This interview continues our series of conversations with national vascular surgery leaders based on topics from the Kouznes and Pozner book “The Truth About Leadership.” This column highlights evidence-based behaviors on how to make a change stick.
Amy Reed, MD, is director of vascular service for M Health Fairview’s 11-hospital system and professor and chief of vascular and endovascular surgery at University of Minnesota. She also is immediate past-president of the Association of Program Directors in Vascular Surgery (APDVS) and secretary of the Society for Vascular Surgery. (SVS) She served on the Vascular Surgery Board for seven years, is a current member of the University of Minnesota Physicians Board of Directors, co-editor of VESAP4 (Vascular Educational Self-Assessment Program) and VESAP5, and an associate editor of the Annals of Vascular Surgery.
Q. During this COVID-19 pandemic, how do you remain a thoughtful and poised leader and care for our vascular patients?
A. I try to understand each unique scenario in which the patient finds himself/herself and how I would personally like to be cared for, and apply the same strategies with all of our vascular patients, staff. We all have anxiety, grief, loss—a whole slew of emotions—during this time. Compassion is paramount.
We have been fortunate to have embraced telemedicine, which has helped tremendously, especially seeing patients, and reassuring them through the video/phone interactions has been rewarding for us and for the patients. The pandemic has placed both patients and physicians on equal footing dealing with all the problems surrounding the pandemic. Across all 11 hospitals that we cover, we have been able to reach out to our patients and share with them the concerns that are touching us all, especially how to deal with their vascular disease process and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q. With recent events in Minneapolis, how do you remain a positive female leader as a role model?
A. It is important to acknowledge the tragedy, the loss and the sadness, let alone it happened in my own backyard, in an area of the country labeled “Minnesota Nice.” It has made us realize we are all imperfect. We all have biases and blind spots. To see this happen is heartbreaking. However, it highlights an opportunity for ongoing change and reform. I can see similar patterns of biases and disparities within our field of surgery. Examples of that are the tolerance of bad behavior of certain individuals in the operating room, not having the right gender or accepted sexuality, not being from the right race, not looking the right way, not having the right skin color. However, it takes standing up to that to cause change; which is not popular. Even further, one cannot assume that the problem is solved by just standing up to it. This is an area/topic that requires ongoing scrutiny and pressure for change. We cannot take our foot off the accelerator when it comes to equity and diversity. It requires attention every single day. Everyone needs to get involved. It is a struggle. I believe persistence is the key component to prompt change that is lasting. Our first SVS female officer—Dr. Julie Freischlag—was first elected only a decade ago. It took another 10 years before another woman would be elected. We need to continue promoting diversity throughout our specialty.
Q. What steps do you think are important to enact lasting change?
A. As I mentioned, daily reminders of how we can do better are necessary to make the change stick. It is also very helpful to have the support from our Society administrators, who are very engaged in supporting ways to bring change/diversity in our field. As a leader, you also need to be scanning the horizon to see what is out there and how you can apply it to your situation, your challenge.
Q. As a female leader in a male-dominated field, I certainly see you as a role model. Have you seen and experienced change within the field during your career?
A. Yes, definitely. The composition of people coming into the field has changed. I have seen attempts to fill the pipeline. In fact, the integrated program has attracted a larger pool of women interested in vascular surgery. Secondly, social media has played a very large role and has popularized the field. It is an excellent way to find a mentor/become a mentor to the new generation of medical students that are already networking in social media. Thirdly, the increase of women in the field has prompted more women to get involved in local societies, which influences the people behind you as role models. Having the ability to network, and find sponsors and mentors, are key to increasing the visibility of women in our field.
Q. What would you say to your younger self after finishing up vascular surgery fellowship?
A. Understand what you know and what you have. You are not the only one with the issues you are facing. Being vulnerable is OK. Admitting and understanding that it is not only you is OK. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; it is not a sign of weakness. You can have a work buddy, or it can be somebody at another institution with whom you can talk things out, and he/she can help you understand what you are going through. There are social groups at the SVS that are excellent networking opportunities to discuss and understand the very same issues that you may be going through. You are not alone, especially with personal life struggles. Don’t beat yourself up.
Q. What would you say to young women in medical school contemplating vascular surgery as a field of practice?
A. This is a wonderful career. I would do it all over again, even with all the trials and tribulations I have been through. Vascular surgery has such a variety of careers opportunities. You can reinvent yourself in your career many times over. You have the opportunity to have a malleable and flexible career. It can fit you. You can do open operations, you can do stenting, you can do balloon angioplasties, you can take care of critically ill patients, you can do in-office procedures, you can be an administrator, etc. The opportunity to have lifelong interaction with patients really adds incredible depth to our specialty.
Having grown up on a dairy farm, I know personally how life can throw significant challenges at you. I have a great role model in my mom. She is the ultimate example of perseverance. She survived a financial disaster, loss of home and farm, and family break-up. She picked herself up, went back to school and re-invented herself. Role models like her drive my perseverance to keep moving forward and to be a good example for my own daughter. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of my husband, who helps me keep things in perspective.
Young Erben, MD, was writing on behalf of the SVS Leadership Development and Diversity Committee.