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