Catching up with Kristin Ehst Martel

March 21, 2018

Nearly two decades after earning her Vanderbilt degree, Kristin Ehst Martel remains one of the all-time leading goal scorers in Commodore lacrosse history. Since graduating from Vanderbilt Medical School, the Pennsylvania native has distinguished herself as a pediatric and internal medicine specialist in her adopted hometown of Nashville. The mother of three has also spent much of the last decade providing primary health care to thousands of uninsured Middle Tennessee residents through Siloam Health.

When you decided to attend Vanderbilt, you were making a decision to help build the Commodore lacrosse program. Talk about that decision.

It was a unique time in the women’s lacrosse world because there were several new programs going Division I status and so there was a lot of excitement for my class to get in and make an impact quickly. I was blessed to have several options at both well-established and new lacrosse programs. I remember being impressed with the academic opportunities as well as the incredible support offered to student-athletes. After my campus visit, I can still remember sitting at my kitchen table with my dad and telling him I felt like God was leading me to Vanderbilt. My father and I felt incredible peace in this decision even though it was going to take me very far from my family in rural Pennsylvania.

What did you know about Vanderbilt University and Nashville before the first day of classes?

Honestly, I had never heard of Vanderbilt prior to being recruited to play lacrosse and I had not spent any considerable time in the South. After my recruiting visit, I remember being impressed with the academic opportunities specifically in science and education as well as the incredible support offered to student-athletes. I fell in love with Nashville when I visited and recall the warmth and hospitality of the city and the beauty of the city parks.

Being a member of a new women’s collegiate program, talk about the challenges you and your teammates faced introducing lacrosse to the campus community.

I do not recall feeling challenges introducing lacrosse to the Vanderbilt community. The club team was already well respected and had a real presence on the campus. I think the transition to being a fully funded collegiate team was met with a lot of support by both the athletic department and the students. I do recall our first few home games were not well attended but the excitement and momentum grew over the years and we never had a shortage of dedicated followers at our games.

Two decades later, do you keep in touch with many of your Vanderbilt lacrosse teammates?

Yes! Our team became close as we walked through a lot of ups and downs together. Most of us stay connected by Facebook. Many of us have attended each other’s weddings as well as reconnected to meet our growing families at informal gatherings in Nashville.

Previous former Vanderbilt student-athletes featured in this series:
Jonathan Shaub, football
Jessica Mooney Holman, women’s basketball

Who were your biggest mentors growing up?

My most important mentor growing up was my dad. We shared a common interest in sports and science. I am thankful for times he spent teaching me how to shoot a basketball or hugging me after a tough loss. He was a consistent encouragement and never was hard on me. He demonstrated a strong work ethic, a humble heart before God and an interest to serve others in his life. It is hard to nail down one person that motivated me the most because I have an inner drive and discipline that at times is wonderful and at other times a stumbling stone for me. But I can easily say that my high school lacrosse coach Ms. Brumbach was the one person in my life who could push me and challenge me with firmness and truth to become a stronger athlete and leader on the field. I am grateful for her impact on my life.

What moment would you say was the highlight of your Commodore career?

I recall beating Duke, our rival at the time, at home during my freshman year. I remember the pride I felt in our young team defeating another strong program that was teeming with some of the best recruits in the country.

Within two years of your graduation from Vanderbilt, the Commodore lacrosse team was participating in the NCAA Tournament and competing for a national title. How much pride did you and your teammates have in helping lead the way to that success?

It was a real privilege for my teammates and I to be a part of building a new lacrosse program. There is no doubt that we were humbled, stretched and challenged those first few years. But, I also think those early years set the stage for recruiting as well as building up amazing leaders for the seasons of success that followed. I know for my graduating class; we were filled with so much joy and pride to hear how our teammates were taking it to the next level.

What was your major at Vanderbilt, and was a future in medicine always in your plan?

I majored in molecular biology and secondary education. I went into college dreaming of teaching biology and coaching just as my father had done for over 25 years. Although I was fulfilling the pre-med requirements, I was not confident that medicine was in my future. I had a strong passion for science and teaching and felt open handed to allow God to lead me in terms of a career. My sophomore year, I was challenged by a mentor to apply for the early acceptance into Vanderbilt Medical School and when I was accepted I felt again that God had opened another door for me and so I switched gears to go directly into medical school after graduation.

Talk about your decision of stay in Nashville and to enter Vanderbilt Medical School.

The Vanderbilt Medical School early acceptance program allows students to forego taking the MCAT if you enter Vanderbilt Medical School following graduation. For many reasons, I chose to not look at any other medical schools. I was offered a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt Med School and had my dear friend Andrea Legath Bowers, who also was accepted to the early program. These two reasons as well as the supportive community of the Vanderbilt Medical School were all reasons I chose to stay. I have been so richly blessed to have remained at Vanderbilt all those years.

What is your medical expertise?

I am board certified in pediatrics and internal medicine. In all practical measures, I am a primary care physician for all ages.

Do you continue an association with Vanderbilt Medical Center?

I completed my residency at Vanderbilt in 2007 and then went on to be Chief Resident in Pediatrics in 2008. Since that time, I have remained connected to the Vanderbilt Medical Center as a clinical physician with teaching privileges. This includes the opportunity to teach and mentor students at Siloam Health where I have worked the past 10 years as well as yearly teaching engagements including a cross cultural curriculum for medical students and residents.

What is the mission of Siloam Health and why is it important to the people of Middle Tennessee?

I have worked at Siloam Health for almost 10 years. The mission of Siloam Health is to share the love of Christ by serving those in need through healthcare. We serve those who fall through the cracks of the healthcare system either because of financial, cultural or linguistic barriers to care. Most of our patients are uninsured or have recently lost insurance. Our demographics are unique in that our patient population is 90 percent foreign born, originating from more than 80 different homelands and speaking over 70 different languages. We have been blessed to oversee the Tennessee refugee resettlement program since 2003 and therefore often continue to care for many refugee and immigrant populations that settle in Nashville.

Our staff is trained in whole person care and therefore we focus on poverty care, cross cultural care, spiritual care and behavioral care. This type of care is important for all; however, it is critical for the foreign born. Siloam Health serves the people of Middle Tennessee by caring for those who have no option for healthcare and promoting health and wholeness for a growing Nashville.

Talk about your medical work with the uninsured populations of Davidson County and Middle Tennessee.

I am working my dream job! I get the privilege to work with an amazing interdisciplinary team at Siloam to impact diverse populations who are on the fringes of the healthcare system. I love that I have the chance to listen to their stories and help them to make decisions that lead to “wholeness” both in their physical and emotional health.

You’re now a wife and mom of three young children. Has it been tough creating balance in your life?

I struggled early on as a young mother to achieve balance and found myself striving and feeling guilt. I now work three days a week at Siloam and have the gift of being at home with my kids the rest of the week. However, I have always allowed my kids to see the importance of the work I do and have introduced them to Siloam as well as the patients that I serve. I want them to know that when I am not with them, I am doing something that I feel passionate about and work that is helping others. Recently, I have been given a new perspective on balance. Realizing that true balance is impossible and hoping instead to allow all aspects of my life to impact the other. There is more of a transparency between my work and family life and this has led to freedom and more joy. My husband is incredibly supportive and has been involved in the ministry of Siloam over the years. He is an advocate and a sounding board when I feel overwhelmed.

Nashville must feel like home now. What are your favorite characteristics and attractions about the city?

I feel like I have “grown up” here and both my husband and I feel like we are deeply rooted in Nashville. We have an incredible community of friends and neighbors who have become our family in recent years and we are also very involved at Grace Community Church. We are grateful we can live close to downtown and yet walk to school, walk to parks and enjoy local restaurants all within blocks from our home. Our family loves to explore the many local parks and outdoor adventure areas around the city. And our kids just became old enough to enjoy going to Vanderbilt football, basketball and lacrosse games! Twenty years from now, what do you see yourself doing? I think I may still be working at Siloam or possibly working with my husband overseas teaching and mentoring young medical students in under-resourced areas. Either way, I hope to find joy and purpose in wherever God plants us!