Dr. Rachel Medbery has broken the medical glass ceiling of robotic surgery and shares how you can break through as well.
By Tori Klein, Photos courtesy of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons
At the age of 10, Dr. Rachel Medbery already knew she wanted to be a surgeon. While intently dissecting a frog in fifth-grade science class, she realized, “Wow. If this is cool on a frog, it must be really neat on a person.”
Medbery decided then that her dream career was in medicine. After graduating from Emory University with a degree in biology, her goals had not wavered. She continued to finish medical school, her residency and fellowship training at the same institution in Atlanta, Georgia.
She landed in Austin in 2019 to join Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons, where she became the first woman in the 60-year-old practice and the first female thoracic surgeon in Central Texas. Medbery shares that many of her patients have heard stories about thoracic surgeries that left patients with big scars and lots of pain. But new technology combined with Medbery’s expertise provides her patients with significantly smoother recoveries than those in the anecdotes. She performs the majority of her procedures using a robot. Introducing a different world of thoracic surgery that gives her patients a much less painful and invasive surgical experience.
Just as she supports her patients through her practice, Medbery shares five ways to shatter the glass ceiling, supporting other women to follow their dreams.
The road less traveled can be your friend. (It’s okay to be first!)
Women these days are often moving into areas that have historically been male-dominated. Which means that we get to mold and create our own journeys. You are not under the limitations of those before you. So you can be creative in constructing your road to success. You get to make your own path and personalize your journey toward whatever goals you set your sights on.
So many people told me I was too nice to be a surgeon and that I was crazy to want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon no less. It’s really important to not listen to what people say. They might tell you that you’re throwing away good years of your life. Years that could be spent making a family or on something in your personal life that you’re putting on hold to pursue your dreams. I don’t think that’s true. If you want something and believe it’s worth doing, then mute other people’s opinions. It’s your life and you get to decide what is important to you. However, it can be motivating to unmute every once in a while. If you can unmute just long enough to let yourself think, “Okay. I’m going to prove them wrong,” it can fuel your fire.
Grab that cup of coffee.
You never know where an introduction might take you. There are so many things that have happened along my career journey because of who I’ve met and the relationships I’ve fostered. If you build relationships with the right people, doors can open to opportunities that you would’ve otherwise never dreamed of. If someone invites you for a cup of coffee, spend that 30 minutes getting to know them. They could call you a year from now with an opportunity that will change your life.
Try to learn something every day.
I firmly believe we can always be better and try to take every day in the operating room as a learning opportunity. To think, “Okay. how can I be better next time?” I don’t think we ever truly stop learning, even when we are settled into our careers. In STEM particularly, with technology advancing the way it is, you always have to be willing to learn and advance. We are not doing surgery the same way we were 10 years ago. And 10 years from now things will be even more different. Be flexible and willing to adapt to the newer, better, more advanced thing in your field.
It’s okay to ask for help.
It’s possible to do it all and have it all. But you don’t have to do it all and have it all by yourself. It’s so important to rely on your friends and family, especially during tough times. If you’re a trailblazer trying to do something that no one else has before, it’s going to take time and effort. You need to let your mentors help you, let those who love you help you. I think if you try to do it all yourself, you will burn out and break. We need people to support us as we try to succeed and follow our dreams.