Every Wednesday, Lehigh Athletics, Lehigh Valley Health Network and Coordinated Health is proud to recognize a Mountain Hawk Hero - someone associated with Lehigh Athletics who is making a difference in the medical field. We continue today with women's soccer alum Natalie Krane '10.
Today, former Lehigh women's soccer student-athlete Natalie Krane '10 is in her fifth and final year of residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (commonly known as "Ear, Nose and Throat") at Oregon Health and Science University.
It's been a long, but unsurprising, road. From an early age, Krane wanted to be a doctor. An injury playing high school soccer led her down the path of facial reconstructive surgery.
"I suffered an injury to my face and was told to follow up with my ear, nose and throat doctor," said Krane. "I thought 'that's the guy who took out my tonsils. Why would he be able to fix my fractured facial bones?' But when I looked more into it, I realized an ear, nose and throat doctor takes care of everything above the collar bone, except for the brain and spine. I thought that was really cool."
At that moment, the seed for Krane's future career was planted.
"From there, I started shadowing head and neck surgeons and fell in love with their breadth of practice – the combination of medicine and surgery," she said.
"The rest fell into place."
As things fell into place over the ensuing years, Krane decided to attend Lehigh University as a Behavioral Neuroscience major and women's soccer student-athlete.
"I wanted to go east for college, which was greatly supported by my parents," she said. "I decided on Lehigh because of the combination of academics and athletics."
While at Lehigh, Krane uncovered a similarity in both her academics and athletics – the importance of people and relationships.
"The people in the biological sciences department made me feel welcome and I believe those close relationships really set me up for success in going to medical school," she said. "I'm sure they were a large part of my letters of recommendation, which helped me get into med school.
"I also believe being a student-athlete helped me learn time management skills and working as a team – skills that are very important in medicine."
Even though Lehigh didn't have a health college during Krane's time (it's currently being created), the foundation for her future success as a health care professional was still being set.
"I learned what it's like to truly work hard and put a greater goal before your own," she said. "There are very large similarities between being a student-athlete – especially at the Division I level – and going into something as strenuous and requiring such time dedication as medicine and surgery."
Last month, Krane shared valuable insight with some current women's soccer student-athletes, holding a Zoom session with those Mountain Hawks interested in medicine.
"Natalie's undergraduate path was similar to my path, as well as other student-athletes at Lehigh interested in the medical field," said rising senior Libby Andrews. "Having taken the same classes and learned from the same professors, Natalie's advice and guidance is relatable. She stressed the importance of how the Lehigh student-athlete experience gave her the skills necessary to be successful in medical school, and a career in medicine. After speaking with Natalie, I'm inspired and encouraged to keep working hard to achieve my goals, regardless of the challenges involved."
Any road that includes medical school is challenging – a point Krane shared with the current student-athletes – but it's also rewarding because she gets to do what she loves and has a passion for.
After taking a gap year following Lehigh, Krane attended Drexel University College of Medicine.
"I worked for a biotechnology company called Genentech in South San Francisco, then returned east," she said.
Krane graduated from Drexel medical school in 2015 before moving on to her five-year residency in Portland, Oregon.
"I have been training in every single subspecialty [of otolaryngology]," she said. "Residency features a graduated approach from your intern year to your chief year (where I am now). You're given graduated responsibilities in the care of patients. As you acquire more knowledge and experience, you're able to take care of more and more complex medical and surgical dilemmas."
As a resident, Krane has been training in everything from surgeries in the hospital to seeing patients in an outpatient clinical setting. When she moves onto fellowship this July, Krane will specialize in Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
"I think of residency as a funnel effect," said Krane. "When you go to fellowship, you're taking one subset of your broad range of training, really honing in on that and perfecting your skills within that subset.
"My fellowship will primarily focus on the reconstruction of facial defects due to trauma, cancer and congenital causes, along with cosmetic and aesthetic facial surgery."
Despite Krane's focus, she will eventually be double board certified in all areas she's been training in over these past five years of residency and her upcoming fellowship: Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
Something that has affected every area of medicine in some way is the coronavirus pandemic. Even though Krane hasn't knowingly operated on a COVID-19 patient, it has changed the way she and her colleagues go about their business.
"We're navigating this unprecedented time together," said Krane. "It's been a very large adjustment to how we've done residency education and how we prepare for operative patients. We're testing everybody before we take them to the operating room and using protective equipment to ensure that the patients and staff are safe. We stopped performing elective procedures at first in order to preserve personal protective equipment and hospital space.
"I am lucky in that although I am in the hospital during this time taking care of patients, my patients are not (knowingly) COVID positive patients," Krane continued. "I am very proud of my colleagues who are truly on the front lines within the emergency department and the ICUs."
Krane's area hasn't been affected too badly (223 COVID-19 cases as of May 26) compared to other areas in the nation, but don't be mistaken. It has been a challenge and Krane is in the middle of high-risk situations, especially if she were to operate on an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19.
"Head and neck surgeons are especially at risk [to contract COVID-19] given the types of procedures we do and the contagious nature of the virus being within the throat and nose," she said. "We perform scopes to assess and operate on the nasal cavities and sinuses, surgeries on the oral cavity and throat, and tracheotomies, which is a procedure to create a hole within the trachea to help the patient breathe through a tube in the neck. All of these procedures are deemed high risk for exposure to COVID-19.
"Worldwide, otolaryngologists are speaking to each other very frequently about what they're seeing in their respective countries and how they're trying to mitigate risk," Krane continued. "The communication worldwide has been very refreshing – how we're taking a team approach to ensuring that we're safe."
Yes, precautions are being taken, but with the types of procedures Krane is performing, it would be easy to be overcome by fear and not want to come into work every day.
That's not the case for Krane, who is passionate about what she does.
"A lot of doctors would say this, but the relationship with my patients keep me coming back," said Krane. "Within otolaryngology, we have a great opportunity for long-term care of our patients and their families. These are opportunities that not every surgeon gets because a lot of times, you can fix a problem then never have to see the patient again. But there are certain cases when, especially with head and neck cancer, you will frequently see these patients in clinic and follow-up and ensure that they're doing okay.
"The patients make it completely worth it."
In fact, something that recently happened affirmed that statement; Krane received masks made by a patient's wife.
"If that doesn't get me to wake up in the morning knowing what I do matters, I don't know what would," she said. "There's this implicit trust you're given by patients that you're going to do what's right for them and take care of them. That trust is special."
People are special to Krane, going back to her days at Lehigh and before. Krane even went on her first humanitarian surgical mission trip in January, traveling to a small town in Northern Peru.
"I went with a group called the Faces Foundation based here out of Portland," said Krane. "When I went with the group, you could tell they're just as part of the community as anybody else. It's really incredible. There are a lot of humanitarian groups or surgical mission trips, but this one's really special because it's not just cleft lip and palate surgery; the trip also includes speech language pathologists, nutrition education and an experienced nursing staff."
Krane knows the importance of intangibles from her experience on Lehigh's soccer team. She also has strong intangibles in her role on a patient's medical care team. Attributes such as self-awareness, and a strong desire for learning and growing, will continue to make Krane successful as she advances in her career.
"You can never get complacent," she said. "There's always something for you to learn. You don't know everything and will never know everything. There's new literature being published every day. Lifelong learning is another thing that keeps me going."
Alongside Krane are her colleagues, another passion that keeps her excited to tackle each and every challenge.
"I've grown up with these people and been with them for five years," she said. "They've watched me develop into the surgeon I am today.
"I want to learn from them and make them proud."
Krane is making not only her colleagues proud, but also her entire Lehigh family.