8 Questions with …. Dr. Sadie Elisseou

“8 Questions with …” is a new Gold Foundation series spotlighting members of the Gold community – doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals of all kinds, students, corporate and hospital leaders, patients, family members, Trustees, staff members, and supporters. We are delighted to introduce you to Sadie Elisseou, MD, a Gold Humanism Honor Society member who is a primary care physician in the Boston VA healthcare system, Clinical Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Adjunct Instructor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

Dr. Elisseou is a nationally recognized expert in the field of trauma-informed care, an organizational framework for supporting survivors of various forms of trauma. Her award-winning curriculum on “trauma-informed physical examination” is now being taught at medical schools and healthcare institutions across the country.

Dr. Elisseou also presented at a Gold Executive Session on Nov. 1 at the 2022 Planetree Conference, titled “Trauma-Informed Care as Person-Centered Care”, That presentation will be released as a Gold Human InSight Webinar in December 2022. Check back here for details or sign up for our newsletter to receive updates.

What drew you into healthcare?

Dr. Sadie Elisseou: My father is a primary care physician. He was my hero growing up, and I wanted to be just like him. That white coat he wore looked like a superhero cape to me. I would hear him answering phone calls when he was on call, speaking in a foreign language—“nephrolithiasis,” “metoprolol,” “CBC”. I wanted to speak that language.

What is one lesson you learned from a patient?

I work at the VA, and Veterans are very hardy folks. They continually teach me the value of a light-hearted attitude through life’s challenges. Some quotes that have stuck with me are:

Me: “Spiriva is a maintenance medication…”
Patient: “No. Budweiser is a maintenance medication.”

84-year-old patient: “I’m 19 years old with 65 years of experience.”

Tell us about how one of your mentors modeled humanistic healthcare.

One of my attendings in residency, Dr. David Podell, was the first person to model behavior that was specifically trauma-informed. I was shadowing him in his rheumatology clinic, and we entered a room to find a middle-aged woman who appeared far older than her stated age, with countless tattoos, missing teeth, and a half-sad, half-anxious look. Dr. Podell stood at her side, placed his hand warmly on her shoulder, and shared, “This is Ms. T. I’ve known her for a long time. She’s been through a lot in her life, and we’re very grateful to have her with us today.”

What’s one small way you bring humanism into your daily life?

At least in my clinical life, I try to bring humanism into every day by warmly greeting patients upon entering the exam room. I smile, make eye contact, and say “Welcome! Thank you for being here today. I appreciate your time. I’d love to hear how you’ve been!”

What’s one of your daily ways to care for your well-being?

Prayer has always been a core part of caring for my well-being. It’s great because it can be done silently, can be as short as several seconds, and can take place any time of day.

What’s one random medical fact you love?

Lipodermatosclerosis is an end-stage complication of venous insufficiency. As someone who is Greek, I appreciate its roots in the Greek language: lipo- (fat), dermato- (skin), -sclerosis (hardening). There’s also some pretty cool and complex pathophysiology there.

What is one of your favorite quotes?

I recently asked my grandmother, “What is one piece of advice you would give to me and your other grandkids, to have a happy life?” Her response was this: “When you give, you receive.”

That struck me because giving is really an expression of love, and I believe that love is the most powerful force in the universe.

What is your happy place?

Wherever I’m with my husband and children is definitely my happy place. In their presence, I feel that I am home.


Learn more about Dr. Elisseou at her website and connect with her on LinkedIn. If you have suggestions for someone we should spotlight in our “8 questions…” series, please email Irene Zampetoulas at izampetoulas@gold-foundation.org.