Building Their Best Selves

Drs. Kimberly and Brett Young partner in life and in the OR

Written by Stratton Lawrence
Photographs by Mira Adwell & courtesy of the Youngs

For married Roper St. Francis Healthcare orthopaedic surgeons Kimberly and Brett Young, sharing responsibilities extends beyond Dad doing dishes while Mom handles bedtime. “Pass the knife, please” at dinner becomes “pass the scalpel” as they repair a patient’s elbow. “It’s like dancing with a partner who knows all the same moves,” says Kim of performing surgeries together.

The pair has worked side-by-side in the operating room since meeting on the first day of their residencies at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. They married during the summer before their fifth year, before fellowships in New York City and five years working together at the Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, New York. Kim specializes in hands and elbows, while Brett’s fellowship focused on the shoulder, elbow and sports medicine. “We meet at the elbow,” Brett jokes.

Today, Kim operates at the Ambulatory Surgery & Pain Management Center on James Island and at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital. Brett works primarily out of Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital, although they frequently overlap for elbow surgeries.

Going into medical school at the University of Buffalo, Kim (a Buffalo native) was undecided about her specialty. She dreamed of caring for children, but wasn’t sure that pediatrics was the right fit. “My personality is better suited for surgery,” she says. “One day it struck me that I could pursue that and one day have children of my own—I could have the best of both worlds.”

On the other hand, Brett, who grew up in Syracuse amid a family of doctors, had his sights set on orthopaedics from the start. As an undergrad, he was the athletic trainer for the national championship-winning lacrosse team at the University of Virginia, and he earned a medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh with that goal clear in mind. “I knew I wanted to help people be the best version of themselves physically,” says Brett.

GET ACTIVE! The Youngs exercising on James Island

Kim says Brett’s zeroed-in focus and encouragement helped her persist through a grueling residency. “There aren’t a lot of women in orthopaedics,” she says. “I can’t do orthopaedics the same way as someone who is 6 foot 4 inches and can bench 300 pounds—I can’t muscle my way through. I had to learn to come at problems from a different angle, and Brett was always so supportive throughout the process. He made me feel like I could do anything.”

During their second year of residency, their professional friendship gave way to romance. Today, the younger of their two Golden Doodles, Mendon, is named after the park where Brett proposed. To plan their wedding on New York’s Finger Lakes, they’d take turns sleeping as they drove to meet with caterers and planners. They arrived late to their own rehearsal after each got held up during their rotations at the hospital.

That commitment to their patients—at all costs—continues today. Brett called into the interview for this story from his car after opting to wait for an elbow surgery patient to wake up from anesthesia (he and Kimberly tag-teamed the operation). The patient was a woman in her 70s who had lived for decades with her arm fixed at a 90-degree angle. “She cares for her husband and had just been suffering with the pain,” Brett explains. “When she awoke from anesthesia I showed her how her elbow could completely straighten out and she reached up and touched her nose for the first time in 20 years. That’s as good as it gets.”

“My predominant focus in parenting and in my work is to practice kindness and empathy.” —Dr. Kimberly Young

Brett’s focus during his education—including in Ithaca, where he cared for Cornell University’s student athletes—was on sports injuries. As his career evolved, he realized his specialty allowed him to help all people, not just athletes. “It started with the idea of fixing athletes so they could keep playing their sport, but now I get just as much satisfaction from helping somebody who gets hurt on the job,” says Brett. “We’re not just talking about saving them for the season—we’re talking about saving their ability to care for their family. It’s about helping to make the best life for each person.” Kimberly, who often works to restore musicians, craftsmen and artists’ use of their hands, agrees. “It’s incredibly motivating and moving when patients show me the work they were able to return to.”

The hardworking couple also finds motivation in their two children: Elliot, 9, and Millie, 6. The family is active daily, whether it’s dance (Millie), soccer (both) or a bike-and-scooter ride over to see their cousins.

Kim’s sister—her identical twin—lives in the neighborhood and directly influenced the Youngs’ decision to move to Charleston. They began looking for jobs during a Thanksgiving visit in 2014, moving here permanently in late 2015 after Kim took a position with Roper St. Francis. The two families see each other often, taking turns making communal dinners—which is a plus in a two-surgeon household—and caravanning to the vacation home they share on Lake Keowee. Warm weather weekends find the family tubing, waterskiing and hiking to waterfalls that remind them of their Finger Lakes roots.

Brett, Millie and Elliot at Sumter National Forest (above left); Kim and Elliot at Diamond Hill Mine in Abbeville (top right); and Millie at Lake Keowee.

At home, Kim gets up most mornings at 5 a.m. for a long run through James Island (“It’s much easier to run in the heat than the snow and minus-30 degree temps,” she laughs). She arrives at work at 7:30, allowing her to leave early to prep dinner and help the kids with homework. “I take a lot of pride in what my kids eat—they’re very disciplined eaters for their young age,” says Kim, chatting on the phone while she finishes a seasoned chicken, broccoli and peas dish for that night’s meal. Brett stays in shape through weightlifting in his garage gym. “I do high-intensity workouts—body-weight exercises, kettlebells and barbells,” he explains.

When the Youngs feel like the best possible versions of themselves—both physically and emotionally—they’re able to help their patients achieve the same goal. “My predominant focus in parenting and in my work is to practice kindness and empathy,” says Kim. “A lot of times patients come in and they’re either hurt or scared. Showing another person extra kindness in times like that goes a long way.”