Conversations With Cardiologists: Claire Duvernoy, MD, FACC

October 19, 2016 | Claire Duvernoy, MD, FACC

Claire Duvernoy, MD, FACC, chair of ACC's Women in Cardiology (WIC) Section, is a well-known interventional cardiologist at University of Michigan and a nurturing mentor. In an interview with Poonam Velagapudi, MD, MS, an interventional cardiology fellow in training (FIT) at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and a member of the FIT Section Leadership Council, Duvernoy discusses various issues pertinent to women in cardiology.

PV: Dr. Duvernoy, it is a great pleasure to chat with you today. When I first met you at the 2015 'Women in Cardiology' Leadership Workshop in Washington, DC, I was impressed with your friendly, down to earth and affectionate nature. Your presentations and discussions on various topics related to women in cardiology are extremely interesting.

You are currently the chair of ACC's WIC Section. Can you tell us how you became interested in championing for women in cardiology and what your goals are during your tenure?

CD: Thanks for your kind words! Throughout my career I have been one of the only women in my field, and in my section – one of my main goals is to encourage more young women to take an interest in this field by showing them how exciting and fulfilling it is. I am really excited to have been given the opportunity to lead the WIC section. I think the WIC section is tremendously important for women cardiologists; we help women to network with one another and to share solutions for issues such as negotiating successfully, achieving work-life balance, and working to achieve gender parity both in pay and in promotions. I would like to encourage more women cardiologists to join WIC; we really are stronger together!

PV: Over the past decade, numbers of male and female trainees during medical school years are approximately equal. However, the percentage of female trainees drops as we go into a specialty field like cardiology and further into its sub-specialties – particularly interventional cardiology and electrophysiology. A surprising fact is that only 20 percent of cardiology FITs and a mere 9 percent of interventional cardiology FITs are women. Even more surprising is that only 10 percent of Board certified cardiologist members of the ACC are women. What do you think is the main reason behind these gender differences and how can we decrease this gap?

CD: I think there is a perception that cardiology, and especially interventional cardiology, is a very male-dominated field that is not compatible with having a family or a life outside of work. And I do think that, often, women are subtly discouraged from pursuing their interest in a field like interventional cardiology with ostensibly well-meaning advice to choose something that is more "family-friendly." In truth, any field, including interventional cardiology, can be rewarding and enjoyable for women, as well as for men, and work can be combined with having a family. I strive to be a positive role model in this regard; I think that's one of the best ways to encourage more young women to choose this field, so I am very open about my family, my two teenage kids, my husband – who is also a cardiologist – and my organizational strategies.

PV: How can female FITs become involved with WIC early in their training, and how will they benefit from this association? Could you also tell us about WIC meetings during the course of the year that FITs can participate in person?

CD: The best way to become involved is to start at the state level. If there is a WIC chapter in your state, go to the meetings that they hold; if there isn't, talk to your state ACC governor and ACC chapter executive about what you can do to start one. We are working on a toolkit for how to launch a state WIC chapter that we hope to post on the WIC website in the next one to two months to give some guidance. As for WIC meetings that FITs can participate in, probably the easiest is to go to the WIC Brownbag Luncheon at ACC's Annual Scientific Sessions, and to stop by the WIC Lounge at the annual meeting to network and listen to some of the sessions being held there. Apart from the annual meeting, we have an annual Leadership Workshop that we will hold in conjunction with the ACC Legislative Conference again in the fall of 2017. That's a wonderful event to go to because of the extensive networking opportunities and the targeted information offered there.

PV: I am an interventional cardiology FIT and during my interview trails as well as at national meetings, I have noted there are very few women in this field. You have been in this field for more than 10 years. What has changed for women interventional cardiologists in these years? And what changes do you foresee in the future?

CD: Well, not a whole lot has changed in the field, unfortunately. It is still very male-dominated, and it still has sort of a "macho" feeling to it. There's no doubt that you have to be strong, and confident, to succeed in cardiology. I hope that in the future, as women do find their way into this field in greater numbers, we will be able to support one another more, and perhaps will be able to change the culture somewhat so that it's less of a boy's club. I do have to say that my colleagues, who are all men other than me, have always been extremely supportive; I feel very lucky that we have such a great group in our cath lab, that we can turn to one another for help, and that we all appreciate the importance of family.

PV: It is well known that you have been a great mentor for many women in cardiology. I would like to share the note your mentee, Kamala Tamirisa, MD, FACC, wrote about you:

"Claire is a phenomenal person and the best mentor anyone could ask for. She is very pragmatic, smart and very personable. She was always there for me – at each and every level of my fellowship. As a general fellow, I learned a lot from her. She encouraged me and guided me to write articles just like any mentor would do. What made Claire unique is her level-headed approach to clinical and non-clinical issues. Day-to-day management of people is an art that is not taught in medical schools. She guided me through those steps and helped me navigate smoothly in management. When I stayed back at the University of Michigan for electrophysiology fellowship, she was my sounding board at times when I was in a dilemma. She reassured me from time to time about life's decisions. She stood by me and supported me in tough times. Over time, we talked about our families and work skills and became friends. I admire Claire for being one of the most unique mentors in my life – a strong, motivated, focused, simple, nice and a well-balanced female interventional cardiologist that she is!"

PV: Most days when I wake up in the morning, I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day. How do you balance a busy interventional career and the many other things that you do so well, including mentoring future cardiologists, ACC-related activities and your family life?

CD: Well, I also wish there were more hours in the day! And I certainly don't pretend to have all of the answers, but some things that work for me include a somewhat obsessive compulsive color-coded calendar and to-do list system that is synced between my phone, home and work computers, so that everyone in the family, including the babysitter, can see what is scheduled for the day, where it is, and who needs to go there. And I learned from one of my role models, Betsy Nabel, MD, that you should not hesitate to hire help for areas where you don't have the time, or where you could more effectively spend your time doing something else. That may mean that you eventually employ a small staff in your home, but it will probably be a good investment! I also don't try to separate my work and family lives; when we travel for work, especially a few years ago when the kids were younger, my husband and I tried to take the children along as much as possible, even if that meant taking the nanny with us as well. And I accept the fact that sometimes at work I will be taking care of family matters, and often at home I will be taking conference calls or doing work-related things. I can't compartmentalize my life, but I think it works out better for me this way.

PV: What advice do you have for FITs to become successful in this exciting and ever growing field of cardiology?

CD: The best advice I can give is to do what you love – if you are excited by being in the cath lab and doing procedures, or you really love taking care of sick patients with heart failure, then you should pursue that field even if others tell you that it's too hard, or that you'll never be able to have a family if you do that. I think that I have demonstrated that you CAN make a successful career and a family life work. Of course, you will be busy, and you have to be organized, but it's definitely, definitely doable, and the rewards are great.

PV: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and we wish you a great year with WIC activities.