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Women with Heart


 

Ascension Cardiologists Share Insights, Unique Perspective

Heart disease is no stranger to women, and few understand that better than the female cardiologists of Ascension Saint Thomas Heart.

Thanks to initiatives like the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" campaign, more women are recognizing the seriousness - and symptoms - of a disease once associated primarily with men. Nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath, upper abdominal discomfort, pain between the shoulder blades and generalized weakness all are common heart attack symptoms in women. While awareness is spreading, the tendency of women to prioritize care of their families, often forgoing their own health, is something providers continue to combat.

We asked Drs. Davis, Young, Suryadevara, Edwards and Davis for their insights on pursuing and finding success in what is still a male-dominated specialty, as well as heart-related challenges women face.


Kelly Davis, MD


Kelly Davis, MD

Interventional Cardiology, Cardiology

What drew you to medicine and cardiology?

I started developing an interest in medicine during high school and maintained this desire throughout undergraduate training. I was most intrigued by the cardiovascular system in medical school, and heart disease is prevalent in my family, so these were driving factors that led me to the field of cardiology.


What was your experience like training in a male-dominated field?

The fact that my field is predominantly male did not deter me. I do not think that my training experience was different. Fortunately, I had two female cardiologists who were the directors of one of my fellowship training programs. There were also other female cardiologists at the institution so they provided mentorship and guidance. While there were no female interventional cardiologists on staff, I received support from my male counterparts.


What will it take to get more women into cardiology?

I think in order to change this, there needs to be more women in leadership roles. Cardiology is a rapidly expanding field, and the innovative advances are enormous. The need for more physicians in this space is growing. With heart disease being the number 1 killer of women, it is especially important for more women to enter this field.


What can women do to combat heart disease?

Women should have regular checkups with their primary care providers. It is important to manage risk factors and to know your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar). High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are major risk factors for heart disease. Women should also not ignore any signs and symptoms. If there are any concerns about your health, please reach out to your doctor.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my career is the relationships I develop with my patients and their families. I treat my patients as if they were my own family and take pride and honor in the opportunity to be a part of my patients' medical care. Cardiology is a rapidly expanding field, rooted in evidence-based medicine, and there is always an opportunity for life-long learning.



Britten Young, MD

Britten Young, MD

General Cardiology


What drew you to medicine and cardiology?

When I was in elementary school, my father developed a heart rhythm problem that required emergency placement of a pacemaker. Because of that, I developed an interest in cardiovascular physiology that stayed with me through the years. However, I did not consider cardiology as a career until my final year of medical residency. I was fortunate to have mentors - one of whom was the same cardiologist who had placed my father's first pacemaker 15 years before - who encouraged me to apply for a cardiology fellowship. I am forever grateful for their guidance.


What was your experience like training in a male-dominated field?

I think that there is a place in medicine for every personality type ... as it's said, you find your tribe. I found mine in cardiology. The majority of my medical education and training experiences were positive. I did have a somewhat different experience than my male colleagues; for example, during my fellowship, one male attending directed me to drive him to a media appearance. I doubt that would have been asked of a male colleague. There were other isolated incidents over the years, as well. However, overall I do not feel my options in cardiology were limited because of my gender.


What will it take to get more women into cardiology?

More women are definitely needed in cardiology, but we have to wear a lot of hats in our lives; our time is limited. Compared to other specialties, cardiology may be perceived as less likely to offer an acceptable work-life balance. That does not need to be the case. Restructuring cardiology practices to improve efficiency and increased use of telehealth and similar technologies will offer more flexible scheduling options that have never been available in the past. These changes may increase the interest of women in the field.


What can women do to combat heart disease?

Our grandmothers were right when they said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Heart disease is largely preventable, and the earlier you start, the more preventable it is. The biggest opportunity we have in cardiovascular prevention is to educate young people and encourage them to commit to a life-long, heart-healthy lifestyle. Then, when they become parents, they will raise their children in a heart healthy environment.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

I really enjoy educating my patients about how to control risk factors for heart disease, because it empowers them to take control of their own health. I can always prescribe a medication or order a test, but the impact of that is really quite limited. It's much more rewarding when a patient leaves my office with actionable knowledge of how to be healthier, and they act on it. The impact of that can be vast.


Ramya Suryadevara, MD



Ramya Suryadevara, MD

Interventional Cardiology, Cardiology


What drew you to medicine and cardiology?

I started developing interest in a medical career when I began realizing the positive and pivotal role that my father, who is a physician himself, has played in his patients' lives. In medical school, I realized my affinity towards cardiovascular physiology. Unfortunately, during the last year of medical school, my father suffered a massive heart attack and cardiac arrest. It is because of a cardiologist that my father is alive today. At that time, we lived in a city where there was no immediate percutaneous coronary intervention (a procedure where we open up a clogged artery and put stents) available, and my father received a clot buster medication to treat his heart attack. At that point, I decided that I wanted to become an interventional cardiologist.


What was your experience like training in a male-dominated field?

Honestly, I was not aware that this profession is pursued predominantly by men until I entered my training, where there were only two females among 15 trainees. But that did not stop my passion to complete my training in cardiovascular sciences and go on to specialize further in interventional cardiology. I did not face a lot of challenges as a female during my training, and I have been honored to work with mentors who have always encouraged me to pursue my dream. More than education/training differences, I noticed that obtaining my first job as a female interventionalist was challenging. I felt that there were more questions about my young family and my ability to work longer hours when needed for patient care.


What will it take to get more women into cardiology?

In interventional cardiology, the number is much lower - around three to four percent of interventional cardiologists are women. Having more female physicians in leadership roles will encourage more women to take on tough specialties in the field of medicine. Given the growing incidence of cardiovascular diseases in women, we need more women to take up our specialty.


What can women do to combat heart disease?

Often, women are juggling their career, family, and home first and never sit down and think about themselves. I highly recommend all women to take a few minutes to themselves every day to reflect on their lifestyle, their health, nutrition and any symptoms. Take your symptoms seriously - do not ignore them. Seek medical care for early diagnosis and treatment. Taking care of yourself is an essential part of taking care of your family. Prevention by adopting healthy lifestyle changes is very important.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

The most rewarding part of my career is the relationships and trust that I develop with my patients. It's the happiness that I get when patients are able to return to their normal lives after a heart attack, make changes in their lifestyle, and become healthier.


Stacy F. Davis, MD



Stacy F. Davis, MD

Cardiology, Advanced Heart Failure & Transplant Cardiology


What drew you to medicine and cardiology?

As a freshman at Stanford University, I told my undergraduate advisor that I was interested in becoming an architect or an orthopedic surgeon. He informed me that since Stanford closed its architecture school a decade earlier, my best option was to become a doctor or study engineering and apply to graduate school for architecture. The summer of my junior year I was awarded an American Heart Association research grant to study cardiovascular physiology. My research advisor, Dr. Steven Horvath, was a wonderful mentor. I presented my research at a conference at UCLA. After that, I was convinced I would be a cardiologist.


What was your experience like training in a male-dominated field?

It doesn't take courage to be successful. It takes drive, ability and, most important of all, great mentors. A cardiology fellowship interviewer at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, asked me, "What makes you think a woman can be a successful cardiologist?" I reminded him that women had successful careers in cardiology going back to Helen B Taussig in the late 1940s. She envisioned the Blalock-Taussig shunt (the first palliative surgery for Tetralogy of Fallot). As a medical student at the University of Minnesota - Minneapolis, Dr. James Moller (a pediatric cardiologist) was instrumental in supporting my application for a research grant from the American Heart Association to develop a computer program to teach students heart sounds. At Stanford University Medical Center, I credit my interest and success in advanced heart failure and cardiac transplant to the support of Dr. Sharon Hunt, Dr. Ann Bolger, and Dr. Michael Stadius. They believed in me and my abilities. At Harvard-Brigham & Women's Hospital, I had excellent research and clinical mentors including Dr. Peter Ganz, Dr. Gilbert Mudge, Jr. and Dr. Peter Libby. They gave me opportunities to excel and opened many doors for me in academic medicine. They also turned me into a seasoned diagnostician. I received excellent advice as a medical student regarding residency: Choose the most challenging program that you can get into. Then you will learn from everyone there.


What will it take to get more women into cardiology?

As a resident in the late 1980s, I was disappointed to see that many talented women I trained with decided against a career in cardiology because they felt that they could not have a family and be a cardiologist. However, I have several friends who have done both. You just can't have it all at once. I am fortunate that I have a supportive husband, parents and siblings. I do not have children. I never made having children my first priority. In order to increase the number of women in cardiology, it will take more women having excellent mentors (male and female) who encourage them. However, you must have realistic expectations about what this career involves. It is rarely feasible to work part-time as a cardiologist while raising children. You choose a career in cardiology because there is nothing else you find as exciting or interesting. Then, when you are awakened at 2 a.m. with an emergency, you don't resent it.


What can women do to combat heart disease?

My biggest challenge is to get women to make changes NOW before they develop diabetes, have their first heart attack or develop heart failure. I see a lot of deferred health care maintenance. Many women with high cholesterol say that they will start taking a cholesterol medicine after they are done breastfeeding, but they never start the medicine. The same applies to beginning and sustaining an exercise program. If you don't "lead by example" and make exercise and a healthy diet a priority, it is unlikely that your spouse/partner and children will prioritize fresh fruit and a hike over gummy bears and videogames.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

The biggest reward of this career is the relationships I have with my patients and their families. In many cases, these relationships span decades. I have several cardiac transplant recipients that I have cared for 25 years. There are families where I care for multiple generations with different cardiac diagnoses. The second biggest reward is the knowledge that I have gained from outstanding teachers. Finally, the relationships I have with my colleagues in cardiology, the medical specialties that I collaborate with such as pulmonary critical care, maternal fetal medicine and nursing are also very rewarding.


Amber Edwards, MD



Amber Edwards, MD

Cardiothoracic Surgery


What drew you to medicine and cardiology?

I always knew that I wanted a career which involved public service. Initially, I thought I would become an attorney and pursue human rights or politics in order to do this. However, what I excelled at academically and what I found pleasure in learning were the STEM fields. I put those together and decided I would be a doctor. As far as choosing cardiac surgery, it was very easy for me. I was doing vascular operations on rats in a lab in my first year of medical school and very much enjoyed the technical aspects. I found a surgeon who let me come watch heart surgery, and after that I was hooked.


What was your experience like training in a male-dominated field?

It never really mattered to me that I was entering a male-dominated field. My whole life I have been somewhat of a tomboy, so it felt natural to work with men. As I progressed through training, and now my career, it started to matter more. Some days the micro and macro-aggressions are easy to get weighed down with, and it requires work to not have a "chip on your shoulder." I think it's important for women to continue to enter and (maybe more importantly) advance in leadership in these fields, to make other women more comfortable choosing this as a career path. My education and training are absolutely different than my male colleagues. Women classically are assigned roles and responsibilities that are different from their male counterparts, which are classically more administrative (scheduling, creating policies, etc.) and less valued from a surgical, political, and financially compensated standpoint. I was no stranger to this. In addition, as noted above, there are micro and macro aggressions against women, with microaggression being much more common. It is not unusual for people to assume that I am not a surgeon because of my gender, not use my professional title ("Dr. Edwards"), receive mail that assumes I am a man because I am a surgeon, to assume that if I am not available that it is directly related to me being a mother (not true for men who are fathers), and the list goes on and on. Macroaggressions are much less frequent, but have occurred to me personally, and to other women colleagues which included refusal to refer or work with a woman or overt sexual harassment.


What will it take to get more women into cardiology?

In cardiac surgery, that number is actually much smaller. I think 15 percent or so of trainees are women and 6 percent of the workforce are women. In order to change this, there needs to be more women in leadership positions and a system structure in place that supports women more (maternity leave, equal pay, work-life balance, etc).


What can women do to combat heart disease?

Women should continue to advocate for themselves with their providers, particularly if they know they have risk factors for heart disease or are experiencing symptoms. Women are more likely to die from heart disease. This is multifactorial, but one cause is that women are less likely to have their symptoms associated with a serious diagnosis like coronary artery disease.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

The most rewarding aspect of my career is the relationship that I develop with my patients. Patients have to learn to trust me, usually pretty quickly, and they go to sleep and put their life in the cardiac surgery team's hands. I always try to honor their trust, and do my best job. To see them do well, recover and feel better is immensely fulfilling. I also enjoy mentoring men and women who want to pursue a career in our specialty.

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Tags:
Amber Edwards, American Heart Association, Ascension Heart, Britten Young, Go Red for Women, Kelly Davis, Ramya Suryadevara, Stacy Davis, Women in Cardiology, Women's Heart Health
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