University of California San Francisco

Dr. Tasce Bongiovanni

Tasce Bongiovanni family

Tasce Bongiovanni, MD, MPP is an assistant professor in the Division of General Surgery. She serves as an acute care surgeon and surgical critical care intensivist at UCSF Parnassus, and trauma surgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General (ZSFG).

Margaret Akey: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom and experience with the Muriel Steele Society. To start, what is one thing you know now that you wish you had known during training?

Tasce Bongiovanni: Even being the few years out that I am, it's so easy to forget, because training is so intense, and then you do the next thing that's so intense. I wish I had known that it's not like you become a new person because you have an actual job as an attending. That seems obvious, of course. But was scary  that suddenly I'm the person in the room everyone's looking at to make a decision. However, I know that my colleagues in the hospital are always available and and are happy to help with advice operatively. On trauma, we have a system where you actually have a backup. So it's not like I didn't have another person to talk to. But suddenly you're the person in charge, and you're the person making the decisions. And that is in some ways a really a big burden to carry.

I think the other thing that I wish that I had known is that you don't know everything, and you don't have to know everything. You have all these experts in the field, you know, especially at a place like UCSF. So many people to call to get advice and you should ask questions and stay curious and continue to learn and grow. That doesn’t excuse you from continuing to do better and learn more, but being surrounded by experts also means you can and should rely on them.

Margaret Akey: Who do you admire?

Tasce Bongiovanni: This was a tough one because I really admire so many people. So it's hard to name just a few, because I've had so many amazing surgical mentors from when I was a medical student who inspired me to go into surgery. And then, as a resident who inspired me to be the best surgeon I could be— always doing a better job and learning more and working harder. And I have to say that I have had also non-surgical mentors and people who I really aspire to be like. Even when I was applying to medical school, just thinking about my mom and my grandmas, and you know how hard they worked in their lives for me to be here.

Margaret Akey: It is so wonderful to hear about the people who have inspired you along your journey. What impact has mentorship had on your surgical career?

Tasce Bongiovanni: Mentorship has a had a HUGE impact on my surgical career, and that was wrapped up in having all of these powerful women around me when I was a resident. When I was a resident, the surgical chair was a woman, same with my program director. There were assistant program directors who were women. And the same is true now.  Of course, I also had incredible male surgical mentors and still do! But having so many women in leadership was amazing mentorship, in part because I didn't have to think about myself as  different or special as a woman. I just got to be a surgical resident.

 Additionally, my current and past research mentors have been incredible. People who are non-surgeons were my mentors as well. I think a lot of us think we have to work with surgeons as mentors and research mentors and clinical mentors. Of course, for surgery, you need a surgeon as a clinical mentor. But I think there are so many other people who've really helped mentor me in other ways that have just been incredibly helpful, either from a leadership, sponsorship, or from a research standpoint.

Margaret Akey: What is the best piece of advice you have received?

Tasce Bongiovanni: When I was a resident, a few of us in my class wondered how are we doing and wanted feedback from our program director. I will never forget asking our then-program, director how do we know how we're doing, you know? Do we need to do better? Am I screwing up? That's always the fear. She said to me. “If you haven't heard anything, everything's fine.” I mean, the world has changed since then. So it is not a piece of advice, but it was just something that stuck with me through all of my training because it was just so poignant. It reassured me that I was fine, to keep going, that I was going to be okay, to not worry so much, because I think we all have this worry that we're like not enough not doing enough, we’re not good enough.

Margaret Akey: If not surgery, then what?

Tasce Bongiovanni: I have to tell you that my answer is so uninspiring. The first thing I think of is  that I would sleep. I would sleep and also have time to long-distance run, and then I would figure it out. Other than that, the obvious things would be to spend all of that extra time with my family, especially with my kids. If I hadn’t become a surgeon, I dreamed of being  a wild animal veterinarian or a marine biologist. I’ve had a tour of the animal hospital in the San Francisco Zoo. It's so interesting to think about surgery on giant animals that could potentially eat you if they were awake.

Margaret Akey: What are you most proud of personally and/or professionally?

Tasce Bongiovanni: Personally, it's easy, because it's my kids. I have 3 little kids. They're getting less and less little, of course, by the year. But they're just really sweet, happy, and kind children. I feel grateful that they are a part of my life and that I get to spend time with them. We also got a dog who needs to be trained, so I'm less proud of her because she needs a lot of work, but we are getting there.

 Professionally, it's getting to stay at UCSF. I am so grateful to be a part of such an amazing community. The surgeons here are incredible clinically, but also there are so many people who care deeply about the world, locally and globally and making healthcare better from bench to bedside. We have wonderful surgical basic scientists, health services researchers and social advocates all at the local, national, and international level. It’s mind blowing work that happens here at UCSF that benefits patient care.

Margaret Akey:  What inspires you to do what you do?

Tasce Bongiovanni: Making people better? I know that's a little bit of a naive thing to say, and we can't always make people better physically. I think of all of the opportunities I have had to sit with families and patients to care for them and make sure I am better at my job every time. I think that people compare surgery to sports, sometimes both the learning, the skills, but also the physicality of it, using your hands and standing sometimes for very long periods, and not sleeping. There's a certain endurance that has to come with that. I am always thinking about how I could have done my job better.

 Margaret Akey: Favorite quote? Or quote/mantra you live by?

Tasce Bongiovanni:  So the quote comes from a place of sort of deep spirituality. It's a quote from a Jesuit.  I will be really honest, being a surgical resident and having 3 kids during residency and fellowship—the amount of time and space I've created in my life to have deep spirituality is near zero. So it is nice to think about this again because it's certainly

what inspired me to go into medicine. And I think, continues to live with me, even though I didn't sort of consciously say it every day, or think about it every day.

 But the quote is from Pedro Arrupe, and he says: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.”

 I think the way that I always took it was having this deep love for our world, for ourselves, for each other, and in that finding what you love doing. The act of doing surgery is something that you have to love. Otherwise, you shouldn't do it. You shouldn't make yourself do something that you don't love getting out of bed for, and I don't always love getting out of bed at like 5 o'clock in the morning, right? But I do love this work, and I love it when I'm doing it. That's why it was a quote that inspired me and now it will inspire me again. I was just with a group of friends who were talking about how dreary their jobs were and what they would each do in retirement and how they would live and I just thought - wow, I guess I’m so lucky because I have a really awesome job.

Margaret Akey: That is such an inspiring message that I think will ring true for many people in medicine. Outside of your love for medicine, do you have any hobbies?

Tasce Bongiovanni: I wish! Every year, one of my New Year's resolutions is something like learning a language, or start playing the violin again. I have yet to do these things because of balancing work and taking care of my family. I haven't quite reached liftoff yet where things can move forward without me paying constant attention to them all the time. And so I think until that happens, I try to just eat healthy and workout and call that a hobby.

Margaret Akey: Absolutely, and that can be even hard sometimes!

Tasce Bongiovanni: Exactly. I would add that on days that I can, I love being a carpool mom. I'm so happy when I get to pick my kids up because I have snacks, I’m there early, I get to listen to them chat with their friends on the way to soccer. I just love it.

Margaret Akey: That is so lovely. This leads us to our last question which is: What is a question you wish more people asked you?

Tasce Bongiovanni: Oh, my gosh! That's a tough one. You know what I do love? When people ask about my kids. I did just say that I'm so lucky to be surrounded by so many powerful women, and I think,  even with that, and this might be for men, too, I don't know, but it's a little tricky to talk about your family. It's hard to know whether I just put that on myself, or whether that is really part of the culture. But I do love when people ask, “How are your kids?” “How old are they? What do they like? I really appreciate that. And since they are my hobby, you know, they're the light of my life. And so I love talking about them.

Margaret Akey: That is such a wholesome note to end this interview on. Thank you so much on behalf of the Muriel Steele Society for sharing your wise words with us today to inspire the next generation of surgeons.