Cristina Ferrone, MD, is the Surgical Director of the Liver Program in the Division of Gastrointestinal & Oncologic Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is also an associate professor of surgery. In this Q&A, she discusses why more women and girls should enter the sciences.

How long have you worked at Mass General?

I started as an intern in general surgery in 1997. 

What is special about Mass General?

The multidisciplinary care of patients at Mass General is the best in the country. Working with my colleagues in medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology, hepatology and transplant surgery cannot be beat. The privilege of working with world experts in these different fields provides an incredibly stimulating environment every day I come to work. Despite everyone's academic successes, patient care continues to always come first. 

Mass General has an incredibly collaborative research environment. I am so fortunate to work with experts in immunology, sequencing and signaling who are also interested in studying pancreatic cancer and bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma). These collaborations have produced over 150 peer-reviewed publications. By combining our clinical and research expertise, we can ask clinically relevant questions and develop meaningful clinical trials to improve the care of our patients.

How can we encourage more women and girls to enter the sciences?

By being positive role models, we can encourage more women to enter the surgical specialties. I have been fortunate to have one to two different high school or college students per month come shadow me in clinic and/or the operating room. They often ask if I am married and have children. In the Department of Surgery at Mass General, almost all the female surgeons are married and have children, while being clinically and academically productive and successful. 

However, less than 10% of liver and pancreas surgeons in the United States are women. The female surgeons who currently specialize in liver and pancreas operations are very committed to supporting the younger women and encouraging them to enter this incredibly rewarding field. We hope that being role models and providing opportunities we can inspire more women to enter this field.

What is one piece of advice you would give a woman entering the field of medicine?

Medicine is an incredibly rewarding career, but at times can be emotionally challenging as you take care of very sick patients and support families as patients pass away. Most importantly, surround yourself with a supportive partner, family and friends. In addition to your social network, a supportive and encouraging boss is essential. I am incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Lillemoe as my chairman. He has provided so many opportunities for career advancement and fulfillment. He recognizes that everyone’s situation is different and that flexibility facilitates success. 

Many women in surgery and medicine have a dual-career household. Having a boss who allows you to have a flexible schedule is paramount to being successful and minimizing frustration. I am married to an orthopedic oncologist and spine surgeon, who also performs very complex and long operations. We try to operate on different days so that one of us is always available for our three children. On my clinic and academic days, I try to get home early to spend time with the children and then go back to work once they are in bed. This flexibility has an enormous influence on my relationship with my children. 

What advice do you have for women to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

You need to make time to exercise, so that you can stay mentally and physically fit. A surgical career is physically demanding with long hours in the operating room, emotionally demanding as you deal with sick patients and their families, but incredibly rewarding. Being physically strong helps manage the physical stressors of the profession.