Jennifer Carr, MD, joins the UNC Department of Surgery as an Assistant Professor, Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, She sat down to discuss her childhood dream of becoming a singing veterinarian, what inspired her to return to academic medicine and the advice she would share with her younger self.
Dr. Carr received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and her Medical Doctorate from the University of Missouri in 2007. From 2007-2014 she pursued her general surgery residency training at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, during which time she was recognized with multiple teaching awards. From 2014-2017, she pursued her plastic surgery residency training also at the University of Iowa, during which time she was the Administrative Chief Resident. In 2017, she joined the staff at Maine General Medical Center in Augusta, Maine and recently joined UNC Surgery as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
What brought you to the Department of Surgery at UNC?
I’ve been in private practice for the last two years, and I think that there were many things that I missed about being at an academic focused center. I missed the contact with residents and being able to teach. I missed the camaraderie within a department as well as the challenge of handling complex cases and the opportunity to be in a multidisciplinary environment. I’m excited about being part of the UNC Department of Surgery; it’s well known as a great academic center.
I also couldn’t pass up the chance to work for Dr. Melina Kibbe. When the opportunity to join UNC Surgery came up, I knew I would be crazy to turn it down. She’s on the top of my list of the people that I would want to work for in my career. When you’re looking for a mentor to come back to the academic setting, it doesn’t get much better than her. Dr. Kibbe is such a strong, empowering female presence as well as being a surgical and research powerhouse.
What inspired you to become a doctor/surgeon?
When you’re younger, you look to the people around you. You’re exposed to the careers of your parents, teachers, and physicians; and it was the physicians that I gravitated to. I saw them making a difference and having an impact; I knew I wanted to help people.
For everything that I take on in my life, I ask myself what will challenge me the most. When I was in school that translated into taking hard classes within an already intense workload. When I was figuring out what career I wanted, that translated into a pursuit of medicine, spending up to 12 to 18 years in training. Without hesitation I said, I’m going to do that. I chose a 6 year combined BA/MD program out of high school. On top of that, I was immediately drawn to surgery. I originally went to medical school to become a cardiothoracic surgeon but as I traveled down the path of medicine the road in front of me took some unexpected twists and turns.
What drew you to surgery?
I went to a 6 year combined undergraduate/MD program. The focus of the program I was in was not surgical specialties. Their focus was producing excellent general practitioners to serve the rural communities primarily in Missouri.
In my program, the first two years were basic course work, and then years 3, 4, 5, and 6 were hospital rotations. When I was on my first inpatient rotation, I met an intern who had a big impact on the way I first thought about what specialty I wanted to pursue. He had been a vascular surgeon but felt his career had disconnected him from his kids; he didn’t get to show up for them in their lives, so he switched gears and became an ER physician. That conversation got me thinking because I did want a family one day and it seemed impossible to me at the time to marry a career in surgery with a life outside of the operating room. With that in the back of my mind throughout my medical school, I pushed all of my surgical rotations until the end. Then I stepped foot in the operating room, and it was like meeting my people. It felt like it was where I was supposed to be.
With surgery, the draw is the ability to help patients immediately and profoundly. In the primary care work I was doing I felt I was missing something. I think that with surgery there was an immediate rapport that you have with patients. Within a conversation or two, they have to trust you to take care of them usually at one of their most vulnerable moments. There was a level that I appreciated of meeting and connecting with people; gaining their trust to take care of them during what is usually a scary time for them.
Why the transition into Plastic Surgery?
At the end of my medical school training, I had to decide on the next phase of my career and found myself at a crossroads in life. My original thought was to pursue pediatric surgery. However, circumstances in my personal life forced me to reevaluate that path. Around that same time, the ACGME approved a position for plastic surgery at the school I was attending, The University of Iowa, and the plastic surgery division asked me to stay on as their first resident.
I took a step back and thought about the things that were enticing to me about pediatric surgery. The technical skill, the attention to detail, the impact on a patient’s life; there was just so much about plastic surgery that overlapped with what I loved about pediatric surgery that I took the leap of faith and jumped in. I love that plastic surgeons are problem solvers and innovators. That there are multiple ways to approach the same issues. I never looked back. It was the right decision for my family and me and I fell in love with the specialty.
What is a moment that defined you or your career?
The moment that helped define me and the path into my future was when I pursued plastic surgery. At the time, it felt like a complete change of course for me, an option that I didn’t have on my radar at all. The experience helped me grow and changed me in ways that I would never have fathomed before.
When coming to my choice, I did what I always do when making big decisions; I made my list of pros and cons. There was a part of me that didn’t know how I was going to give up something that I had known for so long to do something so unknown. It was scary, but it was amazing. I was fortunate that the people at The University of Iowa were very welcoming and figured out how to help tailor the plastic surgery residency to my interests.
What are some goals you would like to achieve during your time at UNC Surgery?
At UNC Surgery I want to provide the best patient care that I can to this community. I want to push myself to develop new skills and techniques as well as form collaborations internally so that I can learn, grow and expand what I can offer to patients.
I’d also like to collaborate interdepartmentally, to help make sure that plastic surgery is represented in different places throughout the UNC Health Care system. A hospital, even one in an academic setting, can be very compartmentalized; people have their niches. I’ve found that some other departments and divisions don’t necessarily know the full spectrum of services plastic surgeons can provide. I am excited to help solve problems across departments and divisions, to build bridges.
I’m also very excited to come back to a teaching institution. I look forward to helping shape the future plastic surgeons from UNC, and I’m certain they will teach me along the way as well.
What is one thing you wish people knew about you before they meet you?
I think it would be good for patients and coworkers to know that I have a really weird sense of humor. I’m always going to make a joke because not only is it part of who I am but I’ve found it lightens the mood. Sometimes a smile is exactly what you need.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what it be?
Keep going and trust your instincts.
If you could pick the brain of someone alive or dead, who would it be?
If I could have a conversation with one person, it would be Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I find her to be fascinating. I would love to sit down with her and talk to her about her career, basically how she can be such a badass. I want to know how she dealt with all of it and came out on the other side, her family, career, and all of the landmark decisions that she has helped to make and shape for the country.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
I have actually given this question much thought over the years, and I know my superpower would be the ability to teleport. I like the idea of being able to fly, but I feel like the reality of it, flying amongst the birds, wouldn’t be as magical as it seems. Plus you still have to deal with transit time. However, if you can teleport, that transit time is gone, and you can be where you want to be instantaneously. It would be great to be able to go home to my kids, tuck them into bed, and then jump back to finish stuff at work. Or go to Paris for dinner and then be back home in my bed for the night. I think you get the best of the ability to fly but without the travel hassle.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
When I’m not at work, my free time is spent with my family. I hang out with my kids, a four and a half-year-old and two and a half-year-old; they are the best way I spend any free time.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child, I always said I wanted to be a singing veterinarian. The most ironic thing about me is that while I love music, I actually can’t carry a tune. Anyone who knows me knows that if we’re in a room and a good song comes on you should be singing along to it. I don’t care if you can’t sing well. I feel like it’s a good way to express how you feel.
What would your karaoke song be?
I’ve actually never done karaoke before although my whole life is sort of one big karaoke experience. I sing in the shower, in the car. I can’t help but sing when a good song comes on. If I were to go to a karaoke bar and have to choose one song, hands down it would ‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-a-Lot. I know every word to that song.
* Disclaimer, please don’t ask her to sing.