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Pulling Back the Curtain: Rebecca Kruse-Jarres, MD, MPH

December 21, 2021

January 2022

In this edition, Rebecca Kruse-Jarres, MD, MPH, describes her childhood in Germany, her artistic bent, and her passion for patient care.

Leah Lawrence

Leah Lawrence is a freelance health writer and editor based in Delaware.

Rebecca Kruse-Jarres, MD, MPHRebecca Kruse-Jarres, MD, MPH
Executive director and medical director at the Washington Institute for Coagulation/Washington Center for Bleeding Disorders
Professor of medicine and adjunct professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington, Seattle

Tell us about your upbringing and your family

I was born and raised in Germany under the loving care of my mother, who had gone to law school, and my father, who worked as a clinical pathologist. I have two younger sisters who I am very close to. I moved to the U.S. when I was 20 years old, but my parents remain in ­Germany, one of my sisters lives in Switzerland, and the other in Austria. All good reasons why travel takes me back to Europe frequently.

Where did you go to school and what were you interested in when you were younger?

I finished high school in Stuttgart, Germany, but will admit that I did not really care for school. I was good at math and loved all things art. While I did not exactly excel in Latin and ancient Greek, I developed a strong interest in photography and graphic design, ran the school newspaper, and was interested in theater.

My first job after high school was in the public relations and graphic design department at Mercedes-Benz. I was in the process of applying to study graphic design or photography, but my father felt that art was not a good way to make a living.

He took it upon himself to submit an application for me to the nursing school that was part of the hospital where he was the first medical director. I was really quite angry about it at the time and, needless to say, I didn’t do so well during the interview process because it was not really what I wanted to do! While the nursing school did not offer me a position, they felt obliged to offer me a one-month volunteer position as a nursing assistant to test the waters.

I am an inherently curious person, and while I had no inclination to go to nursing school, I took the volunteer position. Well, wouldn’t you know, the first day I entered the wards and came into contact with patients, bells went off. It became clear that nursing was my calling. While I was waiting to get into nursing school, I took an au pair job in California for the summer. While there, I figured “Why not go to nursing school?” I applied to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and was accepted, completed nursing school, and worked as a nurse for four-and-a-half years.

Dr. Rebecca Kruse-Jarres with her camera
Dr. Kruse-Jarres with her camera.

How did you go from being a nurse to a doctor?

After obtaining my associate degree in nursing, I knew I wanted to go on with school (which I had now taken a shine to). I was signed up for a chemistry class over the summer with a busy schedule, working the night shift from 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., and then taking chemistry and chemistry lab from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., going home to sleep, and starting it all over the next day. I decided that if I got an A in the class, I would change my major to pre-med.

How did working as a nurse shape your eventual career as a doctor?

I really loved being a nurse. I loved the closeness to the patients. I think I never lost that. As a physician we all too often get lost in studies, treatment algorithms, and medical charts. I hope being a nurse has taught me that our patients are real people with real fears.

How did you become interested in hematology?

I was interested in hematology even before I went to medical school. While on assignment as a traveling nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, I was working on the bone marrow transplant unit. My time there sparked my interest in hematology. We had a hematology fellow on the unit who had an infectious passion for coagulation medicine. I loved the detective work that seemed to go into it, and that has remained an interest of mine ever since. When I entered medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, it was clear that I wanted to end up in hematology.

Dr. Rebecca Kruse-Jarres at Saddleback College
Dr. Kruse-Jarres outside of Saddleback College.

What is your practice like? Can you describe a few days of your work week?

I am the executive director and medical director of the Washington Center for Bleeding Disorders, which is an independent, nonprofit organization and a federally funded hemophilia treatment center. We take care of people with inherited bleeding disorders across the state of Washington and some neighboring states. I am also a faculty member at the University of Washington.

My day-to-day is a good mix of administration, clinical care, scholarly activity, and research. I have two weekly half-day clinics for people with bleeding disorders at our adult center and see pediatric patients at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma once a month. I also run monthly outreach clinics throughout the state of Washington to make sure we are delivering care to people who would have a hard time coming to see us in Seattle. Beyond that, I teach at the university and have several clinical research studies addressing needs for people with bleeding disorders.

What is the current focus of your career? What drives you?

I am driven and excited most by the well-being of my patients and my team. That is what gets me up in the morning. I am always trying to think about the next step. “What are better ways to diagnose our patients and to make their lives easier?” While the care of people with hemophilia has been revolutionized over the last 10 years, I don’t want to leave people behind who do not have good treatment options.

Dr. Kruse-Jarres hiking Mount Storm King near Port Angeles, Washington
Dr. Kruse-Jarres hiking Mount Storm King
near Port Angeles, Washington.

What is your biggest professional accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishment so far is the expansion of comprehensive care of our hemophilia treatment center. Since I came to Seattle seven years ago, the center has grown substantially and spread into more underserved areas of the state. I am very proud of that growth.

I have also been involved in two big clinical trials that have brought two important drugs to market: the first is recombinant porcine factor VIII and the second, emicizumab, is a bispecific antibody that mimics the function of factor VIII. Those two drugs have greatly improved treatment options for people with hemophilia and acquired hemophilia.

Is there any specific individual who helped shape your career?

Without a doubt, Cindy Leissinger, MD, who is the director of the Louisiana Center for Bleeding and Clotting Disorders. She is in many ways my academic mother. She is largely responsible for my success and my academic career. Cindy has been an incredibly thoughtful, generous, protective, and collegial mentor and friend in my life. She has given me so many opportunities that have made my career possible. I would never be able to thank her enough!

What is the best advice that Dr. Leissinger has given you?

I don’t think that there was one best piece of advice. She was just always there for me and included me in what she was doing. At the time of my fellowship, she belonged to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Transfusion Medicine and Hemostasis clinical trials network. Early on, she started taking me to their meetings and had me involved in every call. I learned so much and it gave me exposure to some people who became quite important in my later career.

Dr. Kruse-Jarres sailing in Puget Sound in summer 2021.
Dr. Kruse-Jarres sailing in Puget Sound in summer 2021.

Outside of medicine, what do you like to do for fun?

Lots of things! I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2014 and absolutely love it and everything you can do here: hiking, skiing, or camping. I also took up sailing this summer. I equally enjoy playing a board game or sharing a good bottle of wine with friends. I have never let go of my love for the arts, whether this is opera, a music festival, a good (or even a bad) museum, or Burning Man. In general, I just love anything that involves people thinking outside the box.

Have you kept up with graphic design or photography?

Not as much as I would have liked to, but that gives me something to look forward to in retirement! There are some day-to-day things at the Center I enjoy because they take me back to being creative, whether this is designing the website, brochures, or our recent building out of our new space.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

Sometimes I maintain it with difficulty. I am very passionate about my work and about my life outside of work. Often those two things blend. I try to make sure I take some time to go off the grid – traveling to see family in Europe, enjoying the beautiful nature of the Pacific Northwest, and spending time with my wonderful husband.

Dr. Kruse-Jarres hiking in Appenzell,
Switzerland, with her husband, Bruno.

How has the recent COVID-19 pandemic changed you personally or professionally?

Personally, I have been really happy to not get distracted with too much travel and focus on being here. It has highlighted how important human interactions are and how much I enjoy the company of my husband.

It has also been really nice to be more available at the Center and to see how much care we can deliver virtually.

What do you see as your professional future?

I am integrally involved as the principal investigator with setting up an investigator-initiated, national, multicenter clinical trial in acquired hemophilia. It seems like a mammoth of an undertaking, and it is pretty consuming. I will be proud to see this through over the next three to four years. Otherwise, I am at a stage in my career where I would like to focus more on giving back and mentoring the next generation that will take care of us.

What would you say to that generation?

Whatever you do, try to find something you love. I would tell them that academic medicine is one of the most wonderful and rewarding areas you can be involved in. Working in academia allows you a lot of leeway for shaping of your own career and make a difference through teaching and research.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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