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Connections with patients inspire faculty member to improve care

Carrie Terrell, M.D., considers herself a bit of a late bloomer. The director of the department’s Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology and new chief-of-staff-elect for the entire University of Minnesota Medical Center medical staff, Terrell also was one of the department’s nine faculty members named a “Top Doc” by Mpls. St.Paul Magazine in January.

Carrie Terrell, M.D.

She doesn’t take any of it for granted. “[The ‘Top Docs’ designation] is a bit of a popularity contest. But still, I feel honored. I certainly never won any popularity contests in high school! I was a total geek,” Terrell laughs. ” I blossomed in my late 30s.”

The University of Minnesota, she believes, is the ideal place to do that—because of the patients, residents, students, and “wonderful, smart colleagues” with whom Terrell works.

“We have a large indigent patient population. And we have a large referral population, patients with complex medical and surgical issues,” Terrell says. “Those two things combined make for a challenging, interesting practice.”

“And [I enjoy] teaching, having the chance to help shape how residents and students interact with patients,” she adds.

Most of Terrell’s time—roughly 40 hours a week—is spent in clinical practice, her favorite aspect of work. “I love the one-on-one with the patient,” she says. “I just feel a connection with patients. I feel like I can create a safe, open place for them.

“The work that we do is so intimate: It’s physically intimate, it’s emotionally intimate. I feel honored and privileged to be allowed to hold that space with people.”

Terrell estimates that she spends about 10 hours a week on hospital administrative duties. She’s happy to do it, seeing a direct connection between that role and the continued improvement of patient outcomes.

“I think the work that our group is doing is becoming more applicable to patient care,” she says. “It feels like we’re constantly making this a better place for patients to be cared for.”

Terrell spends another four or five hours each week teaching and doing research. If that sounds like a grueling schedule—she rises at 4:45 a.m. every day—Terrell doesn’t view it that way. A key part of her stress management strategy is exercise, she says.

“I had a little health scare a few years ago, and since then I have had a trainer. I started running … very slowly, but I run,” Terrell says. “And I’m doing kickboxing. It helps my physical health, and it really improves my mental health.”

Terrell, who lives in Minneapolis with her partner and their two Jack Russell terriers, spends her scant downtime reading fiction and watching “action flicks and really bad TV.” She got a sewing machine as a 10th anniversary gift and is teaching herself to use it.

“I made curtains for our dining room. Flat things; I can sew flat things,” Terrell laughs.

But give her time—she’s just getting started.

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