11 June 2019

July 1st is almost here, and a new class of surgical interns will soon be in place. It’s an exciting and at the same time unsettling period. Many who are well past the trainee phase have been sharing suggestions on making the successful transition from student to doctor via social media using the hashtag #TipsForNewDocs.

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in panel discussions and “mixers” over the past several years, organized for medical students interested in a career in surgery. I always find these sessions stimulating. The faculty share stories of how we came to choose surgery, and convey to the next generation of surgeons what we love about our profession. The students always have many thought-provoking questions.

At a session a few months ago, a student asked a question that I had not heard before. Medical school and residency, especially for surgery, are grueling. There are some who become very hardened during that training period, and unfortunately a few do not “soften up” (return to being human) once their residency and fellowship are over. As these individuals advance into leadership roles, they can be challenging to work with, and even more so to train under. A student asked: “What do you think went wrong?” And the implication was “How can I keep that from happening to me?”

The faculty shared examples of some of the tools we use to cope with stress: create and nurture a strong circle of friends and confidants within and outside of medicine; maintain outside interests and hobbies; exercise; fight for the ever-elusive sleep. But we also acknowledged the importance of being honest with yourself if you are truly unhappy. Many described complete U-turns (made by themselves or colleagues) during training or even later in a career to get to a place where they felt comfortable. There is no shame is saying “I was wrong – this is not for me.”

Whether it’s taking time to go for a walk or re-thinking your career path, you owe it to your patients, your colleagues, your support staff, and most of all to yourself to pay attention to what feeds you. Life is short and too much is at stake.

30 December 2018

19 March 2018

I am often asked why I take the time to post on social media sites, and the answer is simple – it’s a way to reach patients and others who are interested in the content. As physicians, one of our primary roles is patient education, and there is a limit to how many we can reach in our daily interactions. With more and more patients searching online for health information, I feel that it is important that credible and accurate information is readily available. Online patient communities not only benefit from a physician presence, but physicians also benefit from being exposed to different perspectives and points of view.

Today’s Health News Review podcast features several physician bloggers (including me!) discussing why they blog.

30 December 2017

3 August 2017

Alicia Staley and Jody Schoger met on Twitter in 2009. After a series of online interactions, they were inspired to create the #bcsm community. The first #bcsm tweetchat took place on July 4th, 2011.

Alicia and Jody brought together patients, physicians, researchers and others who shared an interest in providing education and support for all impacted by breast cancer. Without Alicia, Jody and the #bcsm community, I would have never met Lori Marx-Rubiner, who died yesterday due to metastatic breast cancer.

Lori and I crossed paths during one of the early #bcsm tweetchats. She was the driving force behind the early LA tweetups, and in 2013 she wrote about one of our get togethers, noting that “it is at once an uneventful and deeply powerful few hours.” Her caption next to our group photo says it all: “How fabulous is this group??”

Shortly after we met online, Lori and I discovered that we lived fairly close to one another. We started meeting every few months for lunch or dinner. She was always very matter of fact and had a great way of breaking down problems or challenging situations.  She was a great listener, and had a wicked sense of humor. After her diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, we continued to meet, and our conversations delved deeper into issues of life, death and our own mortality. After my close friend and colleague was killed in a freeway accident, she was the first person I turned to when I was ready to open up and talk. As an “expert patient”, she volunteered her time to come to my office for a “lunch and learn” with my staff to discuss some common frustrations that patients experience when trying to navigate the healthcare system, so that they could better understand the patient’s point of view. She was an incredible and inspiring woman and I am so thankful that she was in my life.

When Donna Peach died in 2013, I posted some thoughts about how incredible it was that something like Twitter could bring people together in such a meaningful way. The connections that we make online translate into something very special when we meet “in real life”, or IRL.  The virtual “group hugs” are wonderful, but the IRL hugs are truly magical. Lori and I shared many of those magical hugs.

Rest in peace, Lori. Rest in peace Jody, Donna, and all of the other women and men taken from this world way too soon. You are remembered with love. Thank you to the Universe for bringing Alicia and Jody together online. And thank you to Alicia and Jody, who had the vision to create such a special place for all of us – the fabulous online community that is #bcsm.

30 December 2016

Passing the gavel to Dr. Sheldon Feldman

On April 15, 2016, I passed the gavel of the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBrS) to our new President, Dr. Sheldon Feldman. The weeks leading up to the meeting were filled with anticipation, anxiety, and a few nightmares. I had dreams that I slept through my Presidential Address, and that I forgot to prepare my slides. My nightmares stopped when 2 weeks before the meeting, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Chip Cody, my predecessor. He is a breast surgical oncologist at the Memorial Sloan Cancer Center in New York and a very experienced and polished speaker. He let me know that he also had nightmares before his Presidential Address – it wasn’t just me! The meeting itself brought many emotions, including a bit of last minute panic before the big talk, joy, and pride. Those words don’t do the emotions justice.

Read more

30 December 2015

14 August 2015

It was hard not to get swept up in this one. Anyone who has frequented You Tube knows that certain posts go “viral”. Everyone gets caught up, there is a period of intense conversation and attention, and then it’s gone, replaced by the next trend. While I’ve been amused by some of these “current events”, I’ve never been an active participant. Until now.

A few months ago, This is What We Look Like launched. The purpose:  “Promoting the presence, awareness, and progress of women in traditionally male dominated fields – Filling the web with images of women doing what is usually considered men’s work”. Images of women wearing t-shirts with slogans such as “This is What a [Drummer/CEO/Philosopher/Surgeon] Looks Like” began to fill the internet.

On August 5th 2015, the New York Times reported on the on-line campaign #ILookLikeAnEngineer. Fast forward a few hours, when General Surgery resident Dr. Heather Logghe posted the following on twitter:

A few tweets of support followed:

Next thing you know, the internet was flooded with surgeons posting pictures of themselves, tagged with #ILookLikeASurgeon. All taking part in the celebration of surgical diversity. A Facebook page was started by surgeon Dr. Kathy Hughes.

The images are inspiring. Women from all over the world have participated. Men have joined in, “celebrating the diversity of surgeons and surgery itself”. Breast cancer patient and advocate Terri Coutee wrote about how the images humanize the profession. Even the TODAY Show took notice.

I jumped on board with 3 tweets:

and my favorite:

It is unfortunate that campaigns like this are still necessary. During many of my medical school interviews, I was asked “How can you think about becoming a doctor when you are going to have children?”. Never mind that I didn’t see children in my future even at that young age. On one of my interviews for general surgery residency, I was told by a senior surgeon that women were not generally welcome in the operating rooms at that institution – how would I handle that? I handled it by finishing that interview and skipping out on the lunch and afternoon program to catch an earlier flight home – that was clearly not a program for me.

My medical school class at Georgetown was about 40% women. However, as a general surgery intern at Georgetown in 1990, I was the only woman in the 5-year surgical residency program. There was only one female faculty member, Dr. Colette Magnant. I was one of only a few woman to finish the program as a general surgeon. However, it was a supportive program and I never felt that my gender was a barrier. Throughout my career, I have been mentored by incredible women and men. I owe the many women who came before me in medicine an enormous debt of gratitude, as I feel I’ve had a relatively easy time of things. One of my great pleasures today is working with young women including high school and college students, medical students and surgical trainees, to help show them that “it can be done”.

There are now a growing number of role models for women considering a surgical career. More and more women are filling department chair positions at academic and community institutions and are taking on leadership roles in professional organizations. I am proud to be serving as the current President of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and was happy to respond “no!” when asked if I was their first female president. I am the 19th President, and the 6th woman to hold that position. 52% of our members are women, and 56% of our leadership roles are filled by women, a point raised by Dr. Hiram Cody III during his Presidential Address in April 2015. In Dr. Cody’s words: “We are not an old boy’s club, and there is no glass ceiling at ASBrS”.

With Dr. Hiram Cody III ASBrS Annual Meeting April 2015

With Dr. Hiram Cody III ASBrS Annual Meeting April 2015

Women in surgery and other fields still face many challenges. But the #ILookLikeASurgeon campaign reminds us how many have successfully faced those challenges. My hope is that there will be no need for similar campaigns in the future.

15 July 2015

I’m not an active non-medical blogger. However, when Jackie Fox tagged me in a tweet on Sunday, I gave in to peer pressure, and put together a few “fun facts” that you might not know about me.

Here you go – 15 Random Things About Me:

1. I was born in the Bronx, NY.

2. Deep down I am very shy. My mother used to tell me not to be a “scared rabbit” when I was around other people.

3. I have been the shortest one in my class since kindergarten. I didn’t go to pre-school otherwise I would have been the shortest one there, too. I used to be called Tiny Mighty Mo in elementary school. That stupid song still gets stuck in my head sometimes.

4. I still ask my sister, the English major, for grammar advice. I’d be lost without spellcheck.

5. I used to wonder about people who lived in California, given all the earthquakes. I moved to LA in 1999, and I wouldn’t live on the east coast again – I’m not a fan of winter. But I do get annoyed when it’s still 90 degrees in November.

6. I love NBA Basketball. Anyone who has seen me (all 4’11” of me) knows I could never play. I was a serious Michael Jordan fan. I saw his IMAX movie. 3 times. I still have the Sports Illustrated from his final championship. And a commemorative book. I’ve watched all of the Dream Team documentaries. I wish the Fun Police were still around.

7. Since 1999 I’ve been an LA Clippers fan. I usually pull for the underdog, which they were at that time. I had season tickets for a few years. It’s rare that I miss an episode of the NBA on TNT. I only like watching the games on TNT. The commentators on the other stations irritate me.

8. With the exception of the NBA I don’t watch TV. Except the occasional episode of House Hunters.

9. I love living on the west coast because I can stay up for the late basketball games, and still get to bed at a decent time.

10. Ideally I’m in bed by 9pm, 10 at the very latest. I eat about 5 times per day, at very regular intervals. Lack of sleep or food makes me incredibly cranky – ask my staff.

11. I have a serious chocolate problem.

12. My biggest influence and mentor during my surgical career has been my father.

13. I used to hate gardening. My mother grew all sorts of things. She would drag us to nurseries on the weekends and we’d be there for what seemed like hours. So how do I currently spend my weekends? I tend to my garden, read gardening books and seed catalogs, and go to nurseries.

14. While I enjoy traveling to new places, there’s no where I’d rather be than my vegetable garden. It feeds me in so many ways. Thanks to the milkweed, I have plenty of monarch butterflies.

15. My cat has no name, but after 14 years, she actually responds (when she feels like it) to “Sweetie” or “Good Girl”. She’s a scaredy-cat that I got from a shelter when she was barely 3 months old. She’s gotten much bolder in her old age. Here she is eating my breakfast when I got up to make some tea. As she gets older I let her indulge. Life is too short.

There you have it. 15 random things about me.