blog, based on her experience as a patient as well as Mayo's varied expertise. "It's a wonderful opportunity to work with experts across many areas to address critical issues facing providers and patients today."

We suspect Dr. Stuttgen also draws on her own experiences in her research, which focuses on "parent-child communication of genetic test results." She and her colleagues "want to help patients who are at risk for or have a hereditary disease navigate those difficult conversations with family members," she says. "We also need to consider broader issues. What is the best way to return results? What results should be returned? Ultimately, asking all of these questions — in a field like genetics that is relatively new and rapidly evolving — is critical to providing patients with the support they need and the same compassionate care I received."

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Tags: Dr. Edgar Hicks, Dr. Kelsey Stuttgen, Employee Stories, Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Program, Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire

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