By Charles Peckman
Sharon Larson’s job as a cardiothoracic surgeon is uncommon enough — there are fewer than 5,000 of these specialized surgeons in the United States.
But fewer than 5 percent of these surgeons are female, and in the state of Iowa, Larson will be the first.
She was hired as a cardiothoracic surgeon by the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in November 2016.
“She’s caring and compassionate, and she goes above and beyond,” said Kalpaj Parekh, a UI associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery.
He said Larson’s hiring was the right move for the UIHC.
“We advertised for the position and felt she was the most suitable candidate who fulfilled our needs,” he said.
Parekh said he has enjoyed working with Larson so far.
“It’s been great,” he said. “She cares about her patients and does a good job.”
Larson said the UIHC staff has been “very welcoming and encouraging.”
Her primary role as a cardiothoracic surgeon is to “specialize in the surgical treatment of heart and lung disease,” she said.
Surprisingly, she said, she did not have to make any major transitions to join an all-male team. She was hired as a surgeon, and her unique skills are part of UIHC regardless of her gender, she noted.
Larson said she is unsure as to why there are so few practicing female cardiothoracic surgeons, but she does have an idea on why there are not many people who choose her field.
“There is a predicted shortage of cardiothoracic surgeons,” she said. “Applicants going into this field know that there are many demands — and patients always come first.”
She does sacrifice a large amount of her personal life to continue her career at UIHC, she said.
“It’s a sacrifice people are glad to make, because this career is a true calling,” she said. “To deny that is to deny our professional skills.”
So far, Larson said, she has been happy at UIHC.
“Many other [UIHC staff members] share a common goal, to provide excellent care to the patients of Iowa and beyond,” she said.
Larson is also excited about the role new technology will play in her field.
“Procedures that are performed through smaller and smaller incisions will be crucial,” she said. “Also, advancements in ventricular-assist devices will bridge the gap between the long list of organ donors and the stagnant number of organs.”
Tom Moore, the director of UI Health Care media relations, said Larson brings “a unique set of skills” to UIHC.
“She is a very skilled physician,” Moore said. “We are very grateful she has chosen to join us, and I am sure her patients will be very pleased.”
Moore said UIHC has a “long tradition of inclusion and diversity,” and Larson’s hiring adds to that tradition.
He said the Carver College of Medicine was the first public institution to admit both men and women — in the first graduating class (1870), eight of the 37 graduates were women.
“From the very beginning, we have had a practice of inclusion,” Moore said.