The Triangle’s Top 10 Women in Medicine
Inaugural class features glass ceiling-breakers with outstanding character
Congratulations to the inaugural edition of the Triangle’s Top 10 Women in Medicine! The 2012 class features glass ceiling-breakers, tops in their field for innovative research, groundbreaking methodology, and consummate compassion. Patients, peers, family and friends rave about the upstanding character these ladies represent.
“Lisa is anchored in a true north that keeps patients at the center of her practice,” said Richard Walsh, PhD, chief human resources officer at Durham Regional, recalling a stroll through the hospital with Top 10 winner, Durham Regional Hospital CMO Lisa Pickett, MD, and noticing that she greeted almost every person she encountered by name. “This true north includes caring for and connecting with patients, fellow physicians, hospital employees and everyone else around her.”
Panel members for the selection of our Top 10 graciously shared their time and industry expertise with Triangle Medical News to judge the candidates, whose names were not provided to them during the screening process.
The 5-member selection committee includes:
· Donna Chapin, RN, MSN, CNOR, of the Duke University Health System’s Watts School of Nursing in Durham.
· Debbie Cashion, president of the North Carolina Medical Group Managers. (NCMGM) and practice manager of Catawba Pediatric Associates Inc. in Hickory
· Melissa Klingberg, executive director of the NCMGM in Charlotte.
· Shawn Scott, director of member services for the North Carolina Medical Society in Raleigh.
· Megan P. Williams, RN, MSN, FNP, clinical assistant professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing in Chapel Hill.
Caption: Meghan Phillips
Meghan Phillips, market publisher for Triangle Medical News, launched the Triangle’s Top 10 Women in Medicine as the first of several recognition programs for the market, established in 2011. Established in the 1980s, Medical News, a B2B monthly, publishes in 15 markets in the United States; Triangle marks the first special edition of its kind companywide.
“Recognizing the region’s female leaders during a month highlighted by Mother’s Day and focusing on women’s health issues seemed a fitting tribute,” said Phillips.
The Triangle’s Top 10 Women in Medicine for 2012:
· Natalie Adel Afshari, MD, FACS, professor of ophthalmology, director of the Centers of Excellence, and the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Fellowship Program for Duke University Eye Center.
· Mary Anderson, founding member of the Prostate Cancer Coalition of North Carolina, established in memory of her dad, Bob J. Anderson, who died from prostate cancer.
· Jayne R. Byrd, RN, MSN, associate vice president for Rex Healthcare.
· Grace Couchman, MD, co-founder of Carolina Conceptions in Raleigh and the only board-certified female in both OB/GYN and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) in the Triangle.
· Pamela S. Douglas, MD, internationally known for her scientific work in noninvasive imaging especially echocardiography and imaging outcomes, and also for significant contribution to endurance exercise physiology and heart disease in women.
· Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, founder of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Perinatal Psychiatry Program in 2004, and the nation’s first separate unit solely for mothers who need to be hospitalized for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in 2011 for UNC Health Care System.
· Kristin Newby, MD, a leader at Duke University Medical Center and Duke Clinical Research Institute, and a fourth-generation physician with family medical profession roots pre-dating the Civil War.
· Alden M. Parsons, MD, founding member and medical director of Rex Thoracic Specialists, one of the area’s few female thoracic surgeons.
· Lisa Pickett, MD, chief medical officer for Durham Regional Hospital.
· Cynthia A. Toth, MD, professor of ophthalmology and biomedical engineering for Duke University Eye Center.
The top picks profiled were keenly candid in the interview process.
“The greatest challenge in life – also a gift – is trying to see meaning in adverse circumstances,” said Anderson. “It’s hard in those moments of really deep pain. Any time you’re knocked down and get back up is a victory.”
Their responses were quick, yet carefully considered. When asked to name her greatest role model, Afshari quickly pointed to her mother, “a mathematics teacher and professor … the most inspiring person in my life. Her can-do attitude and love of learning is unparalleled.”
These healthcare leaders take multi-tasking to a new art form. For example, Byrd oversees 32 operating rooms that perform nearly 40,000 procedures a year and a team of more than 400 employees for one of North Carolina’s busiest surgery centers.
They have surprising hobbies. For example, Toth is a beginning glassblower, serious enough about the craft to take summer classes at the Penland School of Crafts in Western North Carolina.
These eight physicians, a philanthropist, and a registered nurse all serve as role models and mentors, making a greater impact on those whose lives they touch than they could imagine. Lejla Vajzovic, MD, a vitreoretinal fellow at Duke University Eye Center, spoke for many others when he called Toth “truly an inspiration to all those lucky enough to have interacted with her. She stands out as a model for the physician, mentor and person I will strive to become.”
Natalie Adel Afshari, MD, FACS
Professor of Ophthalmology, Director of the Centers of Excellence, and Director of the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Fellowship Program for Duke University Eye Center
DURHAM— For starters, as a clinician and surgeon, Afshari is well known for taking the most difficult cases requiring keratoprosthesis.
“Considered by many a last resort, without this device, these unfortunate patients are otherwise sentenced to blindness for the remainder of their life,” said Alan N. Carlson, MD, professor of ophthalmology and chief of corneal and refractive surgery services at Duke Eye Center. “Nobody would dispute that these are some of our most challenging patients at the Duke Eye Center. The potential complications and challenges posed by these patients are unique and comprise a list that is too long to cover. Natalie, however, has boldly advanced this technology offering hope to patients at Duke who in many cases have no other options. Natalie recognizes that patient care is always more complex than medications and procedures and personally takes the time to counsel each one of these patients about their options, the surgery, the risks, realistic outcomes and even those additional options.”
After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California-Berkeley and a medical degree from Stanford University, Afshari completed her internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, part of Harvard Medical School, where she also completed her residency through Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary, and a fellowship in corneal and external disease, with a focus on refractive surgery.
“I came to the Triangle from Harvard because of the academic excellence of Duke,” said Afshari, a mother of two, who named her mother as her greatest role model, “a mathematics teacher and professor … the most inspiring person in my life. Her can-do attitude and love of learning is unparalleled.”
One needs to spend only a few minutes with Afshari in a clinical setting to witness her unique gift of interacting with patients.
“A physician recently told me that Natalie makes every patient feel like family,” said Carlson. “This quality and style of interaction earned her Teacher of the Year in her first year on faculty. Those who work with her daily join me in marveling at her ability to respond under pressure, and continue to demonstrate innate skills as a gifted clinician, surgeon, innovator and communicator. Her ability to analyze problems from multiple perspectives, including that of the patient, has earned her wide acclaim and is largely responsible for the three largest international meetings in ophthalmology to tap her expertise in developing their clinical programs and also asking her to serve as a role model and mentor for the recently developed Women in Ophthalmology Program.”
Carlson pointed out that Duke Eye Center leaders “have high hopes she’ll be the one who solves the genomics problems around Fuchs’ Corneal Dystrophy so that we can treat these patients at a cellular and DNA level and eventually avoid the need for transplantation of corneal donor tissue altogether.”
Pioneering medical innovations and mentoring younger ophthalmologists represent only two facets of Afshari’s talents. When not researching or practicing at Duke, Afshari, who has been named among the Best Doctors in America several times, donates her surgical expertise as an international volunteer, traveling to West Africa, Central America, and Mexico or wherever needed to help patients who might otherwise go untreated.
“Her academic contributions and desire to mentor the next generation is surpassed only by her passion for patient care working tirelessly to restore eyesight to those who have come to her after all others have given up,” he said. “Natalie has earned both local and national attention for her care of these patients at Duke, restoring sight and quality of life to patients who previously faced a dim future without eyesight and a life marked by dependence and great despair. I cannot think of anyone who more clearly and completely embodies the criteria of a compassionate patient advocate in her daily role as a benevolent, empathetic clinician and surgeon.”
Founding Member, Prostate Cancer Coalition of North Carolina
RALEIGH—Mary Anderson reflects the true heart of community advocacy.
“Without Mary, there wouldn’t be a statewide consensus on prostate cancer,” said Leroy Darkes, MD, of Rex Senior Health Center. “I can’t ignore the fact that North Carolina went from No. 1 to No. 3 in terms of mortality for prostate cancer during the time she has championed … she’s played a significant role in this achievement.”
Anderson’s father, Robert J. Anderson from Rockland, Maine, an IBM marketing executive who died from the disease, established The Prostate Cancer Coalition of North Carolina (PCCNC). For more than a decade, Anderson has dedicated her life to educating men and practitioners statewide about the importance of early detection and the treatment of prostate cancer.
“Thanks to her, PCCNC maintains a vital and well-recognized value for prostate cancer advocacy and action,” said Regina Heroux, RN, MSN, of Alliance Medical Ministry. “Many would have given up on the fight for this cause many years ago; however, for Mary, the fight will not cease until prostate cancer is no more.”
A native of Waterbury, Conn., Anderson grew up in White Plains, NY, the elder of two children born to Anderson and his wife, Lynda Anderson from Augusta, Maine, an RN in the mental health field for more than four decades. Her younger brother by 13 months, Bobby, lives and works in Jakarta, Indonesia.
A graduate of Meredith College, Anderson earned the North Carolina Minority Prostate Cancer Awareness Action Team’s Sword Bearer of Excellence Award, the Family Advocacy Knowledge.Net Award and the Barbara Pullen-Smith Public Service Award for her work in minority and underserved communities. Anderson also serves on many national advocacy committees, including the National Alliance of State Prostate Cancer Coalitions’ Steering Committee.
Passionate about improving public health, Anderson has served as a pilot site coordinator for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention-funded Us TOO international minority and underserved populations’ outreach and awareness program. She’s also working on a pilot program for prostate cancer care funded by the V Foundation.
“My father, of course, was a great inspiration,” said Anderson. “He was really blindsided by his cancer diagnosis. Like many men of his generation, he spent a tremendous amount of time focusing on his career. After his diagnosis, our shared intensity and stubbornness found a place in trying to find meaning in his and our experience with cancer. After his death, I kept on with our work, trying to find meaning in that loss. Now, just about everyone struggling to understand cancer and myriad suffering that can come from it in the interest of finding solutions provides inspiration. The Triangle is rich with people, survivors, medical professionals, researchers, and advocates interested in making a difference.”
Anderson, a single mother of a 15-year-old son, loves reading about cultural anthropology, especially as it relates to religion and spirituality. Last year, mother and son earned their open water diving certifications.
“The greatest challenge in life – also a gift – is trying to see meaning in adverse circumstances,” said Anderson. “It’s hard in those moments of really deep pain. Any time you’re knocked down and get back up is a victory. Flexibility and humor make the day-to-day challenges more manageable. And in the most trying situations keeping an eye toward compassion and faith is important. Probably the most important thing you can do when you’re afraid is to know there’s a good chance others around you are just as scared.”
Jayne R. Byrd, RN, MSN
Rex Healthcare Associate Vice President
RALEIGH—Jayne Byrd’s career is closely tied to the OR.
For more than three decades, Byrd has helped shaped the way physicians deliver surgical care at Rex Healthcare, one of North Carolina’s busiest surgery centers, by trimming costs and expanding market share while also keenly focusing on safety and high quality patient care and safety.
As the top administrator for Rex Surgical Services, Byrd oversees 32 operating rooms that perform nearly 40,000 procedures a year, a team of more than 400 employees, and a division that accounts for about 75 percent of Rex’s net revenue.
In a significant way, Byrd has come full circle. Born in Raleigh at Rex Hospital, she grew up in Johnston County, working the family farm every summer. Her dad was a shipping supervisor for a large equipment manufacturer, and her mother worked in the food service industry, including restaurant management and catering.
“I did a ‘sabbatical’ in hotel management, in an attempt to better understand service delivery and delighting customers,” said Byrd. “When choosing a career path, I was very intrigued by healthcare. A guidance counselor told me I was ‘too smart to be a nurse’ and I was motivated to change that image of nursing. In surgery, I liked the variety of specialties, and was fascinated by the variety of procedures and physicians and their specialties. I also appreciated that it was a measurable outcome for a specific problem, and that every patient was different. I couldn’t see myself getting bored, and I never have been!”
Byrd began her career at Rex Healthcare as a circulating OR nurse, helping administer anesthesia for patients. She moved to the post of charge nurse, and then same-day surgery OR director and finally director of Rex Surgical Services before becoming associate vice president.
In her VP role, Jayne manages multi-specialty outpatient and inpatient services, materials management, sterile processing and surgical scheduling and physician access. She led a $32 million overhaul of Rex’s surgery center, helping bring modern ORs to Triangle physicians and patients, which positioned Rex as the most technologically advanced surgery center in the southeast.
Among the new initiatives she’s developed are the Same Day Surgery and suburban surgery centers in Cary and Wakefield, the robotic surgery program, a heartburn program, a bariatric surgery program, and a successful orthopedic initiative, including total joint replacements.
“When I think of Jayne, I think of a leader that’s grown up at Rex,” said Rex Healthcare President David Strong. “Her ability to implement new ideas is impressive. Our surgery centers are among the busiest in the state and Rex has the highest surgical volume in the Triangle.”
Staying ahead of the curve in the surgery arena has represented Byrd’s greatest professional challenge.
“Procedures, technology, surgical approaches, reimbursement, costs, surgeons and staff have all evolved across decades and continue to change every day,” she said. “It’s part of what I enjoy most about it, but it’s kept me on my toes to be in leadership and to build infrastructure and systems that are flexible, resilient, and focused on quality and service, with efficiency and efficacy as its main goals. I’ve learned something new every day, which further stimulates my thinking and approaches to problem solving and people. It isn’t about making people ‘happy,’ as much as it is to collaborate among the teams to create a surgical environment, which I would want to be part of and where I would choose for me or my family to have surgery and to then share it with the community in a way that makes them feel cared for and special.”
Byrd, who resides in Raleigh with her husband, Roy, serves on advisory boards with the Pretty in Pink Foundation – she recently walked 60 miles on three occasions to support breast cancer – and OR Manager Inc.
Grace Couchman, MD
Co-founder, Carolina Conceptions
RALEIGH—The only board-certified female in both OB/GYN and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) in the Triangle, Couchman received her medical degree from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1985, and completed an OB/GYN residency at Duke University Medical Center in 1989, serving as a member of the general OB/GYN practice at Duke for two years before entering advanced training in the Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Fellowship Program at Duke in the early 1990s. During her fellowship, Couchman spent a year at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) as a visiting researcher.
Until co-founding Carolina Conceptions in 2006, she served as director of Duke’s IVF Program. While at Duke, she developed special expertise in several aspects of infertility treatment, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), ovulation induction, general infertility, reproductive endocrinology, endometriosis, andrology, therapeutic donor insemination, uterine fibroids, endoscopic surgery and infertility microsurgery. She developed the ICSI program at Duke, which assists couples who suffer from male factor infertility.
At Carolina Conceptions, which delivers one of the nation’s highest success rates, is a private fertility practice that provides IVF, intrauterine inseminations (IUI), ovulation induction, egg donation/egg recipiency, reproductive surgery and semen analysis. Carolina Conceptions also provides pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS), embryo adoption, and gestational carrier/surrogacy treatment.
From its home base near Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, Carolina Conceptions serves patients throughout the Triangle area, and those outside the area and the state via remote monitoring. The practice works with partner clinics in Fayetteville, Greensboro, Jacksonville, Morehead City, Rocky Mount, Southern Pines and Wilmington; however, physician referrals aren’t necessary.
“We understand that many couples are hesitant to see an infertility specialist, fearing expensive testing and treatment such as IVF,” said Couchman. “We encourage (patients) to make an appointment with one of our doctors for a consultation, especially if (they’ve) been trying to conceive for a year, or are older than 35 years of age and have been trying for more than six months. Most insurance plans will cover testing for infertility, along with some basic treatment options.”
Despite what the media portrays, women have a much harder time having children once they reach their mid-to-late thirties, Couchman pointed out.
“Up to 60 percent of infertile couples felt that conception past the age of 40 was easy, based on their impression of celebrities,” she said. “At Carolina Conceptions, we remind infertile couples that the best predictor of a woman’s chance of conception is her age. For many women, the biological clock stops ticking in the late thirties, which is why the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends a fertility evaluation after just six months of infertility for women over the age of 35.”
Couchman’s partners are infertility specialists Bill Meyer, MD, 2012 president of the North Carolina Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, and John Park, MD.
For two consecutive years recently, Couchman was selected for the elite list of Best Doctors in America.
Pamela S. Douglas, MD
Ursula Geller Professor for Research in Cardiovascular Diseases at Duke University, Director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute’s Imaging Program and Senior Fellow in Clinical Health Policy for the Duke Center for Clinical Health Policy Research
DURHAM— Internationally known for her scientific work in noninvasive imaging especially echocardiography and imaging outcomes, Pamela S. Douglas, MD, is also a significant contributor to endurance exercise physiology and heart disease in women. Her contributions in imaging span a broad range, from technology development to innovative applications to healthcare delivery, including shaping national policy for imaging and technology quality and pioneering the use of clinical trials to test diagnostic strategies.
Douglas’s medical education began at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, where she earned a degree in 1978. She completed her residency in internal medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 1981. There, she completed a cardiology fellowship in 1984. Her clinical interests include heart disease in women, sports cardiology, echocardiography and valvular heart disease. She has industry relationships and collaborations with Boston Scientific, CardioDX, David H. Murdock Research Institute, Edwards Lifesciences, the FDA, and many others.
Author of more than 300 papers and 30 national guidelines, Douglas has previously served on the faculties of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the University of Wisconsin, as chief of cardiovascular medicine at Duke University and the University of Wisconsin, and as a president of the American College of Cardiology and of the American Society of Echocardiography.
Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD
Director of the UNC Perinatal Psychiatry Program, University of North Carolina Center for Women’s Mood Disorders and Associate Professor of the UNC Department of Psychiatry
CHAPEL HILL— Last year, Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, accomplished an unprecedented feat that has new mothers cheering her on.
As a result of her advocacy and leadership, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Health Care System opened the nation’s first separate unit solely for mothers who need to be hospitalized for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, such as severe postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. Meltzer-Brody serves as medical director for the dedicated unit, which provides a safe and secure clinical care site for mothers and visiting babies, resources tailored to maternal needs, and programs that encourage healthy mother-baby and family relationships.
“Studies have shown that mothers housed in traditional psychiatric units have limited access to relevant programming, inadequate maternity-specific resources, and few opportunities to integrate their infant into the care plan,” said Meltzer-Brody, also an associate professor at UNC.
The unique programming includes mother-infant attachment groups; partner assistance groups, which focus on couple and family issues; spirituality groups; occupational therapy – coping strategies, mindfulness, stress and biofeedback measures; and perinatal yoga. Patients receive a follow-up plan and tools to use at home, giving them a skill set they would not have otherwise had.
“I’ve always been interested in psychology and fascinated by the complexity of the human mind,” said Meltzer-Brody, a native of Canton, Ohio, and the oldest of three daughters. “In college, I majored in biology and psychology and my internship experiences made me realize I wanted to become a physician. After college, I worked for three years in Boston, doing clinical work in psychiatry and realized this was my calling and passion.”
Meltzer-Brody and her husband, OB/GYN Seth Brody, MD, moved to North Carolina in 1996 when she began residency at Duke and he began working at WakeMed.
“I attended medical school to become a psychiatrist, and became interested in women’s mental health issues during residency and pursed this sub-specialty once I got to UNC for fellowship training,” said the mother of two.
At UNC, Meltzer-Brody initially worked as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist and spent a significant amount of time in the UNC Women’s Hospital consulting on pregnant and postpartum women with mood disorders. She has dedicated her career to championing perinatal women’s mental health across the reproductive lifecycle including depression during pregnancy and postpartum, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and peri-menopausal mood symptoms.
“Given that the prevalence of perinatal depression is 10 to 15 percent of all pregnancies, it’s a very common problem that’s often undetected and goes untreated,” said Meltzer-Brody, who established the UNC Perinatal Psychiatry Program in 2004. “I identified a significant gap in mental health services available to women at UNC during pregnancy and postpartum, and felt strongly that this needed to be addressed!”
When she’s not working, Meltzer-Brody enjoys music of all genres and attending live concerts. A distance runner for “stress relief,” she recently completed two marathons and plans on running in her third one this fall.
“I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful family and friends who are an enormous source of support,” she said. “Although life has many ups and downs, my network has sustained me over the years during the rough times.”
L. Kristin Newby, MD, MHS, FACC, FAHA
Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology, Co-director of the Cardiac Care Unit and Chair of the Code Blue Committee for Duke Clinical Research Institute and Duke University Medical Center
DURHAM—A fourth-generation physician with family medical profession roots pre-dating the Civil War, Kristin Newby, MD, represents her generation well.
In addition to her roles at Duke University Medical Center (DUMC) and Duke Clinical Research Institute, she serves a co-principal investigator of the MURDOCK Study Community Registry and Biorepository, and principal investigator of the cardiovascular disease project in Horizon 1 of the MURDOCK Study.
“I was probably influenced somewhat by being in a medical family,” said Newby, the second of four “Ks” born to Eugene Newby, MD, and his wife, Charlotte, a nurse, of Sheridan, Ind. “I’ve always loved science and when I was in high school was sure I was going to be an ophthalmologist. Although I flirted with pursuing molecular biology in graduate school, I kept returning to a career in medicine where I could combine clinical care and research.”
In her first year of study at the Indiana University School of Medicine, she became fascinated with cardiovascular diseases.
“That strong interest persisted through my clinical years in medical school and during my internal medicine residency,” she said. “I was fortunate to do my internal medicine residency at Duke, where I was continually exposed to the latest in cutting edge cardiology and outstanding role models in cardiology and research. I was thrilled when I ‘matched’ to the Duke Cardiology Fellowship for subspecialty training in cardiology.”
Newby initially pursued her interest in molecular biology doing bench research in the laboratory of Edward Holmes during her first two years of fellowship, but missed clinical care.
“Thus, at the conclusion of my fellowship, I joined the clinical cardiology faculty at Duke, and under the mentorship of Dr. Robert Califf and with the guidance and collaboration of many others, had the opportunity to develop a career as a clinician and clinical researcher in cardiology at Duke and the Duke Clinical Research Institute,” said Newby, who directed the Chest Pain Unit at DUMC and is also a fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, and a founding member of the Society of Chest Pain Centers and Providers.
Newby’s general research interests include risk stratification and treatment of patients with acute and chronic coronary artery disease, and systems issues for delivery of care to patients with these illnesses. She has led the Duke Clinical Research Institute Coordinating Center for several randomized clinical trials of new therapies and treatment strategies for acute coronary syndromes. She also has been the principal investigator of multiple studies assessing the use of novel protein biomarkers to enhance risk stratification and guide treatment selection in cardiovascular disease; she is pursuing the application of genomics for this purpose. In addition, Newby was co-investigator in the GeneQuest study of genetic associations with risk for early-onset coronary disease, and is a co-investigator in several ongoing projects exploring the use of RNA expression profiling, proteomics, and metabolomics for risk stratification for coronary events. She is a member of the Steering Committee for the DUMC CATHGEN Biorepository collecting DNA, RNA, and plasma from patients undergoing cardiac catheterization at Duke University Hospital for use in ongoing and future genomic studies in cardiovascular disease.
Newby actively participates in various professional organizations, including the Joint ESC-ACC-AHA-WHF Task Force for the Redefinition of Myocardial Infarction and the National Association of Clinical Biochemists Writing Group. She also serves as an associate editor for American Heart Journal, a coronary artery disease section editor for Cardiology in Review, and a member of the editorial board for Critical Pathways in Cardiology.
When she’s not in a healthcare setting, she enjoys her favorite hobby – golfing!
Alden M. Parsons, MD
Founding Member and Medical Director, Rex Thoracic Specialists
RALEIGH – A published researcher and experienced surgeon, Alden M. Parsons, MD, is also a compassionate physician who brings her expertise to lung cancer patients at Rex Healthcare.
It’s highly unique to be a female thoracic surgeon due to the stringent demands of the role. Thoracic care involves treatment of the body in and around the chest - chest wall, heart, lungs, throat area and more. Because of the important organs and structures in this area, thoracic surgery requires the expertise of well-trained, dedicated specialists. Surgery has a key role in diagnosing and treating cancer. Parsons’ clinical interests include thoracic oncology, minimally invasive thoracic surgery and surgery for hyperhidrosis.
Parsons is the founding member and medical director of Rex Thoracic Specialists. She has created this new practice, actively leads Rex’s marketing of its multidisciplinary cancer center and has a personal commitment to providing the highest level of quality care to her patients. She is also very passionate about educating her physician peers, tirelessly visits physician offices and meets new physicians at every opportunity.
Parsons completed medical school at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and finished her internship, residency and a cardiothoracic fellowship at UNC Hospitals. She completed an additional fellowship in minimally invasive thoracic surgery at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and then worked as a clinical instructor in thoracic surgery at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center before joining Rex Healthcare.
Lisa Pickett, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Durham Regional Hospital
DURHAM—When it comes to effective multi-tasking, one might easily surmise that Lisa Pickett, MD, broke the mold.
As Durham Regional Hospital’s chief medical officer, Pickett promotes clinical care excellence in partnership with medical staff and provides executive leadership for medical staff services, hospital medicine and intensivist programs, and also graduate and undergraduate medical education activities.
“Lisa is anchored in a true north that keeps patients at the center of her practice,” said Richard Walsh, PhD, chief human resources officer at Durham Regional, recalling a stroll through the hospital with Pickett and noticing that she greeted almost every person she encountered by name. “This true north includes caring for and connecting with patients, fellow physicians, hospital employees and everyone else around her.”
Born in Santa Monica, Calif., Pickett is the elder of two daughters born to a machinist and his wife, who helped in the workshop. After completing two years at Ventura County Community College, she earned a pre-med degree at the University of California-Irvine. “I’m the first in my family to complete college,” she said. After college, she worked in a research laboratory to gain experience. “I was very fortunate to then be accepted to Harvard Medical School. Community college is definitely what you make of it.”
After earning a medical degree from Harvard in 1994, Pickett continued professional training at Duke University Medical Center, completing an internship, general surgery residency and critical care fellowship in 2001. Since then, Pickett has been a practicing general surgeon at Durham Regional Hospital; she was named chief medical officer in 2009.
“Surgery is a tough field, long hours, difficult decisions, and a reputation for being aggressive in nature,” said Pickett. “When I came to Duke, I told my best friend that if I changed as a person, she was to tell me, and that I would quit. I love being a surgeon, but it’s most important to be a compassionate person of integrity.”
Pickett also serves as surgical director for Durham Regional’s Critical Care Unit, graduate medical education director for surgery, and co-chairperson of the hospital’s Patient Safety and Quality Committee. Pickett is a member of the Operating Room and Medical Executive committees at Durham Regional, and serves as an assistant professor of surgery and medicine for Duke University Medical Center. A fellow in the American College of Surgeons, Pickett is also a member of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, North Carolina Medical Society and American Hernia Society.
Pickett has been published in 10 medical journals—American Surgeon, Critical Care Medicine and Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery among them—and has contributed to 10 books—Contemporary Surgical Management of the Liver, Biliary Tract and Pancreatic Disease; A Practical Approach to Gastrointestinal Bleeding; The Handbook of Surgical Intensive Care (fifth edition), Handbook of Surgery, and others.
While her practice of medicine and leadership, including teaching and mentoring, are exemplary, her peers say Pickett’s compassion for people – patients, colleagues and family – makes her stand out in the medical field.
Even though Pickett works incredibly demanding hours and fills many challenging roles at Durham Regional, Katie Galbraith, chief hospital operations and business development officer at Durham Regional, said “Lisa always makes time for her family, whether going to her daughter’s school or seeing her niece’s science presentation. Watching her balance it all has helped me do a better job of finding my own work-life balance.”
Pickett’s colleagues at Durham Regional agree. Donna Huston, manager of Medical Staff Services, emphasized Pickett’s involvement with family, adding that she’s “intelligent, hard-working, tireless, compassionate and then some.” Others admire her professionalism, integrity, sense of humor and unwavering commitment to compassionate care.
Pickett is incredibly proud of her family. Her sister lives in Durham with her husband and two children. Her husband, Walt Pickett, a North Carolina State University-educated engineer, is building a school in Durham. Of two stepsons, John, 21, lives in Greensboro, and Matthew, 17, is a senior at Jordan High School planning to attend East Carolina University this fall. Her daughter, Grace, 8, attends Creekside Elementary School in Durham and, she said, “is the sweetest person I know.”
Cynthia A. Toth, MD
Professor of Ophthalmology and Biomedical Engineering, Duke Eye Center
DURHAM—Lejla Vajzovic, MD, a Vitreoretinal Fellow at Duke University Eye Center, described Cynthia A. Toth, MD, “as a rigorous clinical and leading surgical instructor with high expectations for her students, but one who’s also willing to go the extra mile for them.”
As a Duke Retina Fellowship Director, Toth has pioneered the development of many new surgical technique and instruments, such as her macular translocation surgery, a salvage treatment for age-related macular degeneration patients who lose vision despite other therapies. A world expert in retinal imaging with optical coherence tomography (OCT), she has pioneered the first use of a research hand-held OCT system for infant examination and has developed a novel intraoperative OCT system.
“Dr. Cynthia A. Toth is truly an inspiration to all those lucky enough to have interacted with her,” said Vajzovic. “She stands out as a model for the physician, mentor and person I will strive to become.”
Toth’s journey to North Carolina was rather circuitous. Born in Detroit, Mich., she moved roughly 1,200 miles south when she was a toddler. Her father relocated the family to Central Florida to work as an aerospace engineer in the early days of the space program. “I grew up in Winter Park, before Disney World – when the area was small towns, alligators, lakes and orange groves,” she recalled.
Toth and her husband, a PhD and professor in biomedical engineering working on biomedical transport processes with a focus on HIV, were attracted to North Carolina because of Duke’s biomedical engineering program and the Eye Center, both of which are consistently top programs in the country with a focus on innovation and the highest quality of patient care.
“We were looking for a top university with an opportunity for both my husband and me,” she said. “Duke had exactly what we wanted.”
Michelle M. Evans, MBA, administrative manager for the Duke Research Integrity Office, said when she first joined the Duke University Eye Center 13 years ago, Toth became her faculty director for the Advanced Vitreous Surgery Course.
“Dr. Toth had a vision that we would sponsor a live surgical teaching session for macular translocation, a novel technique she developed,” said Evans. “No other educational training sessions such as this had ever been successfully completed. For months, we worked to develop an infrastructure to accommodate the many challenges associated with live ophthalmic surgery in a teaching setting. It was with extreme vision, strength, and endurance that Dr. Toth was able to make the course come to fruition. “
Evans called Toth “one of the brightest women I’ve ever known.”
“Her greatest asset lies in bringing compassion, energy, and caring to patient care, teaching, and research,” she said.
Toth continues to surprise those closest to her, professionally and personally. She loves gardening, especially North Carolina’s spring flowers. She’s a beginning glassblower, so serious about her craft that she takes summer classes at the Penland School of Crafts in Western North Carolina. She credits her husband, “a phenomenal and essential supporter for all phases of my (life),” said Toth.