HERstory: Dr. Alyssa Kettler
Dr. Alyssa Kettler joined our Emergency Medicine residency program in July 2020. Originally from Minnesota, she graduated from Western Michigan Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, MI. She subsequently moved away from her Midwest roots to join us here in Long Island with her wife Georgia. We got to sit down and learn more about one of our newest interns!
You’re our first intern to be featured on HERstory! How has intern year been going so far?
It’s been going pretty well! I’ve been having these feelings of nervousness and excitement every time I’m on shift, but it’s really nice that the senior residents are so amazing and helpful, which makes the transition so much easier. Everyone has been super awesome and super accommodating. When I told people I’m going to residency in NY they were all like “oh, well, good luck” because it seemed like there’s this stigma that people in NY are rude, but it’s totally the opposite.
I’m glad you brought up moving to NY. You’re originally from Minnesota – how have you been finding that transition from the Midwest to the East Coast?
You know, not as difficult as I thought it would be. Everyone was really welcoming but everyone is a little more aggressive than us Midwesterners, not in a mean way – they do things more quickly, forcefully, and unapologetically. Us Midwesterners are more like “uh, are you sure, I don’t want to eat the last cookie” but people here eat the last cookie.
[Laughs] As a NY'er I can totally agree that we definitely like eating cookies. And I know you travelled here with your wife Georgia. How has that been?
It was definitely hard moving with just her and I because we don’t know anyone here. It’s been an adventure. It was nice because I get her to myself a little more but we definitely miss our friends back home. But we’re establishing roots down here. What’s amazing though is that Georgia can make friends with a rock and she enjoys parties where she doesn’t know anyone.
We’ve all met Georgia at some of our social events and we all absolutely love her! Was there any hesitancy coming into a residency being in a same-sex relationship?
You know, not as much as you would expect. In the Midwest, specifically in Southwest, it was pretty liberal, but NY has an even more liberal attitude than those places, but Long Island I know is probably less liberal than the rest of the city. Fortunately, Georgia and I are very secure in who we are as people. It’s one of those things that if someone doesn’t like me because of who I am, then that’s a ‘you’ problem. We’re always still cognizant about being same-sex, like if we’re driving through a super conservative place we might not, you know, kiss in public. During the interview process for residency I was super transparent about being in a same-sex relationship because I didn’t want to match into a place where they wouldn’t be comfortable having me.
When did you know that you liked women?
Finding out that I liked women hit me like a ton of bricks. If you told me that I would be married to a woman when I was younger or in high school, I would’ve said absolutely no way. It was one of my ultimate frisbee teammates, actually she was on the opposing team and one day I found myself driving down to Iowa, 6 hours away, to go see this person. I had to pull over on the side of the road and think to myself ‘what am I doing, friends don’t just do things like this.’ We went out and got drunk and I found myself thinking ‘I hope she kisses me right now’ and that realization really made me think that I like women.
I think you’re the only person in our residency class that we know of that is openly queer, how do you feel about that?
I’m okay being the only person that is queer because I know I have a ton of support with you guys and everyone around me. I think that’s the biggest thing. You don’t need to have a ton of queer people to know that you feel supported, and even with more people that doesn’t necessarily mean they support me being queer. I know I have that support for sure at this residency program so it’s not something that I think about constantly. It’s always nice to have diversity and I’m glad to be a part of it.
I love that you’re unapologetically you – take it or leave it. How did you get to this point? Was there any moment in your life that was a difficult time for you?
Yeah, you know I don’t want to be vulnerable to whatever people have to say or the biases they have in their head. It took a long time to get to this point but happy that I’m here in this mental state. Hmm, one of the hardest things for me was when I unexpectedly lost my dad in 2014. I’ve definitely dealt with it but it was a shock. I knew I wanted to go to medicine but after college I was working or I was a scribe, but when this happened it really kicked me into gear. Life is short. But it was a roadblock that I didn’t see coming.
He was 53 years old and he was downstairs in the house while my mom was upstairs was cooking on Easter. I was at work. My mom went downstairs and found him cold. She called EMS, and placed a Lucas on him, and they did CPR but unfortunately, he passed. They think that he had multiple silent heart attacks in the past and may have went into an arrhythmia. We have terrible coronary artery disease in my family. My dad has 3 other brothers and they’ve all had CABG’s before the age of 55.
Whoa…I am so sorry. I totally would not have asked this question had I known this happened to you.
I have no problem talking about him! He was an awesome guy. He makes me happy, so don’t feel bad about it. My only regret is that he never got to meet Georgia. At least my mom loves her, which is a great thing.
Aww, that’s so sweet. How did your parents and your environment influence the way you grew up? Was there any pressures to maintaining gender-roles?
My parents let me do whatever I wanted growing up. I played basketball, volleyball, karate, and dance. Whatever interested me, they let me try. I grew up in a wealthy suburb in Minneapolis. Pressures from gender-roles more-so came from my high school. Growing up those pressures for being girly, like dying my hair or wearing mini-skirts, came from my high school, and I’m not a girly person at all. When I got into college I became more comfortable in who I was and I stopped doing all of it.
I know that I already asked you what was the worst moment of your life, let’s go to a happier question – what was the best moment of your life?
I would say that although my wedding with Georgia was much smaller than we anticipated because of COVID it was still the best moment in my life. It was only 12 people but it was really intimate and gave us quality time to the people who are closest to us. It was so emotional, we were with our best friends, we looked like princesses, and we were able to affirm our love. Our relationship was always inevitable – we were always going to be together. We didn’t need a day to tell us that we were married. But this was a fun way to make it official. And since it was right before we moved out here, it was like a multi-purpose wedding to say bye to some of our friends.
What do you feel like your weakness is? – The real answer, not the one you tell program directors!
[Laughs] I get really anxious. Anxious about anything in general. I think a lot of doctors get anxious. I get anxious thinking about whether I should be putting this central line in someone, did I give them the right medications, second guessing what I’m doing. Everyone hates screwing up in front of someone and I hate looking like a dingus in front of someone, like that sucks. I’ve always dealt with anxiety through my life, but thanks to medication it’s been a lot better. I take venlafaxine [Effexor] and it definitely helps. It takes your bucket from being totally full to a few centimeters down. My anxiety would get so bad – I would get anxious over not being able to make a decision or finding my car keys, but I did a lot of therapy, and I’ve been on Effexor for seven years now.
Kudos to you for taking care of yourself and your well-being and being so open about this. Not everyone is so open when it comes to mental health related conditions and taking medication for it.
The way that I think about it is why should I have all of this anxiety and energy built up when I can deal with it with some help and medication and use that energy for something more productive and use that as a tool to also deal with the anxiety. Medication helps it to be a smaller hurdle to jump, even if it doesn’t completely go away. There’s still so much of a stigma about this. Therapy is good for everyone. Even to talk about how stressed out you are. More problems can be solved by talking about it or taking medication. And if I can help by leading by example and talking about it, I’m more than willing to be open about it.
It’s such a strength that you have that you’re willing to acknowledge your anxiety and face it head on! I guess my last question is – what do you think your future is going to look like?
I think that I the future I will be an Emergency Medicine doctor…somewhere…possibly in the Midwest since that’s where our family is, but we might also get roped into New York. We’re actually starting to look at fertility clinics for Georgia to get pregnant at some point maybe sometime this Winter.
Wait what! That’s amazing I had no idea you were thinking about having children now. I need to hear more about the fertility process!
So it’s actually been really hard to find a fertility clinic that specializes in lesbian couples. I don’t want to completely jump to IVF right off the bat because it’s so invasive, so I want to talk to someone about IUI. It’s like insemination, but they put the catheter in the uterus instead of the vagina. They’ve been saying that they have to wash the sperm to get the semen off because the semen is very irritating for the uterus and then they map your cycle and then place the sperm in the uterus when you’re ovulating or give you an injection of HCG to stimulate ovulation. I think that’s the route we’re going to go. IVF is way more expensive. Georgia is probably going to be the one to get pregnant since she works from home and she’s 3 years older than me, so hopefully we can use her eggs first. If for some reason she can’t get pregnant then I would, but I think that she would be a better pregnant woman than I would.
Do you think our job makes it difficult for you to picture yourself being the pregnant person in the relationship?
I think that early on the first 6 months might be okay, but after that it seems really tough. It seems really tough to be really pregnant in the ED, but if it ends up being that, then so be it. As ER docs, we’re so used to dealing with whatever comes our way, so I think it would be okay but if we can make it just a little less stressful and have her just being the one who gets pregnant, that would be great.
You’ve been so open throughout this entire interview! Anything else about yourself we didn’t get to talk about?
We have an amazingly adorable dog. I’m sure everyone will meet her at some point. She’s 10.5 years old, her name is Sadie, and she loves people!
Alyssa Kettler, MD is a PGY-1 Resident at Stony Brook Emergency Medicine.
Elizabeth Dalchand, MD is a PGY-2 Resident at Stony Brook Emergency Medicine. She can be found on Twitter @lizdalchand