Past Features

Quick Links:

Dr. Mara Antonoff, featured December 2019

Dr. Leah Backhus, featured July 2018

Dr. Shanda Blackmon, featured February 2018

Dr. Loretta Ehrunmwunsee, featured September 2018

Dr. Stephanie Fuller, featured May 2018

Dr. Meghana Helder (resident), featured May 2019

Dr. Cynthia Herrington, featured March 2018

Dr. Dawn Jaroszewski, featured March 2018

Dr. Tara Karamlou, featured December 2019

Dr. Rose Kelly, featured February 2018

Dr. Jennifer Lawton, featured April 2018

Dr. Virginia Litle, featured May 2019

Dr. HelenMari Merritt-Genore, featured July 2018

Dr. Yishay Orr, featured March 2018

Dr. Janani Reisenauer (fellow),  May 2018

Dr. Smita Sihag, featured April 2018

Dr. Elizabeth Stephens (resident), featured February 2018

Dr. Julia Swanson, featured June 2018

Dr. Jane Yanagawa, featured August 2018

All Past Features, in Alphabetical Order:

Leah Backhus, MD

“I believe I have the absolute best job in the world.  Thoracic Surgery is mentally and physically challenging and incredibly rewarding.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to play a role in healing others by shining a light in an otherwise dark place.  Facing a diagnosis of lung or esophageal cancer can be a frightening prospect.  Patients are at their most vulnerable and it never ceases to amaze me how our medical profession often fails to shepherd them through the gauntlet of diagnosis and treatment in the best way.  Many feel lost or ill-prepared for what lies ahead.  I think this is one of the most important things we do as thoracic surgeons is to impart knowledge and clarify the road ahead in addition to the surgical treatment.  We alleviate fears and guide them through the process and if we have the ultimate luxury of practicing in an academic medical center, we have the distinct honor of teaching the next generation of thoracic surgeons to do the same.  As an African American female Thoracic Surgeon, one can feel a bit like a pink unicorn, but my hope is that over time, this forest of surgery will have a huge population of “unicorns” who are all thriving!”

Dr. Backhus is a true superstar in our field, well-respected by colleagues, adored by patients, and loved by her family at home.  She is a thoracic surgeon at Stanford University and the Chief of Thoracic at the Palo Alto VA Hospital.  She holds a number of leadership roles throughout academic thoracic surgery, and she is a fantastic mom, to top it off.  She is a tremendous role model for any who aspire to join our field.  As eloquently stated in her nomination, “Dr. Leah Backhus is someone we should all aspire to be like.”  Without a doubt, she is a phenomenal example of what we’d all like to become.

Her nomination continues:

“She is so impressive and a great role model for surgeons wanting a career in Thoracic Surgery. She has a successful practice at Stanford University and wears many hats, such as, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the VA Palo Alto, Chair of Task Group for Lung Cancer in Women, Associate Director of Thoracic track residency, and Vice Chair of Thoracic Surgery Residency Review Committee. She excels in teaching, research, surgery and life. She is fun to be around, great personality, outgoing and wicked smart. She has two beautiful children and a great husband and manages to make career and family look effortless. I am privileged to call her my friend and colleague.”

Dr. Backhus operating

Dr Backhus and her husband

Dr. Backhus in the OR

Shanda Blackmon MD, MPH

“Becoming a thoracic surgeon, wife, and mother, taking cancer out of patients, mentoring young surgeons, finding the best new technology and treatments for my patients, advocating for my patients, and paving the way for our future surgeons (regardless of who they are or where they came from) is where I find my passion.”

Dr. Shanda Blackmon is a powerhouse in the field of Thoracic Surgery. She obtained her BA in Fine Arts from the University of Texas – Austin, an MPH from Emory University, Atlanta, MD from Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, and subsequent surgical training at Georgia Baptist Hospital (General Surgery), Baylor (CT Surgery Residency) and MD Anderson (Thoracic Oncology Fellowship). Her journey from Texas and Georgia to the highest positions in our field have been embodied by a tireless work ethic, dedication to patient care, and the willingness to take on outdated surgical practices by seamless incorporation of cutting edge technology in the setting of rigorous evidence-based clinical trials. Her experience building the General Thoracic Surgical practice at Methodist Hospital as a Division Chief caught the eyes of the Mayo Clinic, where she was recruited to join in 2015. She has attained the highest leadership positions in our field including serving on the Board of Directors for the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator at Mayo Clinic in several thoracic surgery clinical trials addressing mediastinal tumors, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, and diseases of the esophagus. Her clinical niche is in minimally invasive Thoracic surgery, and she has led several training courses for both the STS and AATS across the globe.

“Anyone can mentor; my best mentors are men who are passionate about excellence and training. Out of friendship, mutual respect and common interests, Thomas D’Amico just kept asking me to do things and helped me so much people thought I trained at Duke. He took a chance on offering me opportunities and led for me by being an example of excellence.  Ara Vaporciyan and Steve Swisher always practiced the art of listening, inviting me into their offices in the early years and letting me vent, plan, strategize, and work things out. Michael Reardon became a sort-of work father. He sent me a ton of cases, looked out for me, called me into the operating room to help, respected me, introduced me to people, and set an example to me of what professionalism really looks like. Mark Allen only has to raise an eyebrow and I know I have done something wrong. He is not afraid to tell me when I can do things better. I respect and admire these mentors and so many more. They took a keen interest in my career and have given me opportunities throughout my career.”

Dr. Shanda Blackmon with Matt, Sam, Jake, and Grace Blackmon

Mayo Clinic Thoracic Surgery

Dr. Shanda Blackmon and Team

Loretta Erhunmwunsee, MD

“Being a thoracic surgeon increases my happiness factor. I love the connection that I have with my patients, the ability I have to work with amazing people and the problem-solving opportunities that arise in my research as well as clinically. This career is helping shape the best version of me and it mandates that she shows up daily.”

Dr. Erhunmwunsee is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Thoracic Surgery at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, California.  Her list of accomplishments is a long one! She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Emory University in Atlanta and received her medical doctorate from Harvard Medical School in Boston, graduating magna cum laude. She continued her postgraduate training at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, completing a general surgery internship, followed by a residency in general surgery, after which she served as chief resident. This was followed by a residency in cardiothoracic surgery, also at Duke.  Board-certified in general and thoracic surgery, Dr. Erhunmwunsee has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards including the World Congress on Lung Cancer Young Investigator’s Award in 2009. She was chosen as an NIH/NMA Academic Career in Medicine Fellow in 2015, and was chosen as a Feagin Leadership Scholar from Duke University in 2014. Dr. Erhunmwunsee is also the recipient of the Peter C. Pairolero Scholarship Award which she received in 2015 from the General Thoracic Surgical Club.

Dr. Erhunmwunsee is a beloved member of the WTS, a supportive colleague and trusted professional.  As highlighted in her nomination,

“Loretta is just a great person. She’s so passionate about work, her research, her family, her religion, that’s just her approach to life!”

Dr. Erhunmwunsee operating

Dr. Erhunmwunsee outside of work!

Stephanie Fuller, MD, MS

“Upon first meeting us, patients are thrust into a world of chaos, anxiety and fear.  Taking care of the whole patient and making them feel as comfortable as possible given what they are going through is as much a part of the job as performing  the procedures with excellent technical results.   It gives me great satisfaction knowing that I operate for two reasons: to give someone a better quality of life or a longer life.  It is truly a privilege to do this for a living.

Yes, the career involves a lot of sacrifices, emotional rollercoasters and dedication but the rewards are immense.  As an academic surgeon, it’s an honor to positively influence, inspire and help build future cardiothoracic surgeons.  I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors and opportunities.  For this I am forever grateful and really hope to give back to the next generation.

And of course this would be impossible without the love and support of my family and friends.  Lucky to have their never-ending encouragement and patience!  Do what you love and love what you do!”

Dr. Stephanie Fuller is an Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.  She is also the Surgical Director of the Philadelphia Adult Congenital Heart Center and the Program Director for the Congenital Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  She is a fascinating woman boht in and out of the OR.  She expresses a commitment to rhino conservation, which is one of her passions, and considers riding horses to be her lifeline.  She was nominated by Dr. Lauren Kane, who states the following:

“Dr. Stephanie Fuller is an accomplished congenital heart surgeon and associate professor in the division of cardiothoracic surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and triple board certified. She is a genuine, unpretentious and wonderful human being. She treats the full spectrum of congenital heart disease from the neonates the day they are born to the survivors of congenital heart defects who have needs into adulthood. She is well published and has given talks and lectures around the world. Her contributions to our understanding of neurodevelopment outcomes in complex congenital heart surgery are invaluable. She is active nationally in our societies and a powerful contributor to the field of cardiothoracic surgery. She is sought out as a mentor to many young doctors and students. I am grateful to have her both as a friend and colleague.”

Dr. Fuller riding a horse

Dr Fuller dehorning a rhino in South Africa

Dr. Fuller operating

Cynthia Herrington, MD

“Most days I roll out of bed and think that I am the luckiest woman in the world…..and then I remember that luck had very little to do with it.  When I graduated from my congenital fellowship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles there were very few women specializing in congenital cardiac surgery.  I am so happy this has changed.  The practice of congenital cardiac surgery is extremely rewarding from the procedures, to patient care, to helping the families through the process.  Each patient is unique, and each repair is custom made.  It is very gratifying to be participating in the care of these children.

At a recent dinner Dr Starnes introduced me to a colleague as not only a busy cardiac surgeon but as a single mom.   I paused.  This was the first time I ever considered myself a single mom.   It is true.  I repair baby hearts during the day and change diapers at night.  This is the BEST of the best.   My daughters have brought my world into laser focus, and I am actually more productive now than I was before Olivia and Emma. I would change nothing.

For young surgeons and those of you in training I would tell you this:  balance is a verb not a noun.  For our profession, it is not like the scales of justice where each plate must be near equal to have balance.  It is more like the pole a tightrope walker would use.  It is a constant motion and reaction to outside forces that keeps you up on the wire.   The pole continually makes small adjustments to keep you balanced.  This month your definition of balance may be 30/70 and next month it may be 60/40. What matters is how you define balance not how the world defines it.”

WTS is thrilled to feature Dr. Cindy Herrington, a congenital cardiac surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, where she holds the title of Associate Professor of Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She is also Program Director for the Congenital Cardiac Surgery Fellowship and Surgical Director of the Heart Transplant Program.

Dr. Herrington was nominated by Dr. Jessica Donington, who shares the following laudatory remarks:

“Cindy is a force of nature. Clinically, she is an incredible busy congenital heart surgeon at LA Children’s, and she participates actively in the TSDA and in the organization of congenital match. She is dynamic, warm, and approachable. She just adopted her second child and she is a prime example that you can do it all, and you can do it with style. The fellows who train under her think she amazing. I think she is a tremendous role model.”

Dr. Herrington operating

Emma and Dr. Herrington

Emma and Olivia Herrington

Dr Herrington on the ward

Dawn Jaroszewski, MD

“When someone asks me at work ‘How as your day?’, I always think to myself: ‘Today I had the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better!’  That is a great day and an awesome reality check of how fortunate I am to do what I do.”

Dr. Jarozsewski is a Professor of Surgery at the Mayo Clinic, Phoenix. She is a world leader in the surgical repair of chest wall deformities, including pectus excavatum. In her highly viewed TED talk, she shares her journey from high school social-misfit to successful businesswoman, and ultimately a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon. She discusses ground-breaking innovations she developed to modify a surgical procedure that was once thought to be applicable only to children, which can now be life changing for almost any adult. Her many awards and recognitions include V. Johnson Scholarship for Outstanding Surgical Clinical Performance; Outstanding Performance in the Medicine Clerkship -University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; Janet M. Glasgow Memorial Achievement Citation from AMWA; and Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. She was nominated by Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, who states:

“I have had the pleasure to interact with Dawn Jaroszewski at various courses on chest wall reconstruction as well as doing a site visit to observe some of her cases of adult pectus surgeries. She is happy to share her experiences (by sending you her videos, providing you a copy of her OR preference card), help review a case for you and give insight in how she has used social media to expand her practice. While adult pectus surgery is a small part of everything that thoracic surgery can cover, she has taken on complex cases and made advances for adult Nuss procedures. Her patients express their gratitude to now being able to climb mountains and have more adventure in life without gasping for air. Dr. Jaroszewski is one of the female thoracic surgeons who inspire me with their successful practices and then balance a personal life showing love for her friends and her family.”

Dr Jaroszewski and her son Aden

Dr. Dawn Jaroszewski

Dr Jaroszewski and her partner Dr Staci Beamer

Rosemary Kelly, MD

“I feel so privileged to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. The trust my patients place in me and my team is motivating and humbling. I love the entirety of my job from the intense, challenging and creative aspects of the operations to the opportunities to innovate in research and in education. As chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Minnesota, I strive to create a team and hospital system that delivers excellence and innovation with every patient encounter. I am driven to care for cardiothoracic patients with an excellence that justifies their trust. The bravery of patients who face open heart surgery inspires me to deliver my very best.”

Dr. Rose Kelly is the C. Walton and Richard C. Lillehei Professor and Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Minnesota, as well as the Surgical Director of the Lung Transplantation Program.  She is well respected by patients, peers, and trainees, for her talent that is accompanied by strength and humility.  She leads a full life in and outside of the operating room, with horse riding one of her passions. As described by Dr. Jessica Donington,

“Rose is one of the small handful of section chief in cardiothoracic surgery in the country. She is incredibly accomplished, but quiet and unassuming. I think she is a great role model for residents and students.”

Dr. Rose Kelly with her horse, Irish

Dr. Rose Kelly, operating

Jennifer Lawton, MD

Being a cardiothoracic surgeon is a huge honor. Our patients trust us with their lives and we strive to improve them and sometimes to save them. It is very rewarding. But, with all things, nothing good comes easy (or is free?) and it requires hard work and dedication. I am positive that I am a better surgeon because I am a mother and spouse and also that I am a better mother and spouse because I am a surgeon. I would encourage you to seek the life you want, because anything is possible.”

Jennifer S. Lawton, M.D., is a Professor and Chief of the Johns Hopkins Division of Cardiac Surgery, as well as Director of the Cardiac Surgery Research Laboratory. Dr. Lawton’s clinical area of focus is adult cardiac surgery. She also conducts research in myocyte volume regulation and ATP-sensitive K channels. She has held leadership roles in several organizations, making an important impact in our field.  Dr. Lawton’s achievements are impressive, and she has set an outstanding example for all women who have choose to follow in her footsteps.

She was nominated by Dr. Lauren Kane, who states,

“Dr. Jennifer Lawton is someone I respect greatly and who inspires me. She is a skilled cardiac surgeon and a rare “triple threat” in our field, excelling in clinical work, education and research. She leads by example and is a mentor to countless doctors and students. Her accomplishments are impressive and inspiring, yet she unpretentious and approachable. She is a professor of surgery and the current Chief of Cardiac Surgery at Johns Hopkins University. She is past president of the Women in Thoracic Surgery, past chair of the surgery study section of the American Heart Association, a director of the ABTS, and vice-chair of the ACGME residency review committee. She is well published with over 90 peer-reviewed publications and 7 book chapters. Did I mention that she is a wife and mother of two smart, active, healthy children? I want to be like Dr. Lawton when I grow up! She is a true role model and I am so lucky to have her as a friend and colleague.”

Dr Lawton operating

Dr Lawton enjoying fishing

Dr Lawton and her husband skiing

Dr. Lawton’s son and daughter

HelenMari Merritt-Genore, D.O.

“Specializing in CT means always staying on your toes and being ready to respond to the next challenge with innovation and a positive attitude. The same goes for being a surgeon mom actually.

~CT surgery- humbling surgeons who think they might just have it figured out, since 1896.”

Dr. Merritt-Genore was the Inaugural Chief Resident from the Integrated Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program at the University of Texas Health Science Center.  She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery and Assistant Program Director for the CT Surgery Residency Program at the University of Nebraska.  She is a proud mother of 2, and it seems that she can do it all and do it amazingly well!  To learn more about her, watch her institutional video online!

Her colleagues have enormous respect and admiration for her, and appropriately so.  Her nomination reads:

“Dr. HelenMari Merritt-Genore is an exceptional surgeon and woman. I’ve known her for 7 years and watched her mature into a wonderful cardiothoracic surgeon. She was the first I6 resident in the University of Texas San Antonio program and graduated as strong, if not stronger than any resident across the country, in any configuration. She has had a successful career at the University of Nebraska where she serves as Assistant Program Director. She is relatable, smart, has a great attitude, and is a pleasure to be around and work with. She has two amazing children of her own, as well as a step-son and wonderful husband. HelenMari is evidence that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to and do it really well! Honored to call her not only a colleague, but a good friend.”

Dr. Merritt-Genore operating

Dr. Merritt-Genore and Family

Yishay Orr, MBBS BSc Hon FRACS, PhD

WTS is privileged to feature Dr. Yishay Orr, who shares some of her background here:

“I completed my undergraduate medical degree at the University of NSW graduating in February 1999. I then progressed through intern and residency years and commenced working in cardiothoracic surgery at Liverpool Hospital in 2001 and then Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 2002. During 2003-5 I completed a research PhD investigating neutrophils and the systemic inflammatory response to cardiopulmonary bypass through the School of Medical Sciences at the University of NSW. After a year of general surgical training in 2006 I commenced my Advanced Cardiothoracic Surgical training, working for 2 years at Royal Perth Hospital with a strong focus on Heart & Lung transplantation and mechanical circulatory support. This was followed by the next 2 years of my training in the Cardiothoracic surgery, heart & lung transplant and MCS unit at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. After obtaining Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in January 2011 I embarked on 3 years of paediatric cardiac surgery training with 2 years at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney Australia followed by a Faculty Instructorship (Fellowship) at Texas Children’s Hospital during 2013.

Since March 2014 I have been working as a Consultant Paediatric Cardiac Surgeon at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children’s Hospital in Sydney and as an adult cardiothoracic and congenital surgeon at Westmead Hospital and Westmead Private Hospital both also in Sydney, Australia. My main clinical focus is the surgical treatment of paediatric and adult congenital heart disease, particularly neonates. My other current active clinical interests include adult cardiothoracic surgery, management of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), active involvement in paediatric cardiac intensive care and planning for the establishment of a paediatric heart transplant and mechanical circulatory assist program in my home state of New South Wales, Australia. I am actively involved with and have a strong passion for humanitarian work, traveling with a non-profit organisation Open Heart International ( to various underprivileged countries to train and partner with local teams to perform paediatric cardiac surgery in a low-cost, sustainable fashion. This is a strong area of passion and focus for my career. I am also involved in academic work researching clinical outcomes following paediatric cardiac surgery at the Heart Centre for Children at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

I have a truly dedicated and supportive husband and an adorable West Highland terrier called Angus who keeps us company. Running and scuba diving are my passions outside of work – there is nothing better than running for 21.2 km to clear your head and keep you strong!

To be honest cardiac surgery defines me – I believe that it’s a wonderful privilege to be able to do what I do – the ability to reconstruct a little baby’s heart with the aim of giving them a normal life and to see them thriving years later brings a joy that almost cannot be described. I have a truly selfless husband who allows me to dedicate extraordinarily long hours to my work and is always ready to go for a long run with me! I have also come to realise that sometimes you can’t have it all and I haven’t managed to squeeze children of my own into the equation but my life is extraordinarily fulfilling in other ways!”

Dr. Orr was nominated by Dr. Nikki Stamp, who provided the following comments:

“Yishay is an adult and congenital cardiac surgeon in Sydney Australia. I’ve known her since we were both registrars and she has always led by example clinically and with her leadership around the hospital. She is an excellent surgeon and gives selflessly to help her patients, including those who are less fortunate by operating with Open Heart International in developing countries.”

Dr Yishay Orr

Dr Orr and her husband

Dr Orr operating

Dr Orr with her humanitarian team from Open Heart International

Janani Reisenauer, MD

“I consider myself very fortunate to have a supportive husband and daughter who make me proud of my career, and a wonderful job that makes me proud of my family.  Many days are not easy, and many days one takes priority at the cost of the other, but it is incredibly rewarding to heal people every day and get them home to their loved ones so I can get home to mine.  Its important to have passion for everything you do, and my passion for thoracic surgery is what gives me the energy and the drive to be a caring and competent physician and make my daughter proud.”

Dr. Janani Reisenauer was born in London, England, and grew up in Huntsville, Alabama.  She attended medical school at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, graduating in 2010.  She completed her 4/3 cardiothoracic training at the Mayo Clinic, graduating in 2017. Dr. Reisenauer is now completing a Scholars Year at Mayo, training in Interventional Pulmonology, and plans to join the Mayo faculty in a unique position in both thoracic surgery and interventional pulmonology after completing this training in 2018.  She is married to an interventional radiologist who also calls Mayo his home, and they share a beautiful 2 year old daughter. Dr. Reisenauer was nominated by Dr. Shanda Blackman, who states the following:

“Dr. Reisenauer is one of the most professional colleagues I have worked with. She is always pleasant, completes tasks, and seeks solutions to difficult problems through investigating new technology. She is a leader and an example for our residents to follow. She balances her personal life with a daughter and a husband who is an interventional radiologist well with her professional life. She is fully engaged in life and yet clear about limitations. She does not commit unless she is completely focused and ready. I have no doubt she will be one of our brightest rising stars in Cardiothoracic Surgery”

Dr. Reisenauer with her husband and daughter

Dr. Reisenauer operating

Smita Sihag MD, MPH

“My decision to go into thoracic surgery was the culmination of several experiences during my second year of residency in particular – with surgeons such as Jim Allan, Chris Morse, Dean Donahue, and Cam Wright, who ultimately became my mentors and advocates over the subsequent years. I distinctly remember what it felt like to open a chest for the first time and the exhilaration of operating in a dynamic space with real-time, observable physiology of vital organs. And I also distinctly remember the phone call that came 2-3 years later from Dr. Mathisen welcoming me into the fellowship program at MGH as the first woman in the thoracic track, and the second ever in the fellowship program. Within a short period of time, there is now a “pipeline” of women coming through the fellowship program.

But having a pipeline is just the beginning. While I’ve always aspired to become an expert or “master” in thoracic surgery someday, I only recently have begun to also aspire to a leadership role to change the outlook of our specialty to embrace fairness, inclusiveness, personal fulfillment, transparency, and talent in all forms. My first year in practice as a staff surgeon at MSKCC has been one of the most exciting of my life to date – filled with sweet victories, humbling failures, grateful patients, challenging cases, and amazing stories that I’ll remember for awhile to come. This privilege should be accessible to all who strive for it, and certainly not at the expense of living a full and fulfilling life.”

Dr. Sihag trained in general surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and obtained her specialty training also at the MGH. She did dedicated research time at the Broad Institute of Harvard/MIT during her residency. As a trainee, Dr. Sihag became an example of clinical and academic success for the male and female junior residents. She was the first female to train in CT surgery at MGH for nearly 20 years and her success in this role has led to an increased volume of female trainees entering this specialty pathway within the MGH. She is currently an attending surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) with a focus on esophageal and lung cancers and is building a dedicated research program at MSKCC examining the genomic and epigenetic changes associated with esophageal cancer and predictive of esophageal cancer response to therapy.

As noted by Dr. Genevieve Boland, who nominated Dr. Sihag,

“Dr. Sihag is a talented surgeon demonstrating clinical excellence in care. Her academic successes parallel her clinical expertise and she has already been awarded the Association of Women Surgeons Fellowship to support her research endeavors. As a colleague and mentor to trainees, she sets the tone of excellence and holds her team to the highest of standards. She was one of the top residents at the MGH. Dr. Sihag represents the best and the brightest of thoracic surgery, male or female. However, given her prominent role as a role model for female residents, she has taken time to mentor the female trainees that have followed in her track and is an ideal candidate to highlight in the field of CT surgery.”

Dr. Sihag and her family at the MGH CT Surgery graduation

Dr. Sihag and her family on the top of Table Mountain, South Africa

Dr. Sihag operating

Dr. Elizabeth Stephens

Elizabeth H. Stephens, MD, PhD
Cardiothoracic Surgery, PGY6
Columbia University

We are excited to feature Dr. Elizabeth H. Stephens as the first WTS Resident Profile.  Dr. Stephens is a force to be reckoned in CT Surgery, as highlighted in her nomination from Dr. Shanda Blackmon:

“Elizabeth Stephens is one of the hardest working surgeons I know. Having known her since medical school, I have seen her focus on a goal, work hard to achieve it, and surpass that goal. I have also seen her face adversity. Instead of becoming discouraged, she works even harder and becomes even more persistent. She is the real definition of Grit. Her skills, work ethic, compassion, knowledge, and innate sense of what is right along with her ability to stay humble are the factors that will make her a legendary surgeon. I have loved watching her navigate through her career and remain very proud”

–Dr. Shanda H. Blackmon

When asked about her experiences operating, Dr. Stephens shared the following:

“I feel it’s an incredible honor and privilege to have the opportunity to do what I do everyday.  To have a patient and his family entrust us to open his chest, put him on the bypass machine and perform life-saving repairs everyday is incredible.  Each time I see the heart beating in the chest there’s a moment of wonder — a pause while I take in the beauty and complexity of it all.  I hope that’s something that I never lose. I certainly never imagined I would do this as a career, but certain key mentors along the way I guess saw something in me and encouraged me to pursue it.  While the path has been far from easy, there’s nothing more rewarding and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Dr. Elizabeth Stephens surrounded by her parents and brother

Dr Stephens operating with Dr. Naka, photo courtesy of Tara Quinn

Julia Swanson, MD

“I never thought of myself as a pioneer.  I grew up loving science and people and pursuing medicine just made sense.  I was exposed to cardiac physiology early and loved how logical it was.  Surgery attracted me with its definitiveness and once I was involved in operations and had the opportunity to fix a patient I was sold.   Cardiac surgery naturally followed.  I paid no attention to the fact that I did not have a single female mentor or attending until my super fellowship – my 11th year of post-graduate training.  I ultimately returned to Oregon where I began my training and became the first woman Cardiac Surgeon in Portland, Oregon.  A city with 8 hospitals that perform cardiac surgery.

I find the population of adult congenital heart disease patients incredibly rewarding to care for.  The number of adults with congenital heart disease now surpasses the number of children with congenital heart disease in the US.  These are the patients who were brave and underwent operations at the advent of congenital surgery.  They have incredible stories to tell.”

Dr. Swanson is truly a renaissance woman, with a phenomenal range of skills both clinically and outside of work.  She is quite the powerhouse of an all-star.  She was nominated by Dr. Lauren Kane, who shares the following laudatory remarks:

“Julia Swanson is a wonderful surgeon and amazing human being that I am privileged to call my friend. She has an impressive career path, with training at some of the best institutions across this country. She is now in practice with a special interest in adult congenital and mitral valve surgery. She practices a wide range of cardiac operations on all age groups. Her patients love her. She is also a runner that knocks out a 50 mile run, no problem. Finishes the Ironman New Zealand like it is not that big a deal (it really is a BIG deal)! Always impressed with her great attitude, enthusiasm for life, love of the outdoors and being an excellent cardiac surgeon. Proud to call her a friend and colleague.”

Dr. Swanson completing an Iron Man competition

Dr. Swanson operating

Dr. Swanson and her fiance Mark

Jane Yanagawa, MD

Being a teacher has turned out to be perhaps my favorite part of the job. Whether you’re teaching a medical student, a fellow, a patient, a colleague, taking on that role shapes your own image as well as the way your entire field is perceived. Also, introducing thoracic surgery – the complexity, how dynamic it is, how intensely meaningful it can be – to someone who had no idea what it was about is just a really fun and rewarding experience. Whether or not a trainee decides to go into thoracic surgery, pretty much everyone agrees it’s amazing.

Dr. Yanagawa is a thoracic surgeon at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and she is as passionate about teaching as she is about operating, as exemplified in her comment above! She completed her residency at UCSD and her fellowship in Thoracic Surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 2011-2013. She is a delight, and she is well loved by all who have the privilege of interacting with her.

Her nomination from Dr. Lauren Kane reads:

“Dr. Jane Yanagawa is an accomplished Thoracic Surgeon at the University of California and very active in all aspects of care for her patients. I was lucky enough to co-chair scholarships with the Women in Thoracic Surgery with her, where I got to know her better. Her enthusiasm is infectious. She is so smart, an absolute pleasure to work with and spend time with at social events. She is a great role model for young surgeons looking to go into Thoracic Surgery. She is a great friend and colleague who will do great things! Worth learning more about her.”

Dr Yanagawa operating

Dr Yanagawa and her mother