Alumni Portrait: Krystal Tomei, M.D. ’06
By Tyler Francischine
Even though women make up nearly half of all medical school graduates, only one in 20 board-certified neurosurgeons is a woman.
UF College of Medicine graduate Krystal Tomei, M.D. ’06, is a proud member of that minority. As a pediatric neurosurgeon at Cleveland’s University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, she develops relationships with both the young patients she operates on and her peers in the field.
“Neurosurgery is still one of those fields with a lower percentage of women practicing,” she says. “It’s been an interesting journey so far. You meet other women who are leaders in the field, and you end up with mentorships. It’s given me opportunities and avenues to leadership that are unique in the early stages of my career.”
Though much progress has been made, she believes there is still work to be done.
“As we see the number of women entering medical professions rise, we see a proportionate rise in women in leadership positions,” she says. “It has been great to see that diversity improve.”
Tomei’s job as the Reinberger endowed director in pediatric neurological surgery means she splits her time among the operating room, the clinic and her office, working to treat disorders of the nervous system that affect the brain, spine and peripheral nerves. Many of her patients stay with her over several years.
“I see these kids grow and develop,” she says. “I almost become an accessory member of their family. I don’t think that feeling can be replaced.”
She says the hardest part of her job is facing loss.
“I would love to be able to cure every child I come across, but the fact is, some have diseases we can’t cure yet,” she says. “The worst feeling is realizing I have nothing left I can do and coming to terms with that myself, as well as with the family.”
Tomei, who was born in Omaha, Nebraska, but traveled across the country often as the daughter of an Air Force officer, discovered her passion for neurosurgery at a young age after her cousin was involved in a car accident resulting in a traumatic brain injury. She says she is drawn to the myriad possibilities in studying the brain.
After Tomei graduated from the UF College of Medicine in 2006, she completed a neurosurgery residency at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now Rutgers University) and a fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery at The Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Her many awards and achievements include the 2012 Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award and the 2013 New Jersey Medical School Golden Apple Specialty Resident Teaching Award. She is an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine in Cleveland and serves as the chair of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons’ Young Neurosurgeons Committee.
She remembers her days at the UF College of Medicine as being part of a melting pot of students diverse in their backgrounds, experiences and passions.
“UF is great about bringing together so many walks of life that help you grow in what you love and who you are,” she says.
The best advice she received from her medical school days was to stay focused, and to keep loved ones close.
“Never forget what drew you to medicine in the first place. That’s always going to be what builds your passion,” she says. “And no matter how much you study, there’s always going to be something more to learn or do. Take the time to do what you love and spend time with your loved ones. Ultimately that’s what will be your fallback when things get tough.”