Interview With New ACC Massachusetts Chapter Governor: Malissa J. Wood, MD, FACC

FEATURE | ACC Massachusetts Chapter Governor Malissa J. Wood, MD, FACC, has a captivating personality and charisma, which is apparent when you first meet her. She is an easy person to talk with and combined with her genuine interest in helping trainees, Wood has been an outstanding mentor to both men and women in the cardiology program. Over the years, Wood has shared her experiences with trainees about finding mentors, building a career and balancing family. When the ACC Women in Cardiology (WIC) Section asked me to interview Wood as she starts her term as governor, I was more than thrilled to discuss her vision and plans, the importance of mentorship, and her experiences with the ACC WIC Section.

Q. Congratulations on your term! Let's start with talking about your goals and what you want to achieve in your new role as governor.

Aligned with the strategic goals of the ACC, I want diversity and inclusion to be one of the key points of my governorship. That being said, I want to make an effort to engage and recruit more women to cardiology and others who maybe did not considered cardiology as a career for themselves in the past. One of my priorities is engaging the Fellows in Training (FITs) by bringing them into the discussion and getting them involved. Our FITs are the leaders of tomorrow, and the College has already done a lot with training interested and talented young cardiologists, as well as providing them with leadership initiatives and skills they need to succeed. In Massachusetts, we are so fortunate to have so many wonderful fellows. I want them to be able to get involved with the College early on, especially female fellows. Another area that I really want to focus on is advocacy. I think we are in a very dynamic time with health care and quality-based payments, and a gradual and ever-so-clear shift toward a single-payer system will likely take place over the next decade. We, as a College, and the FITs need to be involved in helping shape policy so that the interests of our patients and peers are first and foremost in that decision making.

Q. A significant part of the diversity and inclusion discussion is representation of women in cardiology. In 2016, the ACC surveyed female cardiologists and reported career satisfaction. However, female representation in the field was still about 10-12 percent compared to 18 percent in other sub-specialities. What are some of the ways you plan to increase recruitment of women to cardiology, under-represented minorities or those on a diverse career path (such as physician-scientists)?

One strategy we are working on is building on the work that was recently published by Pamela S. Douglas, MD, MACC, and others. They reported the results from a survey of internal medicine residents given to better understand their perceptions of cardiology and how those perceptions shaped their career choices1. We would like to update the questions and collaborate with work with the ACC Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce with the hope of piloting the revised questionnaire in Massachusetts, as well as some of the surrounding states. Our hope would be to refine the original questionnaire and incorporate questions that may be more pertinent to today while eliminating some that are not, and then beta-test it. There could be a lot to learn from those findings.

The publication looks at medicine residents and asks them why they chose the career they did. More importantly, for those who had an interest in cardiology but did not chose it, it also asks details questions about the reasons why they did not choose cardiology. These responses are precisely the data that we need to go to program directors and advocate for changes. We need more flexibility in our training programs so that women and men do not feel like an additional burden to their classmates if they need to take time off for maternity/paternity leave, or if they need to take a break because of a health-related issues. More flexibility must be built in our programs and we must use the advance practice professionals, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants to help with the clinical delivery of care normally covered by fellows. In the past, fellows would take very truncated maternity and paternity leaves because they felt like it was an undue burden on their colleagues who were already working very hard. In many other areas of business and professional workplaces, this has already been worked through and addressed, and we are late to that party. We addressed some of these issues in our Journal of the American College of Cardiology perspective piece, "The Pregnant Cardiologist."

Q. Another related hot topic in medicine is work-life balance. What would you advise a cardiology FIT about how to approach or achieve work-life balance?

It is important to understand the environment of any place where an FIT might work, either a prospective training program or their first job. There are programs and groups that recognize the importance and value of work-life balance and those that do not. It takes a bit more creativity and hard work to maintain work-life balance if you are working at an institution or for an organization that does not value balance. One way to begin to strike this balance is to develop a list of career and personal goals and then set priorities. Set out to design a path that will allow you to meet these goals over time. Look for jobs that provide you the opportunities as well as flexibility to meet these personal and professional goals. An example of a personal goal would be starting a family. This can take a lot of time and energy and you want to be at an institution where you will have the ability to manage your life well inside and outside of the hospital. Typically one person in each household carries the majority of the administrative responsibility for running the household (previously and still currently a full-time responsibility and choice in many households), so make sure that if that person with the most household responsibility is also a cardiologist, they are able to balance their duties at both home and work. This takes a bit of flexibility, creativity and the willingness to ask for help when needed. Other priorities outside medicine exist for all of us. Make sure to spend time doing the things you enjoy – this is one preventive step to help prevent burnout later on in your career!

Q. As fellows, we understand the importance of having great mentors. However, how do you find the right mentor or mentors? What are your thoughts about being a female cardiology mentor and how is that fitting into your governorship?

I think my interest in mentoring comes from the incredible value I have placed in those who have mentored me and the advice they gave me along my path, as well as continue to give me since life is dynamic and changing. They have been so instrumental in helping me achieve equipoise in my life. My mentors have been able to help me hone my skills in the right environment and allow me to make a difference. I absolutely believe in paying it forward and that mentees need a number of different types mentors that have different values, styles and maybe even career types. I want to be able to share my life and career experiences with others. My path was not traditional and I think that you can learn from all kinds of different mentors if you ask the right questions. Identify individuals who are doing things you are interested in or who have achieved success in a given area. Reach out and ask to meet with them for advice.

Q. How did you get involved with the ACC WIC Section and why?

I got involved with the ACC WIC Section through friends that had been involved over the years. I wanted to learn how women practicing cardiology can help one another and not have to reinvent the wheel. I started attending sessions when I was a fellow and I learned a lot of things that I could use in my life. From there, I wanted to be a part of the ACC WIC Leadership Council so that I could be actively be involved in ongoing activities.

Q. How would you engage or energize this new group of women in cardiology and FITS to get involved with the ACC WIC Section?

The most important way to get involved is face-to-face meetings. Whether it is at the ACC's Annual Scientific Sessions or Leadership Symposium, it is worth it. Bring your business cards and meet as many people as you can. Meeting others who have the passion and energy to work as a part of the ACC WIC Section will open doors for you down the road. The value of meeting someone and sharing your story and hearing their story is incredibly important and how you find collaborators, a job find solutions to common problems. Once you have that face-to-face meeting then you can really stay in touch through your social media, email or phone calls. The ACC WIC Section is starting to have geographically diverse educational sessions and forums and if there is something in your neck of the woods, try to attend. Get involved and contact your chapter! See if your chapter has an ACC WIC Section. Many chapters have them now. Reach out to your executive of your chapter if it is not clear who's involved in your chapter. If you do not have one, start one.

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This interview was conducted by Amy Erica Lin, MD, PhD, Fellow in Training (FIT) at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.