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Former KU neurology resident and fellow publishes book on getting ahead by looking back

Kimberly Johnson Hatchett, M.D., uses examples from her life to help others live their best lives

Portrait of Kimberly Johnson Hatchett, M.D.
Kimberly Hatchett was a sales representative with a degree in business when she realized she wanted to be a physician and decided to go to medical school.

Kimberly Johnson Hatchett, M.D., former neurology resident and fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center, clearly envisioned becoming a physician long before she rose to her current position as service chief of medicine at the Kansas City Veteran’s Administration Medical Center.

The path to turning that vision into reality was far from straight, but Hatchett firmly believes every steep incline, tricky hairpin curve, bone-rattling pothole and frustrating detour has led her to exactly where she’s supposed to be. To encourage others to look back to get ahead, she wrote a book about her experiences.

Hatchett’s book, “Retrospective Calling: Looking Back to Create Your Path Forward,” was published on her birthday, Dec. 6, in 2021. 

Getting ahead by looking back

In the book, Hatchett uses great and not-so-great examples from her past to illustrate how to turn lessons from mistakes and accomplishments into fuel for a fulfilling future. She also includes thought-provoking questions and other tools to help readers along their journey.

Colorful book cover with the words "Retrospective Calling: Looking Back to Create Your Path Forward" Kimberly Johnson Hatchett, MD“It was crystal clear in my mind that I was supposed to be a physician, but I didn’t know how, as a business major with a finance degree and no science background, that was going to happen. I know God put me in a position to become a neurologist and then put me through some experiences that weren’t so great to serve as an example of someone with a vision who didn’t give up,” she said. “If you’ve been given a vision, don’t give up. That’s what I want to let people know.” 

Feedback on the book has been positive, Hatchett said.

Interestingly, writing and publishing a book was another clear vision for Hatchett. Her father was the first to plant the idea when he read her medical school entrance essays in 2006. Her husband added a nudge a few years later with the purchase of a laptop and journal. The pandemic, along with meeting by chance a writing coach at a wedding, were the final pushes Hatchett needed to put pen to paper.

“I’d been writing off and on, and then the pandemic happened, and I was seeing people dying. Everybody knows death is all our fates, but I didn’t want to have to answer for not doing what I was supposed to be doing,” she said. “And I’d always wanted to be a writer.”

A winding journey

Hatchett started out as a chemical engineering major at the University of Missouri-Columbia. When she discovered that what she really liked was math, she redirected her focus to earn an undergraduate degree in business with an emphasis in finance and banking. After a successful stint in elevator-maintenance sales, she transitioned into pharmaceutical sales, where she had to learn detailed information about the drugs she was selling and the diseases the drugs treated.

That experience helped her realize just how well she understood the pathways and pathophysiology of the diseases and the pharmacology of why the drugs worked. In fact, one physician on her call list was so impressed with her knowledge that he encouraged her to go to medical school.

When Hatchett’s first marriage ended in divorce, another realization struck: she didn’t have anyone to answer to but herself and God. Around the same time, she reconnected with a friend who was in medical school and who encouraged her to make the leap.

“Now that I look back on it, a lot of things had to happen for me to be where I am right now,” she said.

Living out the vision

Hatchett earned her medical degree at Saint Louis University and initially thought she wanted to become a general surgeon. But an honest conversation with a female vascular surgeon about the difficulties of balancing work and home obligations caused Hatchett to take a closer look at other specialties.

“This surgeon said if I found something I loved more than being a surgeon, then don’t pursue surgery. But she said if I didn’t find anything I loved more, then I should become a surgeon and figure out how to balance my work and home responsibilities,” Hatchett said.

Then she did a core rotation in neurology and fell in love.

“It’s fascinating to me that when a person has a deficit or problem, you can find the pathways that lead you to the source of the problem,” she said. “You might not be able to do anything about the problem, but I think there are so many research studies and so much we don’t know yet that’s going to help people get better.”

After completing her residency in neurology at KU Medical Center, Hatchett stayed to complete a fellowship in neurophysiology.

On the rise

Hatchett began as a staff physician at the Kansas City VA Medical Center and then became interim section chief of neurology when her predecessor resigned. Shortly thereafter, she was appointed as interim service chief of medicine, and she was officially named to the position in 2019. In that role, she oversees multiple departments including neurology and a dozen others. To manage the administrative demands, she sees fewer patients, most of whom have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. In May, she accepted the role of the interim deputy chief of staff for the Kansas City VA Medical Center, while continuing to see patients in the neurology clinics.

Hatchett encourages others looking to follow in her footsteps to be clear about what they’re supposed to be doing in life and to figure out a plan and execute it, while being sure to give themselves lots of grace along the way because no one is perfect.  

“I’ve been open to the possibilities and doing what I needed to do to make it happen,” she said. “If I can do this, anyone can.”

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