Gifted Educator Shares the Secret to Captivating Students | Cardiology Magazine

Like many veteran physicians in pediatric cardiology, Jacqueline Noonan, MD, FACC, entered the field at a time when so much of the understanding of congenital heart disease was still in the infancy stage, and the diagnosis of particular defects relied on a much more intuitive touch. Before the days of an echocardiogram (echo) eliminated any kind of mystery from the equation, Noonan relied only on a patient’s history (or lack thereof), a physical exam, an electrocardiogram (EKG) and an X-ray to determine their particular ailment, a process she says she enjoyed “because it was like being a detective.”

Noonan got so accustomed to this diagnostic approach that even when an echo became an available tool, she would still go through her old method first. “I remember the last time I was ever on-call,” says Noonan. “At the time I had been retired but when the person that had taken my place left, I was asked to be acting chief until the new hire took over. So it was my last night on call and I was just getting into bed when the phone rang. They said, ‘We’ve got a baby over here that has some kind of heart problem.’ I got dressed again and came into the hospital. I looked at the X-ray and EKG and then listened to the baby. I said to one of the residents standing around, ‘Well the baby sounds like he has a truncus. There’s a lot of truncal insufficiency.’ They were so surprised because nobody else would ever say what they thought before they got the echo. But the echo tech came and put the probe on, and the baby had a truncus with truncal insufficiency. One of the interns said to me, ‘Well Dr. Noonan next time we’ll just hold the baby up to the telephone.’”

Though officially retired, Noonan continues to emphasize this attentive, patient-first approach as Professor Emerita at Lexington’s University of Kentucky, her occupational base since 1961. Having already been recognized numerous times for her professional contributions – including being the first to describe hypoplastic left heart syndrome and Noonan syndrome (a name she admits she did not coin) – it was Noonan’s ongoing role as an teacher that landed her with her most recent honor, the Gifted Educator Award at the ACC.14 in Washington, DC.

“It is rewarding when you teach somebody and you see the light go on in their brain and they are able to do something they weren’t able to do,” says Noonan. “Knowing you played a role in it is very gratifying.”

Much like the detective she was trying to be in her early career, Noonan explains that having a sense of wonder and fun in one’s job is crucially component. “You have to convey your enthusiasm to your audience – your students – so that they’ll listen and pay attention,” she notes. “And hopefully you can teach in a way that they’ll learn. I’m still trying to encourage them to not only be good doctors but to meaningfully contribute to the future. There’s still a lot to learn.”

The ACC is calling for mentors and mentees to enroll in its new Mentoring Program. Developed by leaders of the Early Career Professional Section as a benefit of ACC membership, the program provides mentees with knowledgeable mentors based on their interest areas or career and professional development needs. The ACC’s online mentoring portal, powered by the HEALTHeCAREERS Network, connects cardiovascular practitioners, researchers and faculty members so they can form relationships that will enhance their skillset and promote intellectual growth. Learn more at

Keywords: Washington, Students, Heart Defects, Congenital, X-Rays, Pediatrics, Attention, Noonan Syndrome, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, Electrocardiography, Reward, Awards and Prizes, Echocardiography, Cardiology Magazine, ACC Publications

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