Hello SOTGC community,
Today I have the pleasure of doing two things. One is to introduce you to Dr. Sarah Blair who is a leading breast cancer surgeon at UCSD. The other is to kick off National Breast Cancer Awareness month with her wonderful interview. I lost my Grandmother to breast cancer years back and so wanted to take a moment to raise awareness to this cause as well as highlight an individual who has dedicated her career to helping people with breast cancer
I got to know Sarah when she started using a product I have for precision dissection that helps with breast surgery. Two things I love about Sarah as both a person and a surgeon, are her patience and humor. Patience, because I’ll ask tons of questions about symptoms, pathology, and post operative recovery and care if you’re willing to sit down with me. And she always allows for opportunity to let me learn from her vast knowledge. I say humor because, despite her somewhat shy appearance, Sarah has a great sense of humor that’ll have you smiling for hours. I hope you enjoy this interview and getting a glimpse of her personality as much as I’ve enjoyed getting to know her.
What got you into medicine?
My Mom indirectly got me into medicine. She was always worried that we would get sick so I wanted to know the basics of the human body, what causes sickness, and what could be done to cure the sicknesses.
Have you had a mentor along the way and if so, what are two valuable lessons they taught you?
I have had several mentors at different points in my career. I’d say two of the things I have learned are:
- The first lesson I learned was patience. I remember what it was like as a resident and how my attendings treated me. Be patient with your residents. Residents wait till the last minute to do everything (at least I did) and so learning to be patient with them (since my mentors were patient with me) was a great for leadership development.
- The second thing is that you have to ask for opportunities to develop your leadership skills. That’s something I wish I had learned at an earlier stage in my career because if you don’t make it an early priority, years will go by and then you’ll realize you’re behind your peers.
What motivates you?
Diet coke. (laughter). No, seriously, the work that I do and the people I’m able to help is what motivates me. I love that my job is a mixture of clinical (hands on surgery) and research. The research is great because the questions that come up clinically can be explored and a collaborative answer can be found through that research process. The patient care is immediate gratification. Surgeons see a problem and fix it right away. That part is gratifying.
How do you maintain work life balance and what are two practical tips you can give people who are working on achieving this?
For me, and everyone is different, I make sure I have a lot of down time on the weekends. I’m not a “soccer Mom” so when I’m not on call during the weekends we make sure we have activities the whole family does to regroup and reconnect. The main piece of advice I’d give someone trying to find that work/life balance is to pay attention to your body and emotional state, when you’re feeling run down, take some time just for you. I like to read every night before I sleep. This is something that’s just for me and that’s mindless and something I can just enjoy and not think about too much.
Do you think self awareness (some call it “authenticity” ) plays a role in personal and professional development? If yes, how has it helped you on both levels?
I think it’s very important because there are things that you’re not suited to do, and that you shouldn’t be hard on yourself for not being good at. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being OK with them is key to personal and professional happiness
What is a lessons that you wish you had learned earlier in your career?
I wish I had learned to be more demonstrative of empathetic earlier on in my career. I’ve always had empathy but didn’t express it to the extent I do now. I’ve become much more demonstrative in the last few years towards what others are going through. Empathy isn’t a word you’d have heard with career attributes years ago, but kindness and understanding go a long way. I think at the beginning of my career I was too focused on looking professional.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this topic has gotten a lot of press lately. What are two things you highly recommend women to do to make sure they’re educated on this topic, and what piece of advice would give a woman currently going through treatment of breast cancer?
My advice to all women is that they should absolutely start getting regular mammograms starting at age 40. They do work and if you can catch the cancer before you feel the lump, you have a much better prognosis for treatment.
For those of you going through treatment for breast cancer, stay positive! Keep in mind that we have the most treatments for breast cancer over any other type of cancer; so if one type of treatment fails, there are other options. Overall the survival rate of breast cancer is higher than many other cancer
What is your mantra?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
A huge Thank You to UCSD Medical Center and Sharp Memorial for participating in the Medtronic Advanced Energy “pink PlasmaBade” campaign where 2% of the proceeds of the product went to research for Breast Cancer