As Akron Children’s newest pediatric hematologist-oncologist, Nicole Kendel, MD, admits many days could be labeled a bad day in her field. But while there are extremely difficult days indeed, she chooses to think differently and finds inspiration in her patients’ strength and perseverance. That’s what allows her to reframe her mindset and better position herself to tackle the day’s challenges.
In her new role at Akron Children’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, Dr. Kendel diagnoses and treats children and teens with cancer and blood disorders, with a special interest in the latter. Her goal is to develop long-term, trusting relationships with every patient and family, so they can work together to help kids feel better and live the life they want to live, despite being sick.
As a toddler, Dr. Kendel’s older sister was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and she tagged along to most of her appointments. It was this experience that sparked Dr. Kendel’s fascination with the human body and her desire to help other patients in similar situations turn their “bad” days into “good or hopeful” ones.
Why did you choose to come to Akron Children’s Hospital?
My cousin had a stroke when she was 15 months old, leading to a prolonged hospital stay here at Akron Children’s. The treatment that she received saved her life and required extensive collaboration between different subspecialties. After seeing her care play out, I wanted to be a part of this team. A bonus is that I grew up in the area and my extended family still lives close by.
Describe your role at Akron Children’s and what you hope to accomplish.
I am a pediatric hematologist and oncologist with a special interest in bleeding disorders. I hope to develop long-term, trusting relationships with my patients and their families so we can work together to allow them to live the life they want to live, despite the presence of a blood disorder.
What is your area of expertise and why did you choose it?
I have always enjoyed solving puzzles and playing detective. The world of hematology allows me to pretend I’m a sleuth every day. Patients come in with a few symptoms or lab abnormalities and it’s my job to get to the bottom of their story.
Do you have a favorite instructor or mentor?
Sarah O’Brien at Nationwide Children’s Hospital where I trained has been my all-time favorite mentor. On top of being a master clinician and clinical researcher, she’s also a mom to 4 children. A perfect example of a woman that can do it all, but without an ounce of the ego she should have. I don’t think my career would be what it is without her.
When did you decide to become a provider and why?
My older sister was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a toddler and I went with her to most of her appointments. These visits sparked my fascination with the human body and my desire to help others like her doctors had helped her.
What impression do you hope to leave with your patients each day?
I want my patients and families to feel as if we are a team, working together to tackle whatever issues they are experiencing.
What unique or different skills do you have that help you practice medicine?
I try to see everything through my mom’s eyes. She was a prime example of the parent with a million worries, who often didn’t wait for the doctor’s response before asking another question. Thinking about how she would react or feel on the other end of a discussion allows me to approach the conversation with a 360-degree view of any potential worry or concern.
What would you most like to change about health care today?
I would love to change the idea that insurance companies should get to decide which treatments, imaging or medications my patients should receive.
Who makes up your family, including pets and their names?
My husband, Dave, is a physician in sleep medicine here at Akron Children’s. We have 2 daughters: a 3-year-old named Lucille (we call her Lucy) and a 1-year-old named Eleanor. We also have a 7-year-old Newfoundland named Darla and a 2-year-old Bengal cat named Lilo Ravioli (lovingly named by our daughter, Lucy).
What’s your favorite quote?
“Was it really a bad day, or was it a bad 5 minutes that you let ruin your day?” Thinking of this quote, particularly during what I’ve labeled a “bad day,” reframes my mindset, and puts me in a better mental spot.
What is your favorite vacation spot and why?
My extended family has been going to Hilton Head in South Carolina every summer for the last 18 years. While the beach is beautiful, the family time is what I enjoy the most. We make pizza and meatballs together, and we typically play card games every night. This ritual has been something I look forward to every year and now my daughters do the same.
What’s the hardest lesson you had to learn?
I’ve learned life is much too short to worry about the small things. Unfortunately, I learned this through my cousin’s recent passing from a brain tumor. Despite knowing that the tumor would eventually take his life and suffering through a number of health events over the last 5 years, he never complained and always tried to find the silver lining. Since his death, I’ve been trying to embody his positivity and frequently evaluate whether issues are worth fretting over.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Brush my teeth! I can’t focus on anything without having fresh breath.