While heart disease is often thought of as mainly being influenced by lifestyle factors, genetics can play a greater role in some people.
Growing up in Michigan and graduating from Pomona College in California with an undergraduate degree, Janet Ma, MD, never expected to end up in Boston for her fellowship training. But, in fact, the Massachusetts General Hospital Cardiovascular Fellowship Program was the only program she interviewed for on the East Coast.
“I expected to come to Mass General and find this intimidating environment, but I was blown away by how warm, welcoming and down to earth all the faculty and fellows were,” she says.
Janet MA, MD
“I felt like I had found everything I wanted in a single program—amazing female role models, strong mentorship, great clinical training with an emphasis on health equity and limitless research opportunities!”
Fellow, Cardiovascular Disease Program
In this Q&A, Dr. Ma, now a first-year fellow, explains what inspired her to come to Mass General, to pursue a career in medicine and build a career focused on improving equity in health care.
Q: What made you decide to go into medicine?
Ma: When I entered college, I had a strong interest in the humanities but also loved science. I majored in religious studies and biology. About halfway through, I did a health advocacy internship with a Federally Qualified Health Center in Los Angeles that showed me the importance of empowering communities who didn't have access to health care. That experience convinced me that medicine was really the perfect blend of my interests, and from there I was all in.
Q: How is your experience in the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship equipping you to address equity in health care?
Ma: Mass General creates an environment that encourages us to constantly push the envelope to see how we can do better for our patients. The program leadership has emphasized their commitment to this, and it really shows in the amazing work that many senior fellows have already done to address structural inequities. This is done not only on a population level, but also in our own practice, such as the telemedicine efforts in our Paul Dudley White clinic where many of our patients come from underserved backgrounds. These efforts allowed fellows to quickly resume 100% clinic volume for the community despite the restrictions of the pandemic.
Q: Could you describe more about your experience in the program thus far?
Ma: It has been incredible and totally beyond my expectations! It already feels like family—I love my co-fellows and that I get to spend so much time with them every day in the fellows’ room. From a clinical standpoint, I feel like our schedule is thoughtfully structured in a way that allows the individual to really transition into the role of a fellow. Several months in, I continue to feel challenged to grow every day without being overwhelmed.
Q: How would you describe your experience with your mentors in this program?
Ma: One of the reasons why Mass General was so exciting to me was the strong female presence in the program leadership and the faculty overall. I feel really lucky to have Doreen DeFaria Yeh, MD, Danita Sanborn, MD and Jennifer Ho, MD, to look up to because they exude both the extraordinary competence and humility that I really aspire to achieve myself. I feel like I can reach out to them any time I have a personal concern, a clinical question or an idea. They always make it feel like no issue is too small to discuss! They have always been accessible, receptive and so supportive. They are truly inspiring clinicians and the best role models for us as trainees.
Q: What has been surprising about the program?
Ma: I remember on my interview day just saying repeatedly that everyone is so nice here! The culture of collegiality and collaboration at Mass General continues to amaze me. My first month was on cardiac catheterization and I couldn’t believe how supportive and nurturing of an environment it was. I knew absolutely nothing, and everyone—the technicians, physician assistants, attendings, interventional fellows—were all so invested in my education! It was such a satisfying experience to see how much I learned to do in those four weeks, and how supportive everyone was in the process.
Q: What motivates you every day?
Ma: I am strongly compelled by the undeniable fact that our health system and the way we practice medicine are embedded with structural inequities, and to do everything I can to work toward a more just way of caring for our patients.
Q: What advice would you give to someone with similar career aspirations?
A: While you don’t have to have everything figured out, try to find what drives you and what you need to thrive. If you make those two things your true north, the rest will fall into place. The interview season can feel very convoluted in ways that people don’t seem to really talk about—unlike residency, there are so many more personal and professional factors to consider—but trust that it will work out.
Q: What is one challenge you experienced as a fellow, and how did you overcome it?
Ma: I think the biggest challenge I have experienced and continue to experience is imposter syndrome. I wouldn’t say I have overcome it, but I feel incredibly fortunate to train at a place that supports me not only as a trainee but as a person, and especially as a woman in cardiology.
Q: What does the future of cardiovascular disease care look like to you?
Ma: I think cardiovascular disease care will become more interdisciplinary and team-based, not only among cardiology specialties (electrophysiology, interventional, heart failure) but also between other fields like endocrinology and nutrition. I think we’ll see more innovative approaches both to caring for the critically ill and also preventing cardiovascular disease and heart failure. Most of all, I’m hoping to see progress in integrating public health approaches that address the structural inequalities that drive disparities in cardiovascular outcomes.
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