In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

August 29, 2022

Dr. Sarah K. Lee on poking the bear, best PB&J sandwiches, more

By In the Loop
Sarah K. Lee, D.D.S.

This column spotlights the kinds of people you think about when you think about Mayo Clinic. They've answered questions, serious and otherwise, so you can know them better.

You see them at bedsides. Behind desks. You may spot them walking down a hall, sprinting across a lobby, or talking quietly with a patient and family. They may be friends, teammates or someone you know only by sight. But you're glad they're here. And it's reassuring to know that the health of our patients, our colleagues and the institution itself rests in their capable, friendly, earnest, caring and compassionate hands.

Sarah K. Lee, D.D.S., came to Mayo Clinic in 2018 for a fellowship program in maxillofacial prosthodontics and dental oncology since Mayo has one of only five programs in the U.S.

"With maxillofacial prosthodontics, the care is often medically complex and spans beyond the restoration of the teeth as we care for patients with head and neck cancer, congenital birth malformations, and trauma that cause the loss of craniofacial and oral structures," says Dr. Lee, who now is the director for the Advanced Prosthodontics Residency Program. "Prosthetic rehabilitation includes replacing missing jaw structures and facial structures like the ear, nose and eyes."

Given the complexity of the care she provides, Dr. Lee often collaborates with other specialties across Mayo Clinic.

"I am thankful to be in a place that promotes collaboration with different teams and individuals at various facets of care to support a patient's journey," she says.

One of my favorite things about Mayo Clinic: For whatever reason, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that they make here are the best. I know I can make a PB&J sandwich easily at home, but there is something so weirdly special and delicious about the ratio of peanut butter to jelly, the bread and the temperature of the entire sandwich when I get it from the mezzanine store. I have turned down fancy lunches for the PB&J.

I know that life is going to be OK when I can get one of these sandwiches. They are sold out frequently by the time I get to lunch.

The single most important thing I did at work yesterday (or expect to do tomorrow): Do the best that I can do in whatever I am doing. It's broad, but it's an important mantra to me and allows me to give myself grace when I am having a hard day or pushing myself a little bit more when I'm able to.

A book I would recommend, or one I want to read: I do a lot of reading for work, so it's always a challenge to finish a book for fun. The last book I read in its entirety was "Crying in H Mart." As a Korean American myself, the book was really touching because it was the first time I felt like someone was able to retell some of the experiences and thoughts that I've had as an individual with a hybridized identity.

It was also a good read because it shared the story of an individual who was a caregiver to a dying parent. I've had to be a caregiver to a family member when she was critically ill. Also, working with patients with serious illnesses, I have met many people who care for these patients and are often a crucial part of the survivorship journey.

Although care needs to be focused on patients, it's important to also recognize the network of people like caregivers who also need help and support in their efforts to do the daily at-home support.

Mayo Clinic has taught me: To trust in myself. As a younger clinician with the responsibility to represent Mayo Clinic, I have grappled — and still do — with imposter syndrome and have plenty of self-doubts. Mayo Clinic's values of RICH TIES (Respect, Integrity, Compassion, Healing, Teamwork, Innovation, Excellence and Stewardship) have inspired me to be assertive and assured in myself and my ability to ask questions, make decisions, and take charge of how I care for my patients, teach and guide my learners, and learn and develop in my profession.

Most treasured or best advice from a colleague at Mayo: "Poke the bear." It's a funny saying, but it's so helpful in reminding me to be patient, take small steps forward, sometimes a step back, and just keep trying while I'm in the process of trying to transform, innovate or change.

Most memorable Mayo moment: "Snowmaggedon" in February 2019. I half-joke when I say that Mayo Clinic should be thankful that they recruited me in December 2018. As a North Carolinian, winters below 50 degrees are barely acceptable, so seeing Mayo Clinic nearly shut down because of a blizzard was never on my radar of things I would witness. I'm also amazed and impressed with myself that I made it to work that day — and got a sweet commemorative T-shirt.

If I could choose the "hold" music for Mayo Clinic: My husband, Foti, has remarked that I listen to pretty depressing music. I think it's because I usually have so much thinking going on in my mind that I prefer quieter and calmer music. To spare everyone from my musical taste, maybe just the sounds of waves on the beach, or waterfalls or rain, would be nice to hear in the background.

Favorite space on campus this month: Anywhere outside. Walking-outside weather is somewhat limited in Minnesota. So whenever the weather is warm and there's sunlight till 9 p.m., anywhere outside on campus is the place to be.

People who inspire me: I have a group of friends I've known since I was in middle school. I refer to them as "the core." We don't talk every day and can even go weeks to months with just a few texts. But once we are together, it's like a day hadn't passed. We're up to our old antics, inside jokes, and chats about anything and everything.

Each person in our friendship group has grown and followed different pathways in their life. I always leave our reunions and meetups inspired and thankful to have them each in their own way.

The most fun I've had at work this year: Although this question seems simple, I want to recognize that this year has been tough, as have the last few years with so much pivoting and reframing with COVID-19. Finding joy in the workplace has been a challenge. I think it's important to acknowledge that because it's a reality that I think many share, including myself.

This year, I've leaned on smaller fun moments for joy, such as when a learner has an  "aha moment," sharing a laugh with an allied health team member at the end of surviving a busy day, or having lunch outside with colleagues on a nice day.

Team Dr. Charlie or Team Dr. Will? Or Team Mother Alfred or Team Dr. W.W. Why? Mother Alfred. At a time when female leaders were few and far between, she had an idea, brought together the key players to make a plan and execute it, and established the basic groundwork for one of the most highly regarded health centers in the world in present-day history.

When patients recall their visit to Mayo Clinic, I hope they remember: The real teamwork and team effort we implement to be able to provide them quality care. Providers like me rely on all members of the team to be able to put in our best effort to provide care — the schedulers and front desk, our allied health staff assisting in procedures or manufacturing prostheses, and technicians in Information Technology, Sterilization and Facilities Services whose work provides the basic infrastructure to complete care.


Tags: In a Word, Sarah K. Lee D.D.S., Staff Stories

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