What was my biggest obstacle?
Being a minority woman in academic surgery has had many obstacles, seen and unseen. I was the first woman trained at Boston University in thoracic surgery. Females in surgery, especially in academic surgery, are still not accepted, no matter what their ethnicity. Nevertheless, I have always felt that my greatest obstacles have been the internal ones¿the moments when I get discouraged, the times that I do not read all the journals that I should, or go to sleep rather than complete the manuscript or grant that I am writing. The worst thing to do is to develop a "chip on your shoulder." There is nothing less appealing to those who want to help you, and more satisfying to those that do not want you to do well. Outwardly, one must maintain equanimity and inner peace at all times. There is no question that I have had to prove myself over and over when others have not had to work as hard. I also know that I can achieve my goals with continued hard work, perseverance, prayer, and God's grace.
How do I make a difference?
My commitment to the development of minority and women surgeons has resulted in medical students and residents raising their aspirations and seeing the possibility of success in endeavors and career paths they thought impossible because of imposed barriers of gender and ethnicity. Additionally, through my organizational and committee assignments, I have been able to ensure that policy and practice reflect the needs and accurately represent the health status of both majority and minority populations. Many of my research efforts, as related to occupational stress in surgery residents and health disparities, bring information to the major medical journals that would otherwise not be investigated by majority male surgeons.
Who was my mentor?
One of the disadvantages of being among the first female surgeons and the first minority female surgeons to seek an academic career in thoracic surgery is that there are few individuals who seek you out or even respond to your overtures for mentorship. The early years were especially challenging. As a mid-career academic, I have "earned" mentorship from a number of prominent surgeons. Unfortunately, none of these individuals have been in my institution. The important lesson to be learned is that there are individuals who will advise and help you, but you may have to be enterprising in seeking advice and maintaining contact with individuals a distance from your institution, city, or state.
How has my career evolved over time?
Over time I have worked to build a well-rounded academic portfolio by participating in research, teaching and administration while maintaining clinical expertise. I have sought and been given committee assignments and leadership positions in several major national professional organizations. My goal is to increase my leadership role in an academic environment. In order to strengthen my leadership skills, I completed a master of science in health administration at the University of Colorado College of Business, have been an Alley-Sheridan Fellow, and participated in the Understanding the New World of Health Care Executive Program, jointly sponsored by Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government. I hope to attend Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM), sponsored by MCP-Hahnemann University this year. ELAM is a year long program to develop women leaders in academic medicine. Finally, I am in the process of being promoted to full professor and am being considered for major leadership positions in my department.