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Dr. Nancy L. Snyderman





Year of Birth / Death

b. 1952


Medical School

University of Nebraska Medical Center


Geography

LOCATION
California


Career Path

Surgery: Otolaryngology
Dr. Nancy L. Snyderman



Inspiration

I knew I was going to be a doctor when I was in third grade. My grandfather was a doctor; my father was a surgeon; and I remember early on knowing that this was for me.

But I was brainwashed. My father did it beautifully. He would take me to the hospital on Sunday mornings before the family went to church, and he would take me to the doctor's lounge and get me chocolate-covered graham crackers and chocolate milk, and leave me there while he went up and saw sick patients—because in those days, kids couldnt go up to the patient floors—and I thought that was "making rounds." So I would go to school on Mondays and say, "I made rounds with my father, we went to the hospital," and I thought that was it!

And about that time, our next-door neighbor, who worked for Shell Oil Company, was retired at the age of 50. And my father was furious. So in addition to cutting up his Shell Oil cards, and saying he wouldn't ever get Shell gasoline again —and I don't think he has—he sat me down and said: "This is why you want to become a doctor. You can always tell someone that they're full of it, and still put food on the table." He said: "You should never lose sight of that sense of independence." So I had this love of hospitals, this adoration of my father, and this need to be independent and take care of myself. It was a no-brainer.

The scary thing happened in college, when someone said to me, "Well, what happens if you don't get into medical school?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, you know, not everybody gets in." And then I was panicked. So I went and applied to be a microbiologist for Eli Lilly, just in case. And then... fortunately, I got into medical school.



Biography

Dr. Nancy Snyderman has never been afraid to re-invent herself when she thought the time was right. "I have had this churning in my gut always, I guess," she says, "and fortunately for me, I've listened to it—such that I've allowed myself to entertain more than one thing." From working with individual patients as a practicing physician, she moved into television journalism where provided health education to a wide audience. A trained pediatrician and a practicing surgeon, for fifteen years Dr. Snyderman was health correspondent for ABC television's Good Morning America and has reported from around the world on a wide range of medical topics.

Nancy Snyderman grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. By the third grade she knew she wanted to be a doctor, following in both her father and grandfather's footsteps. Some of her earliest memories are of the thrill of accompanying her father to the hospital. "He would take me to the hospital on Sunday mornings before the family went to church." Her father, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, made his rounds, he would give her a snack to eat in the doctors' lounge. As a young child, "making rounds" meant eating graham crackers and milk.

Snyderman graduated from Indiana University in 1974 with a B.A. in microbiology, then entered medical school at the University of Nebraska that same year. While in medical school, Dr. Synderman realized that perhaps the biggest obstacle anyone faces is self-doubt. Her residency was an important period for her. She recalled the chief of surgery, a "tough guy," sitting her and her colleagues down because they had not performed well on a standardized test. "He said to us, 'Look, I'm accused of having favorites. And I want you to know I do. Those of you who work hard, you're my favorites.' " The message was clear and Snyderman worked as hard as she could.

She received her M.D. in 1977, initially planning a career in pediatrics. In the early 1980s, she switched to otolaryngology in her second year of residency at the University of Pittsburgh, after discovering surgery. It was during her residency that she began to work in broadcasting, which she continued after becoming a staff surgeon in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1983. She has found she has always been able to weave the two callings together. Being a television correspondent, she found, made her a better doctor, while being a practicing physician made her a better health correspondent.

In 1988, Dr. Snyderman moved to San Francisco, where she still lives with her husband Doug and their children, Kate, Rachel, and Charlie. In her spare time, she enjoys her ranch, horseback riding, skiing, and hiking.

Dr. Snyderman has received numerous awards for her medical broadcast reporting, including an award for in-depth reporting from KARK-TV in 1986, and an Associated Press award for "best documentary" for her work on sex education in Arkansas in 1987. She received the "Distinguished Service Award" from the American Academy of Otolaryngology's Head and Neck Surgery Foundation in 1998. Among many recent honors, in 2001 she received the Athena Award from the Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia University for her groundbreaking work in the field of women's health. And also in 2001, she earned the Trailblazer Award from the American Women in Radio and Television for furthering the knowledge of women's health on a national level.



Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

I think the biggest obstacle is—and I think for most people—self doubt. And it happens to all of us. I always knew that hard work would pay off. But I think as little kids, we'd always think life's going to be very linear.

It's not that school is hard; it's not that... you know: "What do you do after college, and medical school, and residency,"—it's that life interferes. Things happen that you don't expect. You get in bad relationships; someone dies... Those things interfere.

But when I was a resident, I remember our chief of surgery—who was a tough guy—sat us down because we didn't perform very well on one those standardized tests. And he said to us: "Look. I'm accused of having favorites. And I want you to know I do. Those of you who work hard, you're my favorites." And I busted my butt from that day forward.

How do I make a difference?

Some days I think I'm not doing enough; the stuff I do is pretty... generic, anybody could do it; and other days I walk out of the operating room... and I know I made a difference.

There are days I walk out of foreign countries having just broadcast something for ABC, and I know I did it right. There are days when I just do a little 45 second on Good Morning America and I know that... I have explained it as well as anybody could explain it.

But the danger is, if you walk out of the operating room, or off a television set every time and you think: "nobody can do it like I can," you're fooling yourself, and your thoughts are grandiose, and, uh, you shouldn't be doing it anymore. You're a danger to everybody around you.

Who was my mentor?

I've had three mentors, but all very different.

My father was my mentor early on. Letting me go to the hospital, I saw his passion for medicine, I knew this was a calling, and I watched him really... really combine the art and science of medicine.

My mother was my mentor for how to be a good person. She's gracious, and kind, and smart, and strong. Very much so that Midwestern mom. But from my mom, I really learned how to have a life well lived.

And my chief of surgery in Pittsburgh—Dr. Eugene Myers—taught me how to be a really good surgeon. He invested time in me; and it's a lot for him that I vowed no matter what my other careers were, I would never give up medicine.

The great mentors don't have to tell you you're good. The great mentors let your prove it to yourself. And that's what he did. He would suddenly shift places in the operating room, and I would be the chief surgeon. He would suddenly introduce me to a host of international doctors and have me explain something. Those little things he would throw my way—in a wink, and a nod of the head—that told me I was good.

How has my career evolved over time?

As a little girl, I just thought I was going to be a doctor, and I'd practice in the Midwest somewhere. And then I went from pediatrics, realized I wanted to do more than pediatrics, then went into surgery, and then very much saw myself as an academic head and neck cancer specialist, and did that for several years.

But I don't know. I have had this churning in my gut always, I guess—and fortunately for me, I've listened to it—such that I've allowed myself to entertain more than one thing. And when I was the University of Pittsburgh during my residency, I ended up being on television, and the local station there, liked what they saw, they asked me to come back a few times, and one thing led to another; and when I went to Arkansas, to Little Rock, to become a young staff surgeon, I started combining my love of television with my love of medicine. And the two weaved themselves together quite well.

Whether I'm sitting at a patient's bedside explaining surgery, my challenge is still to take very complicated stuff, and in a non-condescending manner, talk to a patient. Well, on television it's the same thing. I have to take complicated stuff and explain to 10 or 12 million people. The skill set is exactly the same.

And interestingly, being a correspondent has made me a better doctor. And absolutely, being a working doctor has made me a better correspondent.



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