As a practicing surgeon who provides clinical education, Hessel works side by side with trainees as a clinical and surgical instructor and as director of the fellowship program for the Department of Head and Neck Surgery. “While medical students are simply learning how to engage with patients, residents must be given the freedom to challenge their decision-making and problem-solving,” she says. “This critical time for resident independence is difficult in today’s busy clinical practice but necessary for the progression of clinicians and surgeons into medical practice.”
Having supervised and mentored about 200 clinical residents and fellows and 15 medical students during her career, Hessel believes that observation is key. “It is the confident and patient surgeon educator who stands by with a careful monitoring eye and allows the trainee to work through a surgical case,” she says. “I believe that we hold a responsibility to pass on our vast experience and knowledge not only by demonstrating good clinical care, but also by teaching trainees how to develop their own style and version of good clinical care for our patients every day.”
In describing her philosophy of education, Hessel emphasizes differentiation and hands-on learning. “As a longtime champion of clinical and surgical education, I have learned the importance of being able to quickly figure out the learning styles and skill levels of those whom you are teaching,” she says. “Surgeons spend most of their time educating while delivering clinical care. In order to teach, we need to take the time to get the trainees involved, no matter what level of education they are presenting with.”
To further our mission area of education, Hessel has served on committees for quality improvement, clinical effectiveness, patient safety and continuity of care. She has served as a principal investigator or collaborator on more than 40 clinical trials, and she has published two dozen peer-reviewed research articles and three book chapters. In addition, she serves as a reviewer at three medical journals.
Hessel joined the MD Anderson faculty in 2005 and has served in her current position since 2016. From 2000 to 2005, she held an appointment as an assistant professor and surgeon at UT Medical School in Houston while contracting with MD Anderson as a clinical assistant professor and surgeon. At the medical school, she served as director of medical student education in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. She served as otolaryngology section chief and on the operating room committee at Christus St. Joseph Hospital in 2001-2003.
Hessel received a bachelor of science in engineering sciences at the University of Florida, where she also earned her medical degree. She completed her clinical training at MD Anderson, including an internship in general surgery in 1994-1995, a residency in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery in 1994-1999, and a fellowship in head and neck surgical oncology with Helmuth Goepfert, M.D., in 1999-2000.
Honors include the departmental Faculty Teaching Award in 2007-2008 and the UT Medical School Dean’s Excellence Teaching Award in 2001-2003.
Involvement in professional organizations includes serving on committees of the American Head and Neck Society, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and the American Board of Otolaryngology.
The MD Anderson Faculty Educator of the Month program, sponsored by the Division of Academic Affairs, recognizes MD Anderson faculty members who demonstrate excellence and innovation in teaching.