Celebrating International Women’s Day 2021
Ms Rashmi Yadav, Consultant cardiac surgeon, based at Royal Brompton Hospital talks candidly about her route into cardiac surgery, the experiences that shaped her as a woman in this field of work, and her thoughts on how important it is to encourage more women to follow their dream to become a surgeon.
Ms Yadav has been practicing as a consultant at the hospital since 2011, where she treats patients suffering from heart disease. Her areas of expertise include mitral valve surgery, complex multiple arterial coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery and robotic-assisted, minimally invasive coronary artery bypass surgery (EndoACAB). She is an international expert in minimally invasive transcatheter beating-heart mitral valve repair (NeoChord) and replacements and is part of the ground-breaking transcatheter mitral heart team.
Ms Yadav is part of the task force for latest ESC/EACTS guidelines on myocardial revascularization and also a member of the EACTS mitral and tricuspid task force.
Q. Tell us more about your job?
A. I am a consultant cardiac surgeon at Royal Brompton Hospital. My job is to perform complex heart valve repair and replacement and heart bypass surgeries on patients with heart disease. I work with cardiologists from hospitals in and around London and also further afield. I lead a dedicated team of junior doctors, specialist nurse practitioners and administrative staff to provide care to patients from the point of referral through to surgery, discharge and follow up.
Q. What led you to a career in healthcare?
A. I grew up in a small town in India where my mum was an obstetrician. As a young girl, when I was out shopping at the local market with my mum, I was always struck by how many people in the community knew her and how happy and grateful they were for the care she had provided. My dad was a senior engineer in the same organization, but nobody knew him and almost everyone knew my mum! So as a young child I saw a doctor’s role as one of respect and admiration, and was inspired to follow in her footsteps. I went through medical school wanting to be a physician but fell in love with surgery in my first surgical job as a house officer. I enjoyed working with my hands and found it rewarding to see the immediate impact of my work.
Q. What is the most exciting thing about your job?
A. My job is a wonderful combination of technical expertise and caring for people. It is a demanding role, but I love the fact that my job requires me to be skilful with my hands. As a cardiac surgeon, when life depends on a single decision or one stitch, there is little room for error and I have to be both quick and meticulous. I am always learning about newer, less invasive ways of treating heart disease and it really is exciting that as an established consultant of 10 years I still have the opportunity to learn new skills – it indeed is a wonderful and rejuvenating job.
Q. What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career? What would you say are the highlights?
A. Training to be a cardiac surgeon at the same time as writing a PhD, while bringing up a young family, was one of the toughest things I have done in my life. I saw very little of my children when they were young, and I had a constant feeling that I was letting them down. Leaving a sick child in the care of someone else was really painful, but over the years I learnt that parental love and nurturing can come from many sources. I was surrounded by people who cared deeply about my children, from nannies and friends to school teachers. My children benefited too, and learnt to be independent, resilient and resourceful. Today they are very proud of me and are my biggest cheer leaders. I feel fortunate that the tough years are behind me, and I am very grateful for a rewarding career and lovely children.
The highlight of my job is the surgeon-patient relationship. The trust and confidence patients have in their surgeon is truly humbling and motivates me to give my very best. It is a gift that my job allows me to be warm and empathetic and make a difference to people’s lives. I feel enriched by these human interactions, and find that being a surgeon is a great privilege.
The other special aspect of my job is that I work with talented and caring professionals who are all passionate about their work. I also gain much satisfaction from teaching trainee surgeons, particularly young talented women. I feel strongly that if I can make one woman’s journey easier as a cardiac surgeon, I will be very happy.
Q. Have you encountered any barriers to your success as a female leader?
A. Training in cardiac surgery was demanding but I was fortunate during my training to have valuable teaching and mentorship from my trainers. As I became a consultant and adopted a prominent leadership role, I started to notice that in a male dominated speciality, as a woman I was judged differently and possibly held to different standards. There is an unconscious bias against women when they step into traditionally male roles and the conventional leadership qualities of ambition, confidence and authority may be viewed negatively coming from women. These challenges are not insurmountable, however, and I learnt the value of authentic leadership; of leading with empathy rather than authority and toughness.
I was also struck by the dichotomy of being a woman of colour in surgery. The very things that stood in my way in day-to-day work as a woman cardiac surgeon were highly valued by colleagues at specialist cardiac societies and international meetings. I felt doors were opened and opportunities offered to me in part due to the need for women to be visible in a speciality where less than 3% of consultants are women.
Q. Studies show that women represent close to 70% of the global workforce but make up less than 20% of leadership roles. What can the healthcare industry do to change this?
A. The most valuable tool for women in healthcare who want to take on leadership roles is management and leadership coaching. It can equip women with tools to lead well with their authentic strengths.
Another indispensable tool is networking with other women, especially women leaders in and outside health care. Sharing experiences with other women can bring strength and insight and well as providing strategies to overcome challenges. The healthcare industry can support women by enabling and promoting such networks.
Q. What would you tell other women who are just starting a career in healthcare?
A. It’s a truly fabulous job so go for your dreams. Never underestimate the value you bring to your profession as a woman nor the satisfaction and happiness professional excellence will bring to your life. Create networks at home and at work to support you and your family and find the work-life balance that is right for you.
Q. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A. This was advice from another cardiac surgeon when I had my second child, and was facing difficult choices as a mother of young children and a trainee cardiac surgeon. I was in two minds about whether or not to take a sideways step in my career. He said, “When you need help from someone don’t ask for it. Create an environment through hard work, effort and dedication that makes the other person want to help you”.