Friday, April 1, 2011

HEALING HEARTS by Kathy E. Magliato

The January 2011 paperback
edition is retitled Heart Matters.
There are many good reasons to read Healing Hearts: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon.

Maybe you're inspired by success-against-all-odds stories, especially when the author is a lively straight-shooter with a wry sense of humor.

Maybe you're a fan of House or Grey's Anatomy or other medical dramas, and you'd like to know what really goes on in a hospital. (Hint: it's not as sexy as you might think.)

Maybe you'd like to know more about what it's like to be a woman in a specialty where women are almost nonexistent:
Since 1948 the [American Board of Thoracic Surgery] has awarded approximately 7,400 certificates.... In 1961 the board certified its first woman.... From 1961 to 2008, ... only 180 [certificates] have been awarded to women.
(I just searched the "Find a Doctor" data base for Cleveland Clinic, for years the #1 ranking heart hospital in US News's annual rankings: no female heart surgeons on their Cleveland Campus. So I tried Mayo Clinic, hospital #2: zero in Rochester, MN. Johns Hopkins, #3: zero. Texas Heart Institute / St. Luke's Episcopal, #4: one! Note to my granddaughters: the field is wide open.)

Maybe you're curious about how Magliato - who sometimes works 24-hour days, frequently gives speeches, invented a device to assist heart patients, earned an MBA on the side, and, of course, wrote this book - manages to maintain a good relationship with her husband and their two young sons, as she claims she does:
Life is too short not to have it all.... If I can do it, anyone can.
Yeah, right.

On the other hand, you probably won't want to read Healing Hearts if
you crave sympathy for your own hectic days, or if you're looking for practical ways to balance work and family - unless you, like Magliato, have relentless ambition and energy to burn.

You probably won't want to read it if you have low tolerance for self-promotion: achievement is extremely important to Magliato, and she never neglects an opportunity to mention her accomplishments.

You certainly won't want to read it if you're facing open-chest surgery and need reassurance that nothing can possibly go wrong. Things often go wrong - more things than you might imagine, and Magliato is happy to tell you about them.

And if you're struggling to get by in America's foundering economy, parts of this book may raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels. In an astoundingly tone-deaf chapter, "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?" Magliato complains that her rates are less than her hairdresser's, notes that at age 45 she is still paying off student loans, expresses concern that new medicines and technologies are making surgery less necessary, and takes comfort in the fact that congestive heart failure is on the rise.

If I can't shed a tear for her plight, it's because a recent physician compensation survey shows cardiac and thoracic surgeons to be the fourth-highest-paid U.S. specialty out of the 69 listed. The average salary for a heart surgeon is $533,084; not as high as that of an orthopedic surgeon who does joint replacements ($605,953), but considerably higher than, say, that of a pediatric endocrinologist ($187,957) or a geriatrics specialist ($187,602). Magliato works hard and deserves adequate compensation, but she could have stated her case more tactfully.

Still, Magliato is a genuine pioneer, and pioneers are rarely soft-spoken and cuddly. She has had to summon the strength not only to put herself through decades of higher education, but also to stand up to sexism at every step along the way. She has had to work longer hours under more strenuous conditions than most of us will ever dream of, and at the same time she has had to fend off criticism about how she relates to her husband and children. You need a triple dose of chutzpah to do what she has done, and I applaud her for her success.

But please, Dr. Magliato, stop saying anyone can do it. You may think you're being modest, but really you're just making us normal people feel inadequate.


  1. Thanks, LaVonne. I think most doctor-written books suffer similarly. And they end up making us normal people stand in awe of them. However, if I had a choice for my granddaughter, I'd want her to be soft-spoken and cuddly, known more for her love of people than her ambition.

  2. The nice thing, Karen, is that our granddaughters (and your daughter) won't have to be pioneers, should they decide to become surgeons. The trail has been blazed. They can be simultaneously accomplished and cuddly - if they have lots of energy.