For 20 years, Dr. Kenya Lee worked in pediatrics, both at the Air Force Academy and in private practice. But after two decades as a pediatrician (a board certification she still holds), something wasn’t right.
She wasn’t feeling the same way she used to when working in managed care. And whether she was working in the military, in a corporate arena or a smaller primary care practice, with every change in position or title, she felt increasingly unhappy.
“It was always a battle to get what the patient needed,” said Lee, adding that the work no longer felt patient-centric.
“It was lots of stress, burnout, increasingly more hours due to administrative burdens, and the marginalization of just being a Black woman in medicine … often being asked to do things that don’t benefit the patient, but also didn’t make my work any more valuable.”
Still, there were elements she loved about the work, like the myriad opportunities to give back by working on international mission trips. Lee once journeyed as the sole pediatrician with a team of doctors to a remote tribal area of Brazil, where she was able to see over 100 patients in a day.
“I saw diseases and issues we just don’t have here. … It broadened my knowledge, but also opened my eyes to what the world is suffering from,” she said. “Since then I’ve done missions in Jamaica, Haiti, Suriname — I try to give back here, as well.”
Lee is very active locally, giving her time to serve on the boards of Pikes Peak United Way, Colorado Springs Black Business Network, Pikes Peak Community College Foundation, as well as volunteering with Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado.
So after evaluating her career path, Lee made a change — a pretty big one. “I want people to know that we are always allowed to pivot,” she said. Instead of living with being miserable, she took a step back and devised a way to parlay her degree and skills into something new.
PureLee Redefined is an aesthetic spa that Lee launched in 2017 with her husband of nearly 25 years, Dr. Marvin Lee, with the mission of “enhancing beauty at the intersection of art and science.”
To Lee, the aesthetics industry should largely be rooted in medicine, but too often strays from the realm of the purely medical. PureLee Redefined takes a medical approach, not just for safety reasons but to create a look that’s less artificial and more natural.
“I was seeing aging changes in my own skin, and was looking for a natural way of maintaining, looking younger … but not ridiculously younger,” said Lee. But after searching, she just never found anything that felt safe, well-managed or clearly explained, and was meeting “a lot of people who were afraid to work with ethnic skin, and just having a general lack of knowledge about it … so I decided I wanted to learn how to do these things for myself.”
“I want people of color to know we are here and can address their skin care needs,” said Lee. “We are not afraid of their skin because we have it too, and we’ve been dealing with it our whole lives.”
She may not be a pediatrician anymore, but medicine is still a stressful career path, and to unwind Lee practices yoga, meditates, and spends a lot of time gardening and walking her 1-year-old poodle. A self-described wine and jazz enthusiast, Lee also loves to cook. “I can never remember [recipes],” she said, laughing, “but I make it up as I go along.
“Recreating and redefining a balanced life for
myself, and the freedom that comes along with that — that is my greatest area of pride.”