Editor’s note: The Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons is publishing a monthly series of articles profiling leaders of the College. The questions are intended to give readers a look at the person behind the surgical mask and to inspire other members of the College to consider taking on leadership positions within the organization and the institutions where they practice.
For this month’s profile, we interviewed Nancy L. Gantt, MD, FACS, Vice-Chair of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Board of Governors Executive Committee and Diversity Pillar Lead. Dr. Gantt is professor of surgery and interim surgical chair, Northeast Ohio Medical University, and co-medical director, Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, Mercy Health–St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, OH.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in surgery?
My original aspirations attending college at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign were to become a veterinarian. My family did not have any physicians; my father was a chemical engineer, and my mother had been a flight attendant for Pan Am after emigrating to the U.S. from Germany after World War II. I excelled in the sciences and loved animals, so veterinary medicine seemed a perfect fit until I realized I was allergic to cats.
Entering medical school at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, I anticipated going into primary care in hopes of caring for all age groups and a broad range of diseases. I was hooked on a surgical career when I scrubbed on my first case. I found an ally in George Block, MD, FACS, an imposing surgeon, but one who supported me and encouraged my aspirations for a surgical career. Among the residents, the sole woman was Myriam Curet, MD, FACS, who was a formidable surgical role model. Outside of the operating room (OR), I was fascinated by the pathophysiology of surgical disease and cherished the one-on-one interactions with patients, both preoperatively and postoperatively.
After medical school I was leaning toward a career in noncardiac thoracic surgery or transplantation.
During residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), PA, I experienced a revolution in surgical care. It was the era of Thomas Starzl, Henry Bahnson, Mark Ravitch, Richard Simmons, and Bernard Fisher (all MD, FACS), who were all pivotal in my development as a well-prepared and extremely confident general surgeon. As residents, we took innovations directly from the lab to the bedside and OR. My research focused on multi-visceral transplantation, and it was thrilling to witness the first multi-visceral transplant in a child at UPMC during my residency.
After residency I changed course a bit and started a solo private general surgery practice in my husband’s hometown of Youngstown, OH. We saw a tremendous opportunity to improve health care, both immediately and long-term, for the community by bringing what we had gained from our training at UPMC. I was appointed the director of trauma and critical care for the hospital and the medical student clerkship director. It was fortunate that I had a residency that provided the foundation for being a surgical educator, superb trauma and critical care training, and an understanding of the organizational structure required to successfully deliver care. I also relished building something from the ground up and am so proud of our ACS Level I trauma center and the amazing care we provide to our extended community.
One of the voids in our community was also in breast surgical oncology, and my general surgery practice increasingly shifted to women’s breast health. I was fortunate to plan and now direct the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center, a 15,000-square-foot National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers-accredited facility that is the jewel of the Bon Secours Mercy Health system. I always think of incoming ACS President Julie Freischlag, MD, FACS, FRCSEd(Hon), DFSVS, and her classic statement: “Grow where you are planted.”
What did you learn from your mentors that you apply daily?
As a surgical resident, my role model and mentor was Andrew Peitzman, MD, FACS. He emphasized patient-centered care within a tightly organized system, where all stakeholders were part of the team. Dr. Peitzman also was an early advocate of wellness, always finding time for a run, and is incredibly devoted to his family. He really was the role model for the type of surgeon I wanted to be.
Another residency role model was Velma Singletary, MD, a highly respected transplant surgeon, who was the only woman surgical faculty member at UPMC at the time. She demonstrated to all the women residents that success as a woman surgeon was attainable. She inspired my commitment to become deeply involved in surgical education and to mentor as many women as possible to become surgeons. In practice, my mentors, role models, and allies have almost been too numerous to mention.
A mentor for my passions outside of clinical surgery has been ACS Past-First Vice-President Hilary Sanfey, MD, MB BCh, FACS, FRCSI, recipient of the 2020 ACS Distinguished Service Award. I followed in her steps as President of the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS), and then I succeeded her as Chair of the AWS Foundation (AWSF). She has taught me so much about advocacy, international women surgeons, how to run a board, and fundraising. I hope I can be as successful as she has been leading the foundation board to support international women surgeons. ACS Past-President Patricia Numann, MD, FACS, has become a true role model, and I use her sage advice daily: “Take a great idea and make it happen, always take the moral high road, lead through wisdom and collaboration,” and, my favorite, “Laugh at closed doors.”
Describe your journey to these leadership positions. How did you work your way up in the ACS and the AWS?
I have been captivated by the ACS as the premier surgical organization since attending my first Clinical Congress as a medical student in Chicago and have missed very few Clinical Congresses since.
I have been captivated by the ACS as the premier surgical organization since attending my first Clinical Congress as a medical student in Chicago and have missed very few Clinical Congresses since. Past-Chair of the ACS Board of Regents Leigh Neumayer, MD, FACS, supported my selection to the Committee on Medical Student Education, where I first worked with Ajit K. Sachdeva, MD, FACS, FRCSC, FASCME, MAMSE, Director, ACS Division of Education. It was during my tenure that we expanded the Medical Student Program from one invited student per state to the hundreds of students who attend now, and it really is the premier medical student program for anyone with an interest in surgery. That initial committee role has led to multiple other educational projects in collaboration with the ACS.
I joined the AWS as a resident and relied heavily on it for support once in practice, as I was then the only woman surgeon in Youngstown. I served the Ohio Chapter of the ACS (OCACS), first as the Women in Surgery representative on the council, ascending through the leadership ranks of both the AWS and OCACS simultaneously. I was honored to serve as President of both organizations, although the overlapping terms led to a busy few years.
I was honored to be selected to serve as an ACS Governor At-Large representing Ohio in 2015, and found my “home” in the Surgical Care Delivery Workgroup within the Quality Pillar. Mika Sinanan, MD, FACS, and Kim Davis, MD, FACS, led our work on projects revolving around patient care and surgical workforce issues. I ascended to workgroup Vice-Chair, and then was honored to become Quality Pillar Lead. This past year, in addition to serving as Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors, I have led the new Diversity Pillar. We have been implementing the recommendations of the 2020 Regental Task Force on Racial Issues led by ACS President J. Wayne Meredith, MD, FACS, MCCM. The Governors within the Diversity Pillar have worked incredibly hard to develop an understanding of where we are as a surgical workforce and where we need to be to provide exemplary care for our diverse patient population. We are looking forward to working with the new ACS Director of Diversity, Ms. Cie Armstead, MPA, DBA, to develop best practice documents and other resources for the Fellows and our partner surgical organizations.
What advice would you offer to a young surgeon looking to get more involved in the College?
I tell them that the ACS is a welcoming organization, and that the College is where I find my inspiration and the tools necessary to be the very best surgeon I can be. I encourage every medical student interested in surgery whom I meet to become a medical student member. The annual Medical Student Program at the Clinical Congress is a must-do for any student interested in surgery. I also encourage applicants for residency, during our interviews, to join the ACS as a Resident Member.
The Resident and Associate Society (RAS) is an incredibly vibrant organization that offers surgical residents professional, educational, and networking opportunities they may not be able to find elsewhere. I also encourage young surgeons to engage with their state ACS chapters, where local advocacy efforts by surgeons are so important. I can’t think of any other organization that gives you the opportunity to understand and engage with the House of Surgery.
The critically important information shared by the College during the initial phase of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic raised its stature among all other surgical organizations, and our current work on diversity, equity, and inclusion will pave the way for a stronger, more diverse surgical workforce and improved access to care for our diverse patient population “to serve all with skill and fidelity.” Both my personal life and career have been improved by being an active member of the ACS.
What hobbies and interests outside of surgery do you have?
Currently, clinical practice, ACS, and AWSF activities are taking up most of my time! After that, time with my family is priceless. My husband, Ray Boniface, MD, FACS, is an orthopaedic surgeon and associate program director for our orthopaedic surgery residency. We are blessed to have two sons, and a large, extended, brilliant, automobile-centric family.
I really try to focus on wellness (mind/body/spirit), because if I am not in a healthy place nothing goes well. I love to exercise, particularly walking my chocolate Labrador while listening to audio books and podcasts, and doing yoga. We downhill ski every year in Utah, and I’m an avid gardener—both organic vegetable and flower gardens. My book club keeps me grounded and reading the classics. I love to travel, especially with friends or to see friends, and, like everyone else, I am looking forward to traveling again.
What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishments so far?
Professionally, I have had the opportunity to build a surgical department and a comprehensive breast care center that will provide high-quality care for our community and region for years to come. I have been able to contribute to the education of, and advise and mentor, hundreds of students and residents, which is priceless. My work with the AWSF has supported women surgeons internationally. The ACS has provided the opportunity to have a significant role in shaping both the quality of surgical care and the diversity of the surgical workforce, for which I am extremely grateful.