“The eyes of an eagle, the heart of a lion, and the hands of a woman.” That’s how a 15th-century English author described a surgeon. It’s a favorite quote of Nancy Gantt, M.D.
Co-medical director of the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at Mercy Health-St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, where she is also associate director of surgical education, Dr. Gantt was named Outstanding Student Organization Advisor at NEOMED in spring 2018 for her work with the Surgery Interest Group and the Association of Women’s Surgeons Medical Student Chapter. This fall, four women — thought to be the most ever from a NEOMED graduating class — entered surgical residencies.
We asked Dr. Gantt to tell us about what formed her as a surgeon and what continues to fuel her.
Where did you grow up? What aspects of your upbringing were most influential in your becoming a surgeon?
I grew up in a Chicago suburb with two younger brothers. My father was a Tennessee-born chemical engineer specializing in oil refining and my mother emigrated from Germany after World War II. I love animals, science, being active, and working with my hands. I originally planned on a career in veterinary medicine. I discovered my rather significant cat allergy in college, so I shifted my postgraduate plans to medical school.
What qualities does a good surgeon need to have?
Many characteristics of a successful surgeon are those possessed by all good physicians: intelligence, compassion, empathy, professionalism, good communication skills and impeccable ethics. Excellent surgeons are also required to be exceptionally resilient, confident and inquisitive, and to enjoy leadership roles, particularly in team-based care settings. Surgeons function well in stressful settings, tolerate unpredictable schedules, crave immediate feedback and enjoy problem-solving and “thinking outside the box.” Surgeons are granted a level of intimacy with their patients that few other fields share. To earn that privilege, we must demonstrate conscientious behavior and exceptional perseverance; we must be technically proficient and up-to-date with new technology in our fields.
You trained in an era that you have described as “the 80-hour work day, not the 80-hour work week.” What was one release you found, to keep your balance when your life was its most hectic?
I married a fellow University of Pittsburgh Medical Center resident who opened an orthopedic practice with his brother in their hometown of Youngstown. Our two sons were born in Youngstown when we were both very busy in private practice. We prioritized our family and were blessed to have in-laws and siblings nearby for support. We both keep balanced with exercise, non-medical reading and active vacations. I rely on close friends from the Association of Women Surgeons for collegial support, both personally and professionally.
What classes do you teach at NEOMED?
On campus I participate in M1 and M4 anatomy – one of my absolute favorite areas of science.
Is the operating room your favorite place to be?
My two favorite clinical settings are the office and operating room. In the office I am given the opportunity to guide a patient and their family successfully through their often-terrifying cancer journey. In the operating room I am responsible for leading the entire team through a procedure where I get to use my hands and high-tech tools to get a patient closer to being “cured.” In both settings, interdisciplinary care with other physicians and health care providers from many specialties is essential. The opportunity to teach and mentor students and residents in both of these settings is also personally fulfilling.
Quotes from Dr. Gantt:
“Leaders are different from managers. They are visionaries. They function well under pressure; they take risks.”
“EQ (emotional intelligence) trumps IQ when it comes to being a leader. Communication and fairness are most important.”
“Good leaders give power away.”