It was an honor to be selected for the WTS Brigid Scanlan Traveling Mentorship Award. I am a general surgery resident currently in a cardiac lab pursuing a PhD in the midst of my surgical training. What this mentorship experience did was to launch me across the status chasm from “planning to be a pediatric cardiac surgeon” to “100% committed and enthusiastically motivated to becoming a pediatric cardiac surgeon.” I have been given a distinct shift in perspective, a tighter focus, and a renewed vigor in my academic and technical training pursuits.
I joined Dr. Kathleen Fenton in Kharkov, Ukraine. Dr. Fenton is a pediatric heart surgeon who has dedicated her distinguished career to improving international access to life-saving surgery. She and her partners of Novick Cardiac Alliance fix heart defects in children across the globe, and also mentor and train local surgeons and cardiac critical care teams to build sustainable pediatric heart surgery programs in underserved regions of the world.
My mentorship with Dr. Fenton gave me a first-hand look into the life of a female heart surgeon who is a leader in a unique area of the field, and allowed my temporary transference into that life. I experienced the spectrum of powerful elements that are packaged in pediatric heart surgery; it was a week of challenge, fun, solemnity, heartbreak and beauty. I scrubbed on remarkable surgeries and appreciated how both precise and broad the skill set of a successful pediatric heart surgeon is. Outside of the operating room, Dr. Fenton and I discussed academics, science, ethics, politics, life and family – providing components of career clarity and inspiration. I worked closely with an exceptional traveling team, which included an ICU nurse practitioner, an ICU nurse (herself a congenital heart surgery survivor), and
a veteran perfusionist, all fierce educators and advocates who enhanced my understanding of the field. Finally, I got to know the members of the local Ukrainian heart team and their patients. Their sole cardiac surgeon is a woman in her early-to-mid career, and thus, I gained an opportunity to engage and operate with another woman practicing my specialty of interest.
I will also mention that I am a mother of two young children and am constantly striving to be my best in both my personal and professional lives. While the notorious and elusive concept of career-life balance is familiar to me, I believe that such a balance is fluid, and many times unattainable. I did not use my time with Dr. Fenton to solve the balance equation, but I did walk away assured that time spent away from my children and loved ones will be spent in a profession worthy to be my life’s work.
I plan and look forward to working with Dr. Fenton again and thank her and all WTS surgeons for dedicating their time to mentor women aspiring to be cardiothoracic surgeons.