Everybody Has a Story
Leader Spotlight: Elif Sonel, M.D., Medical Director, Pittsburgh
Elif Sonel, M.D., has medicine in her blood. Born in Ankara, Turkey, Dr. Sonel grew up in the home of her grandmother, a place where stories were shared freely. Her grandfather graduated from one of Turkey’s first medical schools after World War II.
While she was still a child and living with her extended family, her aunt and uncle attended medical school. Her aunt would become one of Turkey’s founders of adolescent psychiatry, and her uncle became a pediatric infectious disease specialist and, later, Dean of a Medical School. “I grew up hearing the fascinating stories of their journey of becoming doctors who made a difference in people’s lives and always thought how special that was.”
She grew up with an understanding that patients’ needs—regardless of their background—came first. Caring for human beings was of the utmost importance.
Her first job as a primary care physician was serving a panel of veterans with multiple medical, social, and mental health issues. That’s where Dr. Sonel learned one of healthcare’s biggest lessons. “Unless we were able to help with their mental and emotional wellbeing and improve their social situations, we were not going to be able to treat their health.” That’s why she believes healthcare should be customized to the person. “Healthcare should be about ‘caring’ for the individual in a holistic manner, combining health with wellbeing.”
Her multicultural background keeps her open-minded about people from all walks of life. “I value and cherish diversity and thrive on change as a result. She says, “what is different and new—and better—excite me. I try to be a change agent because I want to make lives better.” She also experienced the gender identity and transition process through her son and as a result gained a deep understanding of how brave a person must be to face a life of challenges to become who they really are.
Naturally, her career path led directly to AbsoluteCare, where custom care is part of our model. “A lot of our members suffer from very unfortunate experiences and trauma that affect their lives every day. Having a whole team of professionals provide focused care helps to improve their health and wellbeing,” she says. “It’s a concept I’m very passionate about.”
As a leader, she looks for any gaps in care and tries to fix them in a way that makes healthcare more accessible or conducive to a member’s needs. She’s a bit like a tailor, dressing someone in a suit that will have to be altered and adjusted until it fits the member’s needs exactly. That’s just one way we go beyond medicine™ for our members. Though our Pittsburgh comprehensive care center has only been open a short time, Dr. Sonel is already seeing the difference we make in our members’ lives.
She is a natural leader who enjoys coaching and mentoring. “Seeing people grow personally and professionally is important to me.” An avid gardener, she likens the care and nurturing of seeds through to their fruition as beautiful flowers and nutritious foods to the work she does here. “It’s highly rewarding to see the ‘fruits of your labor’ with actual people.”
Dr. Sonel is passionate about being physically active in nature and believes in the impact of nutrition for health. She calls herself a “human, mother, physician and an empath,” in that order.
That’s Dr. Sonel’s story, and every day, she looks forward to hearing the stories of her members in Pittsburgh.
You can read “Diabetes and You” here.