July 29, 2020

Emily Stucken, MD: Sharing a passion

Dr. Emily Stucken

Faculty bring inspiration and real-world knowledge to help guide students to a lifetime of fulfillment

Neurotologist Emily Z. Stucken, M.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. She also holds key roles in our medical education programs, including instructor, course director, faculty advisor for the Michigan Journal of Medicine, co-director of the Procedures-Based Care Branch, Surgery Olympics faculty mentor, and faculty career adviser for Otolaryngology.

Here, she answers eight questions about why she chose her speciality, what she enjoys about teaching medical students, and what she and others at Michigan Medicine have learned so far from dealing with COVID-19.

What appealed to you about coming to the University of Michigan Medical School for a faculty/research appointment?

I was drawn to the opportunity to do more than take care of patients. The University of Michigan is sort of like Disney World for academicians. You get the feeling that any ideas you have, you can actually find a way to achieve them here. Furthermore, whatever ideas you may be developing will be dramatically improved by the opportunity to work with experts in your area of interest, as well as colleagues across specialties and even schools. Some of our best idea growth happens when we cross-pollinate ideas with other disciplines, and the U-M environment makes this easy to do both in terms of physical proximity and open-mindedness of collaborators. U-M is a bit of a magical place in terms of the opportunities and the people.

What drew you to a career in medicine/otolaryngology?

Growing up, I enjoyed reading, art, and sports. Medicine seemed like a good fit to me as a job that provided an intellectually stimulating way to work in a hands-on capacity to do something with real tangible benefits for people. I have always enjoyed visual arts and activities that require tiny, precise, microscopic detailed work, and I had an early interest in surgery as a way to couple medicine and fine art.

Initially, I thought I would grow up to be a cardiac surgeon, then I switched aspirations to being a pediatric cardiac surgeon. I got a job in college where half the work was to clean the operating rooms between cases (mopping the floors, taking out the trash, etc.), and the other half I got to scrub in as an assistant during operations and hold the heart during open-heart surgeries. It was pretty awesome!

When I started medical school, I fell in love with head and neck anatomy, and from then on the deal was sealed. Doing microscopic ear and skull-base surgery is an art form that helps people, and I actually get to call this a job!

What is the focus of your research?

As a neurotologist, I treat diseases of the ear and skull base. My research is focused on clinical problems with the ears such as hearing loss, cochlear implants, hearing surgery, and various diseases that affect the ears or the interface between the ears and the brain.

You are involved in so many capacities with medical students. How would you characterize your encounters with students, in and outside of the classroom?

I find it so enjoyable to interact with medical students — we share a mutual genuine interest in how cool medicine is. I really enjoy hearing each student’s unique perspective when we come together to learn how to solve problems.

Students have phenomenal grand ideas, and it is a gratifying experience to contribute some real-world knowledge that can help them to hone in on their ideas and make them actionable. My day is always brightened by interacting with medical students. I hope that their day is brightened by the interaction as well!

What do you see is your overall purpose/mission when it comes to shaping future physician leaders?

I hope that I can inspire medical students and show them that medicine is hard work, but it also gives you the opportunity to improve people’s lives in a way that a very small portion of the population gets to experience.

I love my job. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to practice as a physician, and I derive satisfaction and frank enjoyment from going to work each day. You know when you really like something and you can’t help but talk to people about it? That’s how I feel about neurotology, and why I like teaching medical students and residents. I hope that I can help students to identify an area of medicine that they really love.

When in-person training was suspended due to concerns with COVID-19, what did you do to adapt your approach to medical student training?

This was a very strange time for all of the clinicians and trainees alike. We looked for ways to not only keep medical education going during the suspension of patient contact, but potentially even find unique opportunities for training that did not exist in normal circumstances.

Many students were pulled from clinical rotations right when they would have been rotating on their exploratory electives to gain exposure to multiple fields and solidify their career choice. We identified an exponential growth of specialty-specific virtual educational resources and collated these resources for students. This allowed students exposure to a broad array of specialties in a compressed time frame that would not otherwise have been possible.

What do you think are the key takeaways from the past few months that would be helpful to share with medical students/future health care leaders?

We learned a lot about the need for adaptability and removing our individual aims for the collective patient care needs. The importance of teamwork and communication became even more apparent than during normal operations. We learned how quickly things can change in terms of burden of illness and hospital operations, and also how quickly grassroots efforts like the students' M-Response Corps can develop into real, impactful opportunities to improve patients’ lives.

What do you like to do outside of the medical school?

I enjoy spending time with my husband and two small children, painting, reading, and cooking and eating good food. Whenever I get the chance, I try to go for a run or a swim.