Julie Kay, MD



  • Amherst College, 2001
    • Political Science, Pre-med
  • Medical School, 2006

Current job title:  Medical Officer, FDA

**The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the formal position of the FDA.**

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue? 

In high school, in the summer before my senior year, I went on a medical mission to Bonao, Dominican Republic. I enjoyed the physical healing aspect and connecting with people of a different culture.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career. 

I was mentored by a biostatistics professor and women’s studies professor during college. In medical school, I met a physician-inventor for whom I assisted in clinical research. My neuroscience professor was also instrumental in getting me into a top 10 residency, though I did not attend a top 10 medical school.  A research mentor in residency, was helpful in getting me into a top 5 fellowship. During residency and fellowship, I leaned on many attendings who were generous in patience as well as skill. 

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?  

I was never the kind of student for whom scientific concepts came easily. There were some peers and teachers who were not nice about it. Some environments were hypercompetitive and you could lose out if you were not fast, aggressive, or good at gamesmanship.  I focused on what I wanted in the long-term and the people who were nice, because I realized there are many people around me who were making themselves miserable pursuing things they were not sure they even wanted. Or if they wanted certain awards, positions or jobs, it was not out of an intrinsic passion but because of secondary gain (i.e., to finance a certain lifestyle or fulfill familial and social expectations).  The latter is a recipe for burnout later in your career and we hear a lot more about that now amongst physicians. 

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path. 

My job at FDA was a surprise, though I was always interested in studying the intersection between government and biotechnology. As a college student, I interned in the patent law department of a pharmaceutical company. Prior to medical school, I was a clinical research coordinator in a phase 3 FDA drug trial. As a medical student, I worked on a literature review for an FDA application and I was a CDC Experience Fellow in Epidemiology. As a resident, I was an advocacy ambassador to Congress for my specialty society. When the position at FDA was advertised for my subspecialty, it seemed like a natural, albeit unusual, choice. In my field, 90% of fellows enter private practice and 10% in academics. 

At FDA, most medical officers who practice part-time clinically do so at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  So my other surprise was working in a military clinic. I had never even worked at a VA hospital before. I have become acquainted with the staff and patients at the facility, who are amazing people.  Some of the people I have met have helped shape world history and I enjoy hearing their stories. I also appreciate the culture of public service and the cutting edge instrumentation that is available.    

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

In 2016, I was awarded recognition for leadership in the Agency’s first leapfrog guidance for an emerging technology.  A guidance provides industry with pre-market requirements regarding the intended patient population, safety and effectiveness endpoints.  It provides clear and specific expectations prior to embarking on expensive clinical trials with the aim of reducing time to market.

Is there some advice you could you share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

Obviously, work hard and be tenacious because science is not easy.  Be nice, even when the people around you are hypercompetitive (Even though in the short term, you may feel like a loser, you will attract the right people who can mentor you and shape your career in the long run.  At higher levels, I’ve seen how collaboration is key. I’ve seen how even prominent people who do not know how to play well in the sandbox will become known for it and marginalized by peers). Then, figure out who you are and use that to find your voice and make your contribution.  Don’t limit yourself to the jobs that are out there in 2019. My specific job did not exist when I was in medical school. There is fluidity in the future if you are prepared for it, so don’t force the square pegs into the round holes. Finally, when you are satisfied with where your career path is, give back to those who are earlier in their journey, especially those who have been excluded historically.  Science needs all of us to be represented for meaningful progress to be made in the world.

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