Name: Kara Connelly
Location: Portland, OR
Occupation: Physician—Pediatric Endocrinologist
As a child, Kara Connelly knew that she wanted to be a doctor who worked with children. Growing up in Wisconsin, Utah, Wyoming, and Nicaragua, where her father worked for UNICEF, she quickly learned that every environment is different and every patient has their own unique challenges.
“I always knew I wanted to be a pediatrician. When I was in elementary school I became obsessed with a book called Where There Is No Doctor, a very well-known healthcare manual originally written in the 1970s that was focused on ways to meet the basic healthcare needs of people of all ages living in under-resourced communities. I was most fascinated by the pediatric chapters and realized I wanted to work with children and their caregivers,” Kara recalls.
As an undergraduate student at Tulane University, Kara worked in a research lab where she studied the effects of hormones on learning and memory. She found herself riveted by the way hormones worked within all the systems of the body.
“I had never thought about combining my love of pediatric medicine with my interest in hormones and the endocrine system until I was doing my three-year pediatric residency and completed my four-week pediatric endocrinology rotation. I knew instantly that this was the right career path for me,” Kara said.
The field of pediatric endocrinology focuses on hormone systems within the growing body, meaning that, on any given day, Kara could encounter young patients with diabetes, growth conditions, thyroid problems, adrenal disorders, or rare hormone deficiencies. Currently staff at OHSU in Portland, she works both as a physician as well as the medical director of the Doernbecher Gender Clinic.
“One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the fact that every day is a little different,” Kara explains. “My job includes a combination of face to face clinical work with patients and their families, teaching medical students and residents, teaching pediatricians and other healthcare providers in the community about pediatric endocrinology, research, and advocacy.”
As the medical director of the Doernbecher Gender Clinic, Kara is working with the OHSU Transgender Health Program, which provides a variety of services including comprehensive patient and family centered care to transgender and gender diverse youth.
When she’s not in a facility engaging in face-to-face clinical time with her patients, she is tackling administrative and academic endeavors teaching as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics.
“As doctors, we are perpetual students. We are constantly learning new information and applying it to improve the care that we can provide to patients,” she explains. “I also see myself as a constant educator in my role as a physician and teacher – whether I am giving a lecture to a large group of physicians or students, working one on one with learners, or educating a patient and family about a hormone condition. Sharing these roles of student and educator is one of my favorite parts about being a physician.”
Kara also travels to other cities to provide care at “outreach clinics” for patients who live outside of the Portland metro area and may have additional barriers to receiving pediatric endocrinology care. It’s a very full career, but Kara still finds the time to advance her studies through education, research, and advocacy…as well as being the mother of two young children. “Seeking the right amount of work-life balance will always be a work in progress,” she explains.
Beyond growing their pediatric gender clinic within the Transgender Health Program, and continuing to contribute research and information exchanges at conferences, Kara would also like to investigate further treatment outlets for her patients, extending the care of transgender youth to include the greater communities that these young people are involved in. “I want to look at care holistically, for any patient, but especially our gender diverse youth and to start thinking about how we can use our influence to impact schools, faith communities, and parent support. We are already doing this in our dedicated gender clinic, but would love to expand this statewide,” she says.
For her compassionate and expansive approach to medicine and research, as well as her incredible ability to balance all of the demands as a working – and teaching – wife and mother, we think Kara Connelly is a very Cool Girl!
For more information on organizations Kara Connelly supports, check out: