Working together: Sets of twins share careers in health care
What are the odds that you'd see identical workers at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center? Not as long as you might think.
Identical twins, who share the same DNA, happen once in 300 births, without any predisposing factors. Fraternal twins, who are born from different eggs and thus may not look as alike as identical twins, occur once in every 100 births. So with more than 20,000 employees at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, odds are that there could be a good amount of twins working there, says Judith Westman, MD, a clinical geneticist at Ohio State.
As the mother of two sets of identical twins, Westman has researched the topic “quite a bit as a lifelong project.” (Having two sets of identical twins is a 1 in 90,000 shot.)
While having identical twins “just happens,” Westman says, once fraternal twins present in a family, the odds of having additional fraternal twins can increase to one in 30. Fraternal twins are more likely to occur in mothers who are 35 or older, women who recently have stopped taking oral contraceptives and women who take hormones to help them ovulate because of infertility.
“There are some women who have a genetic tendency to produce more than one egg at a menstrual cycle, and those women are more likely to have fraternal twins -- that's the closest thing to there being a ‘twin gene,’ but there’s not a single gene that causes that tendency,” she says. “Fathers don’t really influence the risk of twins in their own offspring.”
Before we meet several twins working at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, let’s look at some other facts about them:
- Identical twins have fingerprints that are about 95% identical.
- Identical twins are formed from a single fertilized egg that splits at some time in the first two weeks into two embryos. They have identical DNA at the time they separate, but then start to accumulate subtle differences in their DNA from the time of separation all through the rest of their lives.
- Twins spend nine months together in a small, confined space before birth. Some twins have a great relationship and others don't (just like any siblings).
- Twins will frequently babble to each other as infants, but Westman doesn’t call it a "language.” “There have been a few reported incidences of older twins having a ‘language,’ but it certainly is not a typical occurrence,” she says.
Elizabeth Hilbert and Rebecca Trapp
Elizabeth Hilbert and Rebecca Trapp are fraternal twins who work at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC -— James). Beth is a social worker in the Emergency Department, while Becky is a nurse practitioner, specializing in hematology and oncology.
Beth is one minute older than Becky, which she says accounts for why she’s always felt a bit “motherly” toward her “younger” sister.
"You need to pay extra attention to my sister. She's not feeling well,” she once told their preschool caretakers. Beth now has identical twin girls of her own.
Teamwork, they say, impacts their care philosophy. “I don’t think we could have picked two other professions that exemplify selflessness and caring as much as nursing and social work,” Becky said. “That’s why I truly believe our patients get the best care.”
Erin McConnell and Jennifer McConnell
Erin McConnell, MD, and Jennifer McConnell are identical twins who joined Ohio State in 2012, two weeks apart. Jen is an oncology nurse at the OSUCCC -— James, working mostly with patients in thoracic oncology – lung cancer. Erin is an internal medicine physician and pediatrician at Outpatient Care Lewis Center. Their older sisters also are twins and work in health care.
“We want to help people,” Jen says. “We're interested in both the science of health and medicine, as well as the holistic approach to wellness and healing.”
Work brings out the best in these two best friends, who say they’re efficient, conscientious and compassionate.
“She’s definitely my moral guidepost," says Erin, who often asks herself, “What would Jenny do?” in challenging situations.
“Jen is such a light of hope for her patients, all of whom are struggling with life-threatening illnesses. She was born to be a nurse."
Stacie Wegman and Vickie Elliott
Stacie Wegman and Vickie Elliott take twinning to a whole new level. They look alike, talk alike, dress alike and even work alike. The identical twins are medical assistants in the Department of General Internal Medicine at Ohio State’s Outpatient Care Upper Arlington.
"We really enjoy working together, and the patients really seem to enjoy it, too,” says Vickie, who for many years sat side by side with her sister.
Last year, the twins scored in the top percentile for their friendliness and customer service on a survey by the Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems.
“A lot of patients are sick and don’t feel good, and you've just gotta remember that,” Stacie says. “We try to sympathize and empathize with their situations.”
Ann Forchione and Ellen Ledyard
After a father-in-law received a lifesaving kidney transplant, fraternal twins Ann Forchione and Ellen Ledyard knew where they had to work. Both are employed at the OSUCCC — James: Ann as an executive assistant and Ellen as a transplant coordinator.
The two make a point to see each other every day, whether just popping by to say “hi,” or sharing a car ride.
“I know I can call Ellen anytime, day or night, for any reason, and she’ll be there for me,” Ann says. “Our husbands have learned to tolerate both of us and our crazy friendship.”
Carmen Quatman and Catherine Quatman-Yates
Identical twins Carmen Quatman, MD, PhD, and Catherine Quatman-Yates, PhD, complement and compliment each other well at Ohio State.
Carmen is an orthopedic surgeon, and Katie is a physical therapist. They meet weekly to collaborate on related research.
“We help each other brainstorm how to overcome obstacles and challenges, and inspire each other’s research projects,” Carmen says.
Carmen is interested in musculoskeletal injury prevention, while Katie is researching innovative rehabilitation strategies that empower patients to become physically active after a traumatic injury.
“Having a twin is such a gift,” Katie says. “Aunt Carmen cared for my son after he injured his arm on the playground and made him what he called ‘the coolest cast ever.’ ”
Julie Jones and Janine Oman
Perseverance and hard work have led identical twins Julie Jones and Janine Oman to achieve director positions at Ohio State. Julie, who’s been at Ohio State for 29 years, is the director of Nutrition Services, and Janine, who’s been here 21, is the executive associate athletic director of Student Services and Sports Administration.
Julie, a registered dietitian, oversees food service and patient nutrition throughout the medical center, while Janine, a physical therapist by trade, oversees Ohio State’s sport performance team and physician contracts.
“I think being a twin has allowed me to be more adaptable and tolerant of others’ approaches, whether at work, delivering health care or in everyday life,” Julie says.
“Being a twin provides me a sounding board and built-in mentor for my professional development,” Janine says. “It does create an interesting dynamic when we both work at the same institution and other people aren’t aware that there are two of us.”
Selene Carpenter and Sheila Carpenter
Identical twins Selene Carpenter and Sheila Carpenter say they don’t like to play tricks on people, but that doesn’t stop them from unintentionally fooling people at the Wilce Student Health Center, where they’ve both worked for more than a decade.
“We’re the best-kept secret,” says Sheila, who’s an appointments associate. “At first, they think it’s one person who’s really efficient and gets around quickly.”
Sheila schedules health appointments for Ohio State students, ranging from primary care to optometry to dental. She says she’s always loved health care, but couldn’t stomach being a doctor or nurse.
Selene is a benefits coordinator, who helps students understand co-pays and insurance, as it’s often their first health appointment away from home. “I like being able to help people and connect them to valuable resources.”
The two annually attend the Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, held the first week in August.