Milissa A. McKee, M.D., M.P.H., is only half joking when she says she has attention deficit disorder. She likes variety, and she likes to finish a job and move on. That’s why pediatric surgery suits her. Pediatric surgeries are shorter than adult surgeries because “there’s less real estate to cover.”
“I like doing technically demanding surgery and I like to take care of kids,” says McKee, 31, herself the oldest of seven. “Pediatric surgery fits me particularly well.”
Pediatric surgery also offers variety. McKee gets to tackle a broad spectrum of cases, everything except cardiac and neurological problems. “That’s very unusual in surgery specialties nowadays. In other specialties, you just do endocrine, or you just do cancer, or you just do gastroenterology.”
Although it’s true that McKee can talk cogently about surgery while also plowing through a stack of paperwork and occasionally glancing at her computer screen, you have to take her claim of having attention deficit disorder with a grain of salt—given that she managed to finish college at age 15. She got her driver’s license that year, moved one state west from her Minnesota home and earned her medical degree at the University of North Dakota at 19. Her nine years of postgraduate training included both research and clinical fellowships at Johns Hopkins and a master’s degree in public health, also at Hopkins. She came to New Haven two years ago.
At Yale, McKee has expanded the use of minimally invasive surgery for young patients. For example, she uses a crib-side procedure to treat gastroschisis, an abdominal wall defect that until fairly recently required major surgery shortly after birth. The intestines of a baby born with gastroschisis protrude outside the abdomen. McKee sidesteps major surgery by protecting the intestines in a silicone sac and, over the course of a day or two, gradually introducing them into the baby’s abdomen.
She has noticed that some female medical students rule out surgery prima facie. They have told McKee that “they’re only doing the rotation because they have to, and that they’d never do surgery because the residency is too hard, it has no lifestyle and they want to have a family.”
This frustrates McKee. “If it fits your personality to be a surgeon, you should be a surgeon.” She says that choosing a career in surgery may mean you can’t have the highest-paying practice, head your department and lead the nation in research and still have time to raise children. But having set priorities, McKee asserts that you can “set up your schedule so you can meet all your goals. I strongly believe you can have a fulfilling career and you can have children, and I intend to.”