What was my biggest obstacle?
No one ever said, "Well, you're silly to want to be a doctor." Maybe they didn't pay much attention, but they let me have my dream and build my vision more and more.
How do I make a difference?
When you're there in this magical world of the operating room, with a patient and with a team, and you're dealing with something, you never know totally what you're going to find until you're there. If you know yourself, if you've done everything, figured out everything, and really gone through all the thinking, it's sort of like that multidimensional thinking that I was aware of on the ice, where everything comes into your head at once. You have to be focused, but you also have to be conscious of all sorts of things, for the benefit of having the surgery turn out the way you want it to. And then there is that wonderful feeling of completing it, as you put in the last stitch, knowing that you did it the way you wanted to.
What I found was that I spent 23 years in the private practice of surgery, and I began doing one-on-one, and I love, and still do, the idea of what you can do to make it particularly good for a particular patient; make the convalescence easier; create less pain by positionall sorts of little things that it's just sort of a satisfaction knowing that you can do to help.
When I think of making a difference, the first thing that comes to mind is making a difference one by one. Doing whatever I can to make a difference in one life, or one part of one life, and that motivates me to want to do that more. And anything I can do to make a bigger changewhether it's helping to change attitudes, or ways of doing things, or just to encourage all of us to have sort of a sense of opennessthat's really what I'd like to do.
Who was my mentor?
When I came to Harvard Medical School, there were 5 of us women in a class of 135. Now, this year our Harvard Medical School admissions are 56 percent women. So... "changing the face of medicine" is really true. And there weren't a lot of women's faces, and there weren't a lot of women to teach us, either.
In fact, I have to say that when I look back at my mentors, my mentors in medicine and surgery were really men. And now, it is so different. And it's so exciting to be in the midst and realize that it's not even a issue anymore.
Then there was a mentor, a neurosurgeon that I knew through skating, and he was the one I asked, "Do you have to finish college to go to medical school?" And he looked it up for me and found, "No, it says you have to have pre-med, but nowhere does it say you have to have a college degree." So that was why I applied to Harvard Medical School after three years [at Radcliffe], because I was so anxious to get on to medicine.
In medical school it was mostly the men, and the men who taught surgery that I considered mentors, and it was so wonderful to find that there were women. There was a woman physician whom I didn't know but heard a lot aboutSarah Jordan. She was at the Lehigh Clinic, and was a gastroenterologist famous for identifying things like the importance of drinking eight glasses of water a day... I thought that was fascinating, to find something that would be of use to everybody. There were people like that, who were with us here at medical school.
How has my career evolved over time?
I never thought I'd go into surgery. I know I loved medicine and wanted to be a doctor, but I thought I would go into pediatrics, because that seemed like a real natural to me. And then when I was here at medical school, I found the new things happening with the biology of psychiatry extremely interesting.
It wasn't until the end of second year that I was beginning to admit to myself, "I really like these sorts of surgical courses." The first time I was in the operating room as a medical student, I was positioned behind the surgeon with one hand on the retractor on one side of him and one on the other, and I couldn't even see the incision, and I thought, "I'll never come in an operating room again!" But the next time I at least could see the incision and put in a little stitch.
So I was surprised to admit to myself that I liked surgery so much. And then I told my father; and he was interested in that. He was a surgeon, but had never said, "Well, consider that." And then finally, it was a great relief to say all right! I can make that choice, and go on with it.