What was my biggest obstacle?
By far, my gender. The oldest of seven children, I grew up with the understanding that my parents' goal was to have enough money to send the boys to college. I had no desire to be educated beyond high school until my father took me on a tour of a state university in my senior year. No one in my family had ever been to college and he told me that if I wanted to be there, that I had to have a major that would allow me to get a job "in case anything ever happened to my husband." I majored in medical technology and worked in the field for five years before I actually believed that I could be admitted to medical school. When I decided to become a surgeon, a whole new set of gender-related challenges awaited me. Some of the surgeons were very hostile to me and many predicted that I would never finish the residency. It was an extraordinarily lonely time for me. I am truly not sure what made me persist beyond pure stubbornness and the encouragement and support of a handful of surgeons who believed in me.
How do I make a difference?
By serving as a passionate patient advocate regarding issues related to breast health and breast cancer.
By being involved in public health, and by working with the media to educate the public about breast-related issues.
By advancing scientific knowledge regarding normal breast development, and breast cancer etiology and diagnosis.
By extensively teaching medical colleagues, residents, students, and nurses about breast health and disease.
By serving as a role model and mentor for young physicians.
By instructing medical students about the qualities that patients desire in their own physicians.
Who was my mentor?
There were so many influential people. My father, who advised me and facilitated my higher education. My mother, who taught me the value of humor and persistence. Dick Kahnoski, M.D., one of my med tech students, who encouraged me to apply with him to medical school. Ruth Hoppe, M.D., a medical school teacher and role model. Richard E. Dean, M.D., who mentored me into surgery and hired me out of residency. Edward Scanlon, M.D., my surgical oncology fellowship director. Milo Barrera, M.D., Joe Durham, M.D., and Steve Sener, M.D., surgery residents with me who encouraged me and without whom I would not have survived. Last and most important, David P. Winchester, M.D., who encouraged me to continue surgical residency when my spirits were the lowest, and whose drive for excellence and compassion for his patients served as my inspiration throughout my residency and beyond.
How has my career evolved over time?
An illness resulted in the loss of my surgical practice of thirteen years, in 1998. I still miss my patients tremendously and always will. Now, however, I have more time to teach, which I love. I obtained a master's degree in epidemiology in 2000, which made me more prepared to conduct the research in public health that is so important to me. When I obtained my M.D. degree, I had no idea that I would become a media spokesperson, that I would testify before the legislature on behalf of my patients, that I would serve on community boards, or that I would be seen as a community leader. It is with humbleness and gratitude that I accept all of my roles. All are intensely fulfilling.