Cardiology is the Family Business for Kelsey Mother-Daughter Duo

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The weekly Kelsey family meal—lunch at Duke Cardiology Arringdon Clinic—is a time to catch up for Duke cardiology fellow Michelle Kelsey, MD, and her cardiologist Mom, Anita Kelsey, MD, MBA, professor of medicine.

Michelle likes to bring the meal each Thursday when she’s working at the Morrisville, NC, clinic as part of her research fellowship at the Duke Clinical Research Institute where she is working toward a master’s degree in health science. It’s just one of the ways she makes it a point to show support and appreciation for Mom.

“She knows how much I love taking care of patients and she has respected all of the things that I was doing that take away from family time so, to her credit, Michelle made my life a lot easier,” Anita says. “A doctor cannot be successful if their family is not supportive.”

Growing up as the child of a physician, Michelle understands that traditional family time often has to take a back seat to duty. It’s just one of the lessons she learned from Mom.   


The Family Business

“When I started medical school, I wanted to do something different but I realized that cardiology was the most fun, and I saw how much enjoyment my mom had and how satisfying it was for her,” Michelle says. “That was part of what moved me into the profession.”

But the really cool thing, she adds, is they are the only mother-daughter legacy in cardiology to have gone through the same training program. “There are other mother-daughter academic cardiologists but they trained in separate places, and there are father-son legacies, but no mother-daughter that we know of,” says Anita.

Cardiology, the Kelseys are fond of saying, is the family business, 

Having a cardiologist mother as a role model helped shape Michelle’s perceptions about women in the workplace, she explains. So, being a female cardiologist was nothing really out of the ordinary because Anita made it look easy.

But while women are no longer a minority in medicine, they still very much need the support of others, Anita and Michelle note.

“Women need someone to set the norms for what women can do,” says Anita. “Even in leadership positions women aren't heard as well as men. We need to support each other when we’re in these settings because we haven't broken through the glass ceiling, despite what everybody says. We still have a long way to go, I think.”


Footsteps to Follow

Following in the footsteps of her engineer father and brothers, Anita Kelsey majored in biomedical engineering at Duke as an undergraduate.  She earned her medical degree at the University of Connecticut and did her residency there before returning to Duke as a cardiology fellow from 1995 to 1998.

Anita went back to Connecticut, where her clinical career focused on echocardiography, education, heart disease in women, and leadership. She served as associate chief of cardiology at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, where she began a women’s heart program that has reached 11,000 women with special focus on the highest-risk, underserved, inner-city women.

Anita again returned to Duke in 2019 as vice chief of noninvasive cardiac imaging and earned a master’s degree in business administration through Duke’s executive weekend program. She attributes her drive for excellence, in large part, to her own mother who returned to higher education later in life to earn an accounting degree and run the family engineering business.

“I certainly had a great role model,” Anita says. “Duke engineering was very sparse with women in the 80s, when I was an undergrad but it never bothered me. My mom always told me that whatever my brothers could do I could do better. I believed her, so that’s where I started.”

Like mother, like daughter, Michelle also attended Duke as an undergraduate. She majored in philosophy, then followed Anita to medical school at the University of Connecticut and did her residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Mass.

“My journey, watching my mom, reminds me that it's so important to have women in this field that other women can look up to,” Michelle says. “Role models are so helpful for women in medicine.”

As for Anita, she has found a new source of enjoyment from her profession—watching Michelle’s professional growth. “I enjoy taking care of patients but I've enormously enjoyed watching my daughter enter the field of cardiology and seeing what she can do as a woman,” she says. “If I were somebody else, I would be impressed by her integrity, her work ethic, and how well she practices in medicine, but being her mother I’m enormously proud.”