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Julie Highland

CU School of Medicine Class of 2018

(May 2018) A residency in otolaryngology lasts five years, Julie Highland says with a smile.

“I made a pact with delayed gratification years ago,” she explains.

Highland’s journey to a medical career started in elementary school when she fell in love with anatomy and science. In middle school, she traveled with members of her church to Uganda, Mexico and Nepal, where she helped build homes, and she realized that she wanted a job with a big impact on people. In high school, at a camp for people with special needs, she became certain that medicine would fulfill that need.

Undergraduate years moved quickly at University of Colorado Boulder because she graduated in three years. Why? “Because I could. And it saved tuition.” During those years she worked part time in a neuroscience lab and became a resident assistant in a dorm.

“I think I slept five hours a night.”

Did it prepare her for medical school? Yes, but “med school is harder,” though Highland didn’t discover that fact for another three years.

After graduation, Highland continued working in the lab where she’d spent the previous three years, and took a job as an aide to a woman with a brain injury. She learned basic Spanish during a six month visit to Guatemala, then she polished her language skills as a patient navigator at a Denver Health clinic.

“My two coworkers were native speakers, so I spent two years speaking Spanish every day. I got a foundation for Spanish in Guatemala but I really learned it at the clinic.”

Highland knew that speaking Spanish would be helpful with patients, but the scope broadened while at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. During her first year, she developed interpreter classes for other advanced Spanish speaker volunteers at the new DAWN Clinic.

Later she developed curriculum for an elective class teaching interpreter skills to first- and second-year medical students, students from other health care schools and colleges, and the community.

“It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have a new appreciation for my teachers. I learned how hard it is to create a curriculum and I know what it’s like to talk to a classroom of blank stares. But it’s really rewarding and makes me think I’ll go into academics.”

She discovered the field of otolaryngology when she signed up in second year for a career elective.

“I’d never heard of it,” Highland said. She spent time at Children’s Hospital Colorado working with patients with cleft lip and palates and “I loved everything about it. They do really cool stuff and help people improve the quality of their life. It’s surgery, but it feels like a happier field of surgery to me.”

By correcting facial deformities and helping people hear, swallow or speak, “we restore the things that make us human.”

She’ll perform her residency in Salt Lake City, where Highland, an avid skier, cyclist and hiker, for once won’t have to experience delayed gratification.

“I can be from my garage to the chairlift in 25 minutes.”