Practice Profile: Staying true to her calling

September 2019 – Vol. 38, No. 8

On day one I was hooked. I immediately saw otolaryngology as a career that changed the way patients experience the world and the way the world sees them. This seemed like such an intimate field of medicine that I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” said Dana L. Crosby, MD, MPH.

Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine is the practice home of Dr. Crosby, who just earned her Master of Public Health with an emphasis in epidemiology. She was recently promoted to Associate Professor as of July 1 and has been Residency Program Director for the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery since 2017. In addition, she is Director of Rhinology and Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery and Director of Otolaryngic Allergy.

As Dr. Crosby speaks about her journey, she takes special note of those supportive and skeptical influencers. “I attribute any success I have achieved in my life to two groups of people—those like my family who supported every crazy dream or idea I ever had as well as those who told me I wouldn’t, shouldn’t, or couldn’t accomplish my goal. I believe that it is important to have both types of people in your life to support you and to challenge you. Support is necessary for times when you doubt yourself, and challenges are required to ensure that you never again make the mistake of doubting yourself.”

“I attribute any success I have achieved in my life to two groups of people— those like my family who supported every crazy dream or idea I ever had as well as those who told me I wouldn’t, shouldn’t, or couldn’t accomplish my goal.”

Dr. Crosby was raised in Reynoldsville, PA, a small rural town in the western part of the state. She is an only child of parents who demonstrated a work ethic that “served as a guiding light” throughout her career. Growing up in a small town, Dr. Crosby worked at a water and sewage treatment plant with her dad and spent summers during college working at a glass bottle manufacturing plant. “Based on my parents’ example, I was very dedicated to education from a very early age, but these work experiences also taught me a great deal that I carry with me to this day.”

As a first-generation college student, Dr. Crosby attended a small liberal arts school, Allegheny College. She then attended Drexel University College of Medicine, where, during her first year, she stated she would never choose otolaryngology.

“In retrospect, this was a clear moment of foreshadowing that this was obviously the career for me. During my third year of medical school, I continued to hear that the otolaryngologists were excellent surgeons with great personalities and a meticulous nature.” This was all she needed to explore this as an option during the last rotation of her third year.

Dr. Crosby did her residency in otolaryngology at SIU. As a resident she was drawn to a career in rhinology and endoscopic skull base surgery and earned a fellowship position at the University of Pennsylvania. When she was interviewing for fellowship at Penn, she was asked to describe why she thought she belonged there. Her answer, “I don’t belong here,” elicited laughter. Then she explained, “I did not think anything was given but instead had to be earned, and if the opportunity arose, I would work my hardest to become somebody who belonged.”

Dr. Crosby describes her fellowship as a true turning point in her career, where she was surrounded by amazing mentors whose support and mentorship pushed her to pursue opportunities that she would never have considered before.

She chose to return to Southern Illinois University because of the “strong focus on community, which makes the large academic institution feel far more personal.” Many of the patients Dr. Crosby sees come from rural farming communities and have decreased access to care. “I like the idea of providing care to those who have difficulty accessing it. I feel that a lot of the patients I see are similar to the friends and family I grew up with in rural western Pennsylvania.”

In addition to her leadership roles at SIU, Dr. Crosby has a practice in rhinology and endoscopic skull base surgery, which she started in 2014.

Every time Dr. Crosby sees a patient, she asks herself two questions:

  • What would I want for this patient if this was one of my family members?
  • If my patient interaction or treatment plan was printed on the front page of the newspaper, would I be proud of what I saw?

“I think as physicians, there are so many pressures that take away time, energy, and emotional capacity. It is so important that we continue to check ourselves frequently to ensure that we are staying true to the reason we all wanted to be physicians in the first place: to help people,” said Dr. Crosby.

Serving as the Residency Program Director since 2017 is an important role for Dr. Crosby. “One of the most rewarding aspects of my career is the ability to teach. I also believe that I learn so much more by having residents working with me in clinic and the operating room. It is a very mutually beneficial relationship, and I can’t imagine a career without it.”

In describing her pursuit of her MPH, Dr. Crosby noted the unique position of physicians to be able to make an impact at both the individual and total population level. “I felt that having a strong background in research techniques would help strengthen my ability to make this type of impact, not only considering the one patient in the exam chair, but also the population as a whole.”

This research is invaluable to Dr. Crosby’s practice and core vision for patient care in general. “One thing that research teaches us is the more we know, the more we realize we know very little. We are barely scratching the surface of understanding these diseases that impact the quality of life of our patients. There is so much more to learn for our patients, the specialty, and medicine in general. This is one of the many things that makes rhinology such a fantastic career.”

To further support the field of peer-reviewed research, Dr. Crosby is fully involved with the AAO-HNSF journal, Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. She was recently asked to join the Editorial Board and has been a mentor in the Resident Reviewer Development Program.

Dr. Crosby, who is a member of the International Volunteer Faculty for the Academy’s Global Affairs Program, also finds time to dedicate toward the global otolaryngology community. “This is something that I did not expect to have the opportunity to do but have found the relationships that I have established to be so valuable. I have definitely learned far more than I taught in these experiences,” she said.

In addition to supporting the AAO-HNSF journals and international program, Dr. Crosby also stays involved with and connected to the Academy for the education opportunities and online materials, standardized resident curriculum, clinical practice guidelines, and advocacy efforts. “I think the Academy does a fantastic job advocating for what is best for otolaryngologists. I would like to see continued advocacy focusing on delivering high quality care to underserved populations,” she said.

In looking to what lies ahead for the specialty, Dr. Crosby shares her thoughts on both the challenges and opportunities of achieving equal representation and diversity in otolaryngology. “I believe that otolaryngology has done well with this, but we can always do better. The challenge is to continue to strive for perfection in this arena. The opportunities are limitless. Equality and diversity bring varying viewpoints that can only help to enhance and strengthen our position. Patients that we see in this country are very diverse, and I think that having diverse providers is necessary for best patient care.”

In achieving this and so much more, Dr. Crosby focuses on her interactions with international otolaryngologists that open doors for collaboration on all levels. “With the technology that exists today, the world is very small. We should continue to bring together diverse experiences and ideas in order to push our field forward in treating patients around the globe and at home.”