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Muriel Steele Society »  Spotlights »  Dr. Patricia Loftus

Dr. Patricia Loftus

Interview with Dr. Patricia Loftus by medical student Maria Lee. Dr. Loftus is an Associate Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at UCSF. She attended medical school at Thomas Jefferson University, followed by Otolaryngology–Head and Neck surgery residency at Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Loftus then completed a fellowship in Rhinology and Endoscopic Skull Base surgery at Emory University Hospital.

Maria Lee: Who do you admire?

Dr. Patricia Loftus: I admire a particular type of person, the type who are confident and can speak their mind and don’t necessarily worry about what other people think of them. I think that as women surgeons we are sometimes very cognizant of what we are saying and how we are saying it, and I still find myself doing this. I really look up to those women who paved the way for us to feel comfortable speaking up, who walk into the room with the confidence they know they deserve to have, who carry themselves how they want to, who get involved in the things they want to, and who never question themselves. Every time I see a woman do that, it's another step forward for us, and it makes me confident to do the same. And in doing so I become a better example to women who look up to me. It's that type of attitude that I admire. I still struggle with imposter syndrome, like many people do, but it helps me every time I see someone who has won the battle with imposter syndrome, and I hope to get there someday.

Maria: What impact has mentorship had on your surgical career?

Dr. Loftus: Honestly, everything. I think many of us can't get to that next level without mentorship, or at least having a role model who believes in us and helps us believe in ourselves. Where I am at this point in my career, I owe a lot of that to becoming part of committees and meeting people within those committees. One of the best things I ever did was become part of this group called Women in Rhinology, where I met female rhinologists at every level of their career. The more senior women worked hard to include the more junior women and get them involved in panels at meetings, research projects, etc. I've also had many wonderful male mentors, of course, who are just as important to have as allies. My mentors within my division of rhinology at UCSF are men, and they get me involved in projects and are always there to answer any questions that I have about patient care. Having their help and mentorship makes me more confident to do that harder surgery, or take on these harder patients, so that helps me grow as a doctor and surgeon. I think it is possible to do things without mentorship, but it is absolutely helpful to have people in your corner advocating for you.

And now I'm getting to the point in my career where I'm becoming the mentor, and mentees also have a lot to do with your career trajectory. One of the things I love so much about being in academics is working with students, residents and fellows. There's data to show that if you teach and are working with students, burnout decreases because you are reminded why your job is so interesting and fulfilling. That's what mentorship does for me as the mentor: I remember how lucky I am to do what I do. I realize that I have an impact on people's careers, whether by just getting them involved in research, or having them meet people from other departments, or introducing them to my residents if they are interested in learning more about OHNS. I am starting to look back at students who have shadowed me in the OR or clinic and realize that I did have a small impact on their career and life choices, and that makes my job so worthwhile on the days when I'm feeling stressed or tired.

So the mentors have gotten me to where I am and continue to help me move forward, and the mentees make me proud of where I have come from and remind me why I am so lucky to be doing what I'm doing.

Maria: What is the best piece of advice that you have received from someone else?

Dr. Loftus: One of my female mentors told me that you can have everything, but not all at the same time, and that has been very helpful for me. I'm a mother of two young kids. I am working on growing my career. I'm trying to be a good doctor to my patients, a good mom, a good wife, daughter, sister, friend. Life can include all of those things, and for me to feel fulfilled I want to have all of those. But there are going to be days when you may have to compromise. I may be a really good physician to my patients today, but didn't get to spend enough time with my kids. But that's okay. Tomorrow I'm going to choose to get out of clinic as fast as I can, and I'm going to hang out with my kids. So that has really helped me with the guilt that we experience as women on both sides. I can have everything, and I do feel like I have everything. But some days I “have things” more than others, and that's okay. In life you have to make choices, and I think that that is something that all young women physicians should know: that you deserve to have everything you want, and you can have it, but it's okay if everything is not always 100 percent.

Maria: If not surgery, what would you do instead?

Dr. Loftus: In a fantasy world, I would be a Broadway tap dancer! I grew up dancing and did it all through high school, and then as much as I could in college and beyond. Obviously, that is not necessarily the easiest lifestyle. But when I was growing up, if you asked me, that's what I would tell everyone that I wanted to be. In a more realistic sense, I am a very organized person and love things like color-coded spreadsheets and checking off boxes. I would also consider myself an extrovert and social person, so I love planning parties and get-togethers. So I think I would be a great party planner – scheduling and organizing and timekeeping that all ends in people having fun. Sounds like a great job!

Maria: What inspires you to do what you do?

Dr. Loftus: There are two things. One is the patients. I think that a lot of us get caught up in the day-to-day; getting through clinic while thinking about other stressors going on in our lives. I see very common diagnoses other than big skull-based tumors, like post nasal drip, and it may seem pretty insignificant. But then you'll have someone come in and say, “You really changed my life. I'm not coughing and sniffing all the time. My voice is back to normal, and I'm sleeping better.” You get that feedback and realize our job is really helping people. There are not many jobs where you can say that you are impacting people's lives in a positive way. You have to remember that they're coming to you for help: they're obviously really hurting if they're going to take time out of their schedule to come see you, and they're really looking to you as someone who can help them. And you have to take that seriously. It’s a type of relationship where they put their full trust in you and appreciate that you care, and when you see those good outcomes, you realize the significant impact you have on them and their family and everyone who loves them. So those moments make my job so worth it, and I feel lucky to do what I do.

The second thing is the students and learners. You forget that what you're doing is quite literally amazing, especially to people who are seeing it for the first time, and when I see people get excited about what I do and ask me questions, I realize that I'm helping to shape the next generation of people who are also going to improve people’s lives in the same way I do. Students tell me that I'm approachable and easy to talk to, and they really appreciate that. I'm very honest about life as a surgeon, and how to balance things, and that work is important but it's not everything. That type of honesty is very helpful for people to hear, especially young women. You can say no to things that don’t benefit or fulfill you, and I'm getting better at that. There has been a paradigm shift in much of surgery and medicine in general that promotes a better work-life balance, and I like to advocate for that and let students know that while work is a huge part of my life, it isn’t my entire life. And I think that has a positive impact on students.

So that is what inspires me: the patients who I am privileged to help, and the students who remind me how lucky I am to do what I do and who allow me to show them that they can “do it all” as well.

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