SUNDAY STORIES: MEET JULIE AMES

Meet Julie Ames: she knew she wanted to be a doctor from a young age, particularly a surgeon. She now lives that dream, working in Los Angeles and specializing in plastic and reconstructive surgery. Her work has touched the lives of many, and we recently sat down with her to pick her brain. Here's what she said.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself. Where you live, where you studied medicine and what prompted you to get into the medical field?

I live in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. I grew up in Storm Lake, a small town in the northwest corner of Iowa, and got my medical degree from the University of Iowa. I did residency at Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia and my fellowship at the University of California, Davis in facial plastic and reconstruction surgery. I knew I wanted to be a doctor from a very young age, in fact I knew I wanted to be a surgeon. My father was a country doctor and delivered just about all the babies in our little town, and he took care of most of the families in our town as well. My mother was a nurse and helped run the local hospital Emergency Room.

Q. How has your reality changed as a surgeon since Covid-19. Was it scary at first having all the new protocols put in place at Kaiser? Did the fear of possibly putting your family at risk ever make you doubt your profession?

The arrival of COVID was very scary for me as a physician. I was certainly afraid for myself and my family. My department chief and hospital did a good job of putting an array of safety protocols in place as quickly as possible, but that didn’t make things less nerve-wracking in the first few months. Ultimately, I just had to set my anxiety aside and focus on the work at hand. Truthfully, this is how I approach surgery as well. There are times that are scary and stressful, but those feelings cannot prevent me from making decisions and moving forward. Now that we know more about the virus and have refined the protocols at the hospital, I feel more comfortable, but a degree of fear will always be there until the pandemic is over.

Q. Being a surgeon is such a high-pressure job. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance and take time to de-stress. Your job is so focused on accuracy and precision I would imagine that it’s oftentimes hard to “turn off” your medical mind after a long day of work. 

I can be intense and that is not something I can easily turn off when I get home. However, I get an enormous amount of joy and relief from my family and the fun we have together. We get out of the city often, usually up to Mammoth where we love to go hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. In Los Angeles we love going to the beach or hiking in the Angeles National Forest. All of that restores me. My friends are also very important, and I’ve made sure to stay close with them, it’s just that now we have to get together outside, wearing masks, and sitting apart. I also started running during medical school. I found it was one of the only ways I could quiet my thoughts. When I run long distances, I can only think of running!

Q. What is one of your greatest professional achievements to date that make you feel proud of being a doctor?

What makes it all worthwhile is when a patient tells me that a surgery has made a difference in their life. I perform transgender facial feminization surgeries, as well as surgery for trauma and defects resulting from cancer. I have had many patients who report to me that after surgery they finally feel confident again, they have their lives back. I have transgender patients who after surgery tell me that their lives have finally begun, that for the first time they look like who they feel they are. The happiness these patients feel is what keeps me going and fulfills me.

Q. Tell us one thing that you are most grateful for this year.

This year I am grateful that my family and I have remained safe and healthy. Normally that might sound like a cliché, but this year it is real and immediate.