Julie Wei, MD, MMM, FAAP, is Akron Children’s new division director of Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) and the inaugural chair holder of the Dr. Alfred J. Magoline Endowed Chair in Otolaryngology. The endowed chair was made possible by a $1 million contribution from Dr. Magoline, who spent many years working with Akron Children’s while in private practice, eventually becoming head of otolaryngology and serving as medical staff president in 1970.
As the Dr. Alfred J. Magoline Endowed Chair in Otolaryngology, Dr. Wei will support the needs and priorities of operations, teaching/education, research, equipment, personnel, and patient programming, and help grow otolaryngology at Akron Children’s.
She most recently served as the division chief of Otolaryngology and Audiology at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Florida. She also served as the chair of Otolaryngology Education at the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine, where she was professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.
Why did you choose to come to Akron Children’s?
I became familiar with Akron Children’s through the hospital’s collegial relationship with Cincinnati Children’s. I am grateful for Dr. Choo (Daniel Choo, MD, director of the Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center) who made me aware of the division director opportunity here.
I am humbled to part of Akron Children’s, its rich history and people, including physicians and physician leaders who share the same passion and commitment to children. Many lives are impacted by the hospital’s large footprint in Ohio and its vast primary care network. Akron Children’s is also a leader in value-based care. I am inspired by the growth opportunities and to be part of a free-standing children’s hospital.
Describe your role at Akron Children’s and what you hope to accomplish.
Akron Children’s has transformed this community and continues to grow. As division director and the endowed chair in otolaryngology, I have the opportunity to serve and to lead – to grow the team, advance patient care and continue to expand Akron Children’s footprint for ENT services.
What are the biggest opportunities you see for elevating Akron Children’s ENT service line?
Our goal is to attract and increase the number of pediatric ENT surgeons, expand multidisciplinary programs for medically complex children and increase patient access.
In the very near future, we will expand in the Cleveland area by offering ENT services in Beachwood. There are also opportunities to enhance our telehealth strategy and partner with Akron Children’s Pediatrics to educate parents and alleviate confusion and misinformation. I’m a big advocate for promoting healthy diet and lifestyle changes to prevent common chronic ear, nose and throat problems in children, and avoid the overuse of prescription medications and unnecessary surgeries.
How does your personality fit your new role?
I immigrated from Taiwan with my parents, so I’ve always felt that I didn’t belong and had to work harder to prove myself. I’ve given everything to my profession, devoting my career to create a safe space where everyone, especially women and people of color, feel like they belong. It has to be the same for our patients ¬–being welcoming and making sure our patients feel like they belong as part of our core values.
My mom died from breast cancer when I was 9, which made me resilient and tenacious. I’m not afraid to do what is difficult and think outside the box.
What drew you to otolaryngology? Will you continue to see patients in your new role?
Initially I wanted to be a pediatric hematologist-oncologist because of my mom, my love of children and spending a summer shadowing an incredible pediatric hematology-oncology physician early in medical school. Exposure and support from great mentors can make all the difference. I first considered surgery during a 3rd-year rotation in pediatric surgery as a medical student. I chose otolaryngology as my first rotation as a 4th-year medical student, knowing it would make me a better pediatrician. That’s when I met Dr. Marie Brown-Wagner, a pediatric otolaryngologist and the first African-American woman to become board-certified in otolaryngology. She encouraged me to consider otolaryngology as a career, go to the Mayo Clinic for a rotation, and then apply to the Mayo Clinic, where I was accepted for a residency in otolaryngology and head and neck surgery.
Throughout my career, I have paid it forward through my efforts in education for medical students, residents and fellows, and sponsoring incredible young people to realize their dreams of becoming an otolaryngologist, pediatric otolaryngologist or whatever career path they choose.
I will continue to see patients and perform surgery, but it’s a great day for me when I can save a child from needing medication or surgery to get healthy.
What is your area of expertise within otolaryngology?
About 70% of primary care involves ENT conditions, so much of what we do is fairly routine. There are also complex conditions and airway procedures, and my two-year fellowship focused on airway reconstruction, complex airway problems and otology. Sinus surgery and pediatric rhinology became a big part of my practice in Florida, specifically due to high prevalence of a condition called allergic fungal sinusitis. However, my passion is taking a holistic approach and using evidence-based dietary modifications to prevent many routine conditions. For example, I’ve written about the connection between excessive milk/dairy and sugar consumption and acid reflux and nasal congestion. The biggest compliment I can receive is when someone says, “If Dr. Wei says you need surgery, you really need it.”
I’m also passionate about community engagement and making an impact on those who are underserved in otolaryngology.
What do you find to be most rewarding about it?
While patients will always be first and foremost, I’m passionate about growing people, by offering guidance, opening doors and helping them pursue their dreams. This includes everyone on my team, not just the physicians. You spend more time with your co-workers than you do with your family, so it’s important to build trust, make sure everyone is aligned with the mission, be a pillar for others and be vulnerable.
What’s the most memorable thing that has happened to you as a provider?
Being honored by Dr. Magoline as endowed chair was the greatest recognition. There are also many moments with patients. We plant seeds every day, but don’t always know the impact we are making. About 10 years ago, I had a patient with a peanut in his airway, which was a very risky surgery. I recently received a message on LinkedIn that he graduated from high school and he and his family were so grateful for the care he received. That meant a lot.
How do you deal with the emotional impact of being a provider?
One of the ways I cope is by writing. I have a book coming out in February 2024 about physician well-being. It’s titled, “Safeguarding Physician Wellbeing: Using Checklists for Personal, Professional, and Psychological Safety.” I personally hit rock bottom several times throughout my career, dealing with infertility, delayed pregnancy, second victim syndrome and even PTSD as a surgeon. I wrote this to help other physicians enjoy greater work-life balance and love this incredible profession they’ve sacrificed so much to achieve.
I love the outdoors and chasing sunrises and sunsets. Exercise and downtime with my family are also important. I was an avid tennis player, but two years ago had shoulder surgery. Cooking is another obsession of mine. I also love to read, but lately haven’t had the time.
Who makes up your family, including any pets and their names?
My husband David and I have a daughter, Claire, who is a senior in high school. Our beloved dog, Shiro, is a 12-year-old Samoyed.
Who had the greatest influence on you and why?
I’ve had many wonderful influences. My mother worked full-time and still prepared meals for our extended family of 10 that all lived together. She was elegant, graceful, quiet and loving. My father was a highly accomplished businessman who owned a diner when we immigrated. He showed me the most incredible work ethic and taught me that everything is possible. Dr. Marie Brown-Wagner was a wonderful mentor who helped me get to Mayo Clinic. My daughter gave me the gift of becoming a mother. She inspires me to make the world better for her. My husband is so incredibly supportive and makes it possible for me to do this work.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I have a dusty black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I competed in college and also taught children.
If it weren’t for a successful career in medicine, what other career path would you have chosen?
A lot of people tell me I should be a stand-up comedian. I have a good sense of humor, which I suspect is a coping mechanism.
Where are you from?
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and lived in Los Angeles.
What makes you get up in the morning?
I’m often awake in the dark in anticipation of what needs to be done. I’m inspired by the opportunity to make an impact – big or small. I want to bring all of me to my role – to be a light that affirms, heals, soothes and inspires.