Dr. Erin Stevens, a gynecologic oncologist and department chair at Billings Clinic, is an accomplished surgeon who oversees a growing practice that treats patients from throughout Montana and sees patients in parts of Wyoming and North Dakota.
But each year Stevens gets her chance to really throw some weight around. During college, Stevens was a Division III national qualifier in track. She threw the shot put, the 20-pound weight and the hammer while attending Ithaca College in New York. Her school records endured until just a few years ago.
“I still throw the shot in the Big Sky State Games,” said Stevens, who has also completed several Ironman half triathlons and received her black belt in karate at age 12.
Stevens is one of roughly 1,000 gynecology oncologists who practice in the United States. She said working at Billings Clinic has given her the opportunity to do many more cases than she would have been able to do in another city.
“In three years we have done more cases than most people do in 10 years,” she said. “This has made me a better surgeon and doctor and we’re able to deliver this amazing health care in Montana.”
“When I initially started my residency training, I had no intention of being a gynecologic oncologist. I found very quickly that I loved the gynecologic oncology patients the most — I would often be found sitting with them and talking long after my shift had ended.
"I knew early on in my career that my personality fit that of a gynecologic oncologist. I’m decisive, Type A, and absolutely love surgery — but it was the patients that truly brought me into the field.
"I finally decided to go for it after I asked my mentor during my third year of residency if he thought I could be a gynecologic oncologist. He told me yes, so I told him I would apply. When he asked me why it was that easy to convince me, I told him that he didn’t lie to his patients; he looked them in the eye and told them when they were dying.
"I knew he could have told me I couldn’t do it and then not treat me any differently the next day. And I’m so glad he thought I could do it because I simply cannot imagine doing anything else.”
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job? Delivering news to my patients and their families that they aren’t expecting. My patients know me to be blunt and candid and they come to expect and appreciate that from me. I love the relationships I create with my patients and their families, and because of this, delivering bad news sucks. And unfortunately, because I deal with cancer, I am faced with delivering bad news fairly regularly. I always try to care for my patients as I would want to be cared for, and I would want someone to be candid with me in that situation.
What’s the best business advice you have received? “Find something you love to do and then find someone dumb enough to pay you to do it.”
Who gave you that advice? My college track and field coach, Jim Nichols.
Here’s what I’d like to do to improve my community: The biggest impact I feel I can have in my community is to educate others — educate about their bodies, about cancer, about where we are in the field of medicine and where we hope to go. There’s so much misunderstanding and misinformation about cancer and healthcare and I want to do my part to dispel those things.
Outside of work, my biggest passion is: Travel. I love jumping on a plane to go somewhere for the weekend, ideally to catch a baseball game. My husband and I are trying to go to all of the major league baseball stadiums — we’re up to No. 12.
Which living person do you most admire? Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job? Success is building a team that is happy to go to work every day because we work with wonderful people. And I am so lucky to have an amazing team. (I’m interpreting profit and loss here as patient outcomes, because otherwise, success in my career is patients either being cured of their cancer or living well with cancer for as long as possible.)
What do you consider your greatest achievement? My education and career. And finding my happy place.
I’m happiest when I’m…out on a run. …hanging out with friends and family. …sitting on a beach with sand between my toes and listening to the waves. …in the operating room. I like to think I’m generally a happy person.