Interview with Katie Raffel, MD

A Conversation with Katie Raffel, Assistant Professor

Are you a movie buff? Did you see the Academy Awards or any of the films nominated?

KRI like movies that make you think and that, even if you don't remember the details of a film, register an emotion. My all-time favorite movies are in The Lord of the Rings series, the entire trilogy. I've been on service and slept through the [Academy] Awards but I was pulling for Get Out for Best Picture, a horror-thriller-comedy with a commentary on race relations and very different than other nominees. I also liked Call Me By Your Name, which wasn't action-packed but compelling and elicited strong, enduring emotions.

Where were you born and raised? Can you share an anecdote that illustrates something precious about your family dynamic?

I was born and raised in a small town in rural Ohio, called Greenville, the county seat and a "metropolis" of about 10,000 people. The industry is mostly agricultural farming and manufacturing, although much of the manufacturing has left in recent years. My dad was, and still is, a farmer, and my mom is a school secretary. My parents are all of the things you would expect from people of the Midwest: principled, hardworking, and able to oscillate between no-nonsense and joyfulness. I have two younger sisters, one a nurse and the other an NP. We are now all in health care but with different personalities and passions. Our special family time is the Christmas holiday. We spend Christmas Eve with our extended family playing games and drinking sweet Ohio wine and Christmas Day with just the immediate family preparing an elaborate Christmas dinner. Weeks before, we each draw our contribution for the dinner out of a hat and are tasked with preparing something unfamiliar or new, a food that is not a traditional family dish. Christmas dinner can be a strange and uncoordinated meal because each dish is so different but the process is what makes it precious. We spend all day together in the kitchen—there is a flurry of activity and all of your favorite people in this warm, cozy little room while outside it's cold and uninviting.

Corn field

Katie and her family

Was faith an important part of your upbringing? What did you learn about faith and social justice among the Jesuits?

Faith is the center of my parents' lives and was built into the routine of our family. We went to Mass every Sunday, said grace before meals, and prayed before bed. I went to Xavier University, a Jesuit university, and it changed my relationship with Catholicism dramatically. The Jesuits, as the educating order, embraced uncertainty and encouraged questions around tenants of the faith. Their mantra—to be "men and women for others"—was a call to action and a focus on the things you do as opposed to what you don't do. I embraced liberation theology and shifted from a more dogmatic approach to a more spiritual approach to faith.

Who is the most interesting, infamous, or eccentric person in your extended family, living or dead? For what was this person known?

My mom is one of nine children, my dad one of six, and my grandpa one of fifteen so there are many people to choose from! My dad's mom is who comes to mind as the most eccentric, although she wasn't so much eccentric as maybe just quirky and frank. She just had a flair and did her own thing until she passed away at 84. She spoke her mind, drove far longer than she should have, and routinely sent the grandkids on expeditions to obtain sweets restricted by her own children given her diabetes.

Why did you study the Natural Sciences?

Natural Sciences was a pre-med major at Xavier but, had I known that you could get to Medicine without a science major, I would have. My favorite course was a feminist literature course and I find writing and reading more gratifying than the sciencesI would like to do more writing but I haven't yet made the time or space.

When were you last touched by an unexpected kindness?  

As a result of a program called Cultivating Resilience, I am trying to be more thoughtful and deliberate as I walk from one patient room to another in the hospital, intentionally trying not to scurry. I may get to where I'm going a second later but in a totally different state of mind. The other day, as I slowly walked, I passed an elderly patient walking with one Physical Therapist at his side and a second slowly following with a wheelchair. While I was observing, the patient, needing to take a break, turned to the PT and asked if he could "just call an Uber." I was touched by his good humor and the fact that we work in a system where two professionals are so dedicated to one patient—that a member of the PT team patiently serves as safety net for this man as he strengthens and heals.

Complete this sentence: "Never have I ever ______, but I yet might."

I am completely risk-averse. I hate karaoke and being in front of people. But I might yet take vocal lessons and pick one song to use to become a karaoke queen.

Which is better: wet or dry rub? Have you determined your own "secret ingredient" to make the perfect barbeque and would you share it? 

Definitely wet. In medical school, friends and I created a tongue-in-cheek Barbeque Interest Group and we'd sample barbeque all around Chicago. I've never perfected my own sauce but my favorite kind is vinegar-based, which I think may be a Carolinian style.

Share an iconic piece of art that inspires you and its significance.

I have a piece from my time in El Salvador, a small woodworked piece in the shape of the Venus female symbol on which is painted many images of women. To me, it represents the strength of women and reminds me why women are the backbone of so many cultures. When in San Salvador, I met a group of mothers (CoMadres) who came together to search for missing relatives and to identify the bodies of people, sons and daughters, who had been murdered during political unrest. They showed such strength in the face of persecution, threats, and incarceration by the government.

If you were to build your ideal home, what room would be your sanctuary and what would be its special feature?

One feature I've always wanted is an outdoor shower, a waterfall shower. There is something so nice and liberating about showering outside, although I would probably have to live in a much warmer climate for it to be a practical feature!

Is there a common belief that even friends have about you that is unfounded?

I think I am, and I hope to be, a generous spirit and one who is optimistic but at times that can be interpreted by people who don't know me well as being naïve or Pollyanna-like.

Katie, thank you so much.

- by Oralia Schatzman

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