General surgeon Dr. Kristen N. Williams said, "I fell in love with surgery and I never looked back." Raised in Paducah, Williams and husband John were ‘counting down the days’ to return home to raise their two children, Juliet and Reese, be closer to extended family, and start building a practice.
Becoming a surgeon and surrounding herself with loved ones was Williams' idea of perfection. As a person with many irons in the fire, Williams is extremely focused with the uncanny ability to compartmentalize daily activities. In fact, sister-in-law Ashley Williams Lambert said in a recent Facebook post how typical it was for Williams to keep everything together despite the chaos.
Having the best of both worlds sometimes comes with a price. Williams said, “ My husband John always reminds me that quality time is what’s important.” After leaving behind 80 hour work weeks as a resident, joining the Surgical Group of Paducah with more control over scheduling was a true blessing.
As a young girl, Williams was educated within the St. Mary School System. She attended the catholic school from preschool through 12th grade taking advantage of every opportunity. “One of the things I loved about St. Mary was being involved in a variety of extracurricular activities.”
Some of those activities included four years of varsity cheerleading, three years of varsity soccer, French Club, National Honors Society, class secretary, and choir. Though the schedule was busy, it never kept Williams from one of her most treasured pastimes. “Reading is and always has been my escape, my ‘me time’. Harry Potter is my all time favorite series and I try to reread it once a year,” she said.
After graduating in 2007, Williams attended the University of Louisville as a GEMS Scholar (Guaranteed Entrance to Medical School). After U of L Medical School, she matched with the residency program in Cincinnati, Ohio at TriHealth (Good Samaritan and Bethesda North hospitals).
The plan for Williams was to work with children. “I actually went to medical school wanting to be a pediatrician. The only thing I was sure of was I was NOT going to be a surgeon.” After clinical rotations her third year of medical school, Williams discovered she was NOT going into pediatrics.
In the Grey’s Anatomy episode “Hope for the Hopeless”, Meredith Grey is in a conundrum. She’s a fifth year intern and hasn’t declared a specialty. Williams had a leg up on Grey, she was only in her third year but it didn’t keep her from contemplating ‘what will I pursue?’
It was January, the weather was gloomy and dreary, and the surgical rotation was the one Williams was dreading the most. She said, “I just knew I would hate it. The long hours, frequent call shifts, high stakes operations, in a traditionally male-dominated world...” she continued, "after all, it was eight weeks of my life." However, after only two weeks, she came home and told John she wanted to be a surgeon. She ‘fell in love’ with surgery and never looked back.
As a general surgeon, Williams said she gets the best of both worlds. Surgeries are designed for both instant gratification and long-term rewards. In the short-term there’s appendectomies, gallbladder surgeries due to cholecystitis, and other procedures. In the long-term, special relationships are formed between patient and surgeon. She said you may follow breast cancer patients for years and the bonding that occurs is truly special.
Williams met her husband John in the fall of freshman year at the University of Louisville. Williams pledged a sorority and John a fraternity. At the time, her sorority ‘big sister’ was dating John’s fraternity brother. Soon, 'big sis' introduced Williams and John and they started 'hanging out'. Over Christmas break, both went home for the holidays, spent more time together, and returned to campus as a couple.
Interestingly, Williams said, “Funny story...my dad actually tried to introduce us before I left for college as he knew John’s grandfather (John Williams, Sr.) through CSI (Computer Services Incorporated). John, Sr. is the founder and chairman of CSI, a company in Paducah that provides integrated and streamlined technology solutions.
As expected, Williams turned down the offer to be introduced thinking it was ‘lame’ to be ‘set-up’ by your dad. In the end, once the two started spending time together, a relationship forged and they never looked back.
The two got engaged after graduating college in 2011. After a two year engagement, they were married in Paducah at Broadway United Methodist Church with a lovely reception to follow at The Carson Center. Both were still in school. Williams was in her second year of medical school and John was finishing his MBA.
After leaving TriHealth, Williams, John, and their two children moved back home. Now, the girls were born in Louisville. Williams gave birth to Juliet during her fourth year of medical school, six weeks before starting residency. “Juliet was 4 lbs. 12 oz. when we took her home.” said Williams. John stayed home with their infant daughter and the couple decided to complete their family while Williams was still in residency. Twenty months later, Reese was born.
The return to Paducah was a homecoming. It was the place where they wanted to raise their children and be close to extended family. Both Williams and John have an appreciation for the local arts, the public parks, the great school systems, and “all of it,” she said.
The girls started at St. Mary in August of this year. Juliet is in kindergarten and Reese is in three year old preschool. Since COVID-19, there have been plenty of interruptions with school activities. John has stayed home with the girls and will continue to do so through the pandemic. Balancing career and family “would’ve been so much harder without my husband John,” said Williams.
When it’s family time, there are activities like playing with the dogs, going to the park, arts and crafts and trips to the downtown farmers market in the summertime. The family also likes to cook and bake.
Recently, Williams signed up for a Sara Bradley cooking class. Bradley is a “Top Chef” runner-up and owner of the Freight House, a local Paducah restaurant. Williams said, “I loved Sara’s cooking class and I’m already signed up for another.” Once signed up for the virtual classes, participants receive their prep list of ingredients and a link to the Zoom meeting. During Williams’ first cooking class she said, ‘the girls barged in but were very helpful.” Plans are being made for a ‘Mommy and Me’ class.
A career goal of Williams’ is to build the robotic program at Baptist Health Paducah. Robotic surgery allows doctors to perform many types of complex procedures with more precision, flexibility and control than is possible with conventional techniques. Williams said, “I truly believe that every patient and every operation is different and a surgeon must choose the appropriate approach based on the needs of the patient and the situation.” Currently, Williams is performing robotic surgeries for colon resections, hernia repairs, gallbladder removals, and other procedures.
COVID-19 has played a big role in the way physicians, patients, and family members interact before, during, and after surgeries. There have been times during the pandemic that the hospital enacted a no visitors policy. From Williams perspective, “Family support is so important when a patient is dealing with a medical or surgical challenge,” she continued, “It’s very difficult when you cannot discuss the situation with family members in person and when that patient is alone in the hospital. It’s (the pandemic) truly changed our lives.”
Another side effect of COVID-19 is the anxiety and depression that goes along with the isolation and all the restrictions from the pandemic. The toll that it takes on patients and their family members is devastating. “I’ve also seen colleagues and friends lose relatives to COVID and it’s heartbreaking. They don't get the opportunity to say goodbye or to comfort their loved ones,” said Williams.
Because of these hopeless moments, Williams was more than ready to get the COVID vaccination and bring back Hope. “Hope that we don't lose more Americans to this deadly virus, hope that less people will suffer from long term complications of the virus, hope that my kids can hug their great grandparents, and hope that we can end this pandemic.” she said.
Post-COVID Williams has aspirations in the works. “I plan to take my family over to John’s grandparents’ house so we can all hug each other. We (myself, my husband, or my children) haven’t gotten to hug them since we moved home last June. Then, we’re going on a trip.” Recalling both she and John’s reason for returning back to Paducah, Williams said that even with COVID, “It’s been amazing to be near family and share a bubble.”