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Seeing double: Meet Duke Medical School's identical twin surgeons

Special to the Chronicle
Special to the Chronicle

Walking through the halls of the Duke Medical Center, you might think you’re experiencing a sort of double vision as two seemingly identical surgeons pass by you. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

This is a frequent phenomenon for staff members who work with Amy Rezak Alger and Kristen Marie Rezak, identical twin surgeons who are assistant professors of surgery at the Duke Medical Center. 

Alger and Rezak, trauma and plastic surgeons respectively, have been practicing surgeons for a decade. As identical twins, their similarities go far beyond appearance—growing up, they had similar interests in music and sports. The two sisters were involved in many of the same activities, to the point where their friends referred to them simply as "the Rezak twins." 

"We hung out all the time together," Rezak said. "We basically just coexisted.” 

However, their relationship was not as competitive as the relationships between other siblings can be.

“We’ve always had a competitive nature because we’re surgeons—of course we strive to be the best," Rezak said. "We used to compete over how we did on tests and things like that, but it was more just a friendly kind of thing. We were more collaborative.”

Alger attended the State University of New York at Albany, and Rezak attended the State University of New York at  Binghamton. It was during their college years that the two began to evolve their own independent identities, they said. Both entered college not entirely sure if they were going to pursue medicine. 

Growing up, they watched a lot of medical television shows and they found the field extremely exciting. Their father was also a volunteer firefighter, which may have further sparked their passion for medicine. As undergraduates, their affinity toward medicine became more pronounced when Alger became the president of her local emergency medical technician organization and Rezak became a trainer working in sports medicine. 

Although Rezak and Alger separated for their undergraduate studies, they came back together for medical school, where they attended the Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica. They then completed their general surgery residencies at separate hospitals before reuniting again in Boston for their fellowships. Afterward, they were separated once again for some time as each followed a unique, specialized medical study. 

After moving around for a few years and completing their specialty studies, their paths again converged at Duke. Alger had been working at Duke for a few years when Jeffrey Marcus—chief of the division of plastic, maxillofacial and oral surgery at Duke—gave Rezak an offer she couldn’t turn down. 

“So it’s funny, we actually intentionally tried to be in different states,” Alger said. 

Rezak added that part of the reasoning was to avoid potential confusion between the twins.

“We intentionally tried not to be in the same state or hospital because it does get really confusing,” she said.

As twins, Rezak and Alger share a struggle working in the same location. Just as they had initially expected, the twins have been confused for each other many times in their time at Duke. The twins said that hospital staff members often confuse the two twins for each other when they strike up a conversation in the hall. 

“I’m running to my next appointment, and I don’t have time to explain to people that I’m not [Alger]” Rezak said. 

However, at the end of the day, both Alger and Rezak said they appreciate working in the same hospital. 

“It’s nice to be close to family," Rezak said. "They gave me an offer and I couldn’t refuse, and that’s how I ended up here."


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