- Crystal Johnson-Mann Fellow, Minimally Invasive Surgery University of Virginia
What made you choose medicine and why Minimally Invasive Surgery specifically?
I grew up in a small town where my father was the 1st African-American Director of EMS at our hospital (after working his way over the years from orderly/ambulance attendant to EMT to Paramedic then Director). In addition to his day job, he also taught EMT certification courses at night which I would tag along to during school breaks because I wanted to follow my dad everywhere. This set the foundation of my exposure to medicine – trailing behind my dad to his classes, flipping through his EMT textbooks in the ER when he left me with the nurses for a call, and seeing him in action via simulation when I would play the victim at the annual EMS Symposium. With all of this exposure however, I never considered medicine seriously until Honors biology my sophomore year of high school. Until that point I had strayed away from science but this class…this teacher (Mr. Horton)…was different. From that point forward I was on the trajectory to pre-med in college.
In college I was an athlete, playing volleyball at a well known Division I school. Unfortunately, I redshirted my freshman season due to a shoulder surgery I had to have after high school graduation. Sports has always attracted me and I initially thought I wanted to pursue Orthopedic surgery as a career to focus on sports medicine. In medical school I carried this vision with me and actively sought out exposure to our orthopedic surgery attendings. I even became quite active in the leadership of the ortho student interest group. Halfway through my 3rd year of medical school, on our GI surgery rotation, I met someone that would ultimately change my life – Dr. David B. Adams. Because of him, I crossed over into the love of general surgery, specifically foregut. As a resident at the same institution, again on the GI surgery service with my bariatric attendings, I fell in love with bariatric surgery. It is technically challenging but immensely gratifying as we are helping our bariatric patients have a second shot at life. There is no greater reward.
As a black woman in medicine, what have been your biggest challenges?
I would say it is the relative lack of other black women in medicine. Where I attended medical school, I knew of a few black female attendings of which only 1 would remain by the time I was nearing the end of residency and even she was on her way to a different institution. None were available to me within my department for residency although we did have 2 black male surgery attendings at the time that were both fantastic. Luckily there were a few of us black females in my residency program so we became a support system for the minority female medical students interested in surgery and other disciplines through our involvement in campus organizations.
What 3 lessons would you impart to the up and coming young black
female physician that you wish you had known earlier on in your training?
1. Trust in yourself. You got here because you worked hard and deserve to be here. (Self-doubt plagued me my first couple years of residency)
2. Ask for help if you need it. No one is perfect.
3. Find a good mentor. Ideally in your chosen specialty, but mentors can exist in other disciplines as well. (I was lucky in that I had already found one in medical school, but a great mentor is worth their weight in gold).
What is a typical day like for you?
As a hybrid fellow/attending it truly depends on whether I have my own personal cases to do or if I am scrubbing cases with my attendings. Most operating room days I am up by 6am to quickly shower, grab something to eat, make myself cappuccino, let the dog out, then feed both the cat & dog on my way to the hospital (hubby gets pet duty when he’s home). I go talk to the patients before cases, then operate. If I have any inpatients of my own in house, I round with one of the residents between cases. At the end of the day I’m signing notes then home to hang out with my pets.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
Achieving every major life goal I set for myself as beginning as a high school student in small town South Carolina. Every accomplishment that I have been blessed to achieve is the biggest…until the next achievement arrives.
What is your greatest or proudest moment?
There are two really. First, seeing the pride in my parents eyes at my general surgery graduation dinner. Their baby girl had finally done it!
Second, passing written boards right after graduation followed shortly by passing oral boards. When I got the email about passing oral boards, I can’t even describe what I felt other than sheer joy and the sensation of a huge weight being lifted off my chest. I had worked for years to get to residency graduation then stressed myself out a lot about taking boards. I was ecstatic to pass them both the first time around.
What is the best advice you have received?
“Kick to the wall.” — Dr. David Adams
It was a text sent to me in the final weeks before residency graduation and really means finish the race strong. Don’t slow down.
How do you find balance?
I have retained the activities that I loved outside of medicine. I am still a huge sports fanatic even though I don’t let myself really play volleyball anymore (for fear of risk of injury). My car radio station is set to ESPN radio and Sportscenter is usually on when I have the TV on. I have always been a huge bookworm and will plow through books fairly rapidly. I have always loved literature and the way I am completely transported into the world of fiction the author has intricately weaved. I will literally read for hours on end at any given time.