From an early age, I was interested in becoming a surgeon. I majored in biology in college and even took a vertebrate surgery course my senior year. But when I stated it as my ambition during a medical school interview, my interviewer chuckled, “You won’t become a surgeon. You’re too nice. You don’t have the personality for it.”
When I matriculated at the same medical school, I was told, “Everyone gets Bs, so don’t worry about grades.” Although the concept was foreign, I accepted this expectation. Meanwhile, since I had a serious boyfriend, I began to consider other less demanding specialties that would allow for a two-physician family, with me taking a lesser role and assuming the majority of the childcare. I was making career decisions without an engagement ring, a marriage or actual children. Those thoughts crashed when the relationship ended. Personally devastated, my ambition to become a surgeon was unbridled; I no longer earned Bs in my classes.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed my surgical clerkship, I was disturbed when I looked around at my environment. Not only was surgery male-dominated, the women acted like men, looked like men, and wanted to be men. I worried becoming a surgeon would mean I would be lonely, childless and unhappy. Discouraged, I gave it one last consideration by taking a sub-internship in surgery under a female chief resident. She was intelligent, hardworking, friendly and feminine— all traits I admired. When she learned of my ambitions, she encouraged me, “You just have to do it!” She also warned me, “There will be personal sacrifices in your 20s and 30s, but they are well worth it.” Still, I was afraid. Would I make it through residency? Would patients like me? Would other physicians refer to me?
My father said, “If you were a surgeon, I would want you as my doctor.” The die was cast.
Seven years later, I applied to several of the top surgical oncology fellowships in the country. Between applying and matching, I became engaged. When I matched in the premier training program, located in New York City, I said to my fiancé, “Maybe I should stay in Boston with you?” He replied, “No. You need to go to the best program for your career.” I was beyond grateful.
I currently work in a private practice multi-specialty group with seven other general surgeons. I am able to practice great depth and breadth of surgical oncology and general surgery. My partners are honest, fair, technically adept, knowledgeable and compassionate. Four women and four men, we all have families and personal lives that we seek to balance with challenging careers. I feel blessed every day to have this job. I attribute much of my successes, professionally and personally, to the people who have helped and continue to help me: my surgical mentors, my family and even my children’s nanny. I may not have the traditional personality of a surgeon, but our patients and colleagues appreciate a collegial and collaborative team approach that provides tailored and cutting-edge treatments in our community. I am so thankful that I leaned in to surgery!