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Muriel Steele Society »  Spotlights »  Interview with Dr. Sandhya Kumar

Interview with Dr. Sandhya Kumar performed by medical student Mandeep Kaur. Dr. Kumar is a minimally invasive general surgeon at UCSF and ZSFG

Dr. Kumar specializes in minimally invasive and robotic procedures, as well as surgeries of the foregut (esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine). She completed her B.S.E. at Princeton University in 2004, majoring in Operations Research and Financial Engineering. She attended medical school at the University of Kentucky followed by residency at the University of California Los Angeles. She then transferred to UCSF and completed her residency in General Surgery in 2015. From 2015 - 2017, she was a Clinical Instructor on the Acute Care Surgery Service at Parnassus. She then completed her fellowship in Minimally Invasive Surgery and Bariatrics at UCSF. At ZSFG, she is focusing on expanding the General Surgery practice. Her research focuses on improving access to surgical care for vulnerable patients, such as those in socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.

Mandeep Kaur: Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Kumar. What is one thing you know now that you wish you had known during your training?

Sandhya Kumar: I think the biggest revelation for me is that there are so many different ways to become a successful academic surgeon. I think it's really awesome that the scope of surgery today is so broad, and that the work we do affects patients in so many different areas beyond the actual surgical work. It's great that we're empowered to do that as well. You see people being patient advocates for trauma or working on racial equity- and it’s so important for surgeons to have a voice in those arenas. As a resident, you're definitely overwhelmed and daunted by the clinical work itself, so you see these one or two paths that academic surgeons follow, and it felt like everything I did had to fit into those pathways. If I had known what surgery would look like today, I might have tried some things that were off the beaten path. I hope that everyone knows today that you can make it whatever you want it to be. There's room in surgery for almost anything that you want to do, and you can be successful and thrive. That being said, I’m pretty happy with how my career turned out now, but it would have been helpful to understand that at the time.

Mandeep Kaur: Of course. That's great to hear, especially for anybody interested in surgery but afraid of the person they might have to become to go into the field.

Sandhya Kumar: Right, right.

Mandeep Kaur: Who do you admire?

Sandhya Kumar: The surgeon that I admire is Dr. Carter Lebares. She is someone whose footsteps I’ve followed many times actually. She was the only woman in the MIS (minimally invasive surgery) division at UCSF before I joined the faculty. I got to watch her blaze her own trail and evolve into this amazing foregut surgeon. She's a patient advocate, a scholar, and she's also really been a great mentor to me. She’s taken her own experiences and tried to make my path easier, and I hope that I can pay that forward someday.

Mandeep Kaur: What would you say is the best piece of advice you have received?

Sandhya Kumar: I think it's that you can have it all, but not all of it, all of the time. I think it specifically applies to women in surgery. To me, it means that life is always going to be full of tradeoffs because there's only 24 hours in the day and seven days in the week-- that's just like a fixed entity. You can have a fulfilling family life and a surgical career, but at any given time, you may have to make sacrifices in one area or the other. For me, it means that it's okay to sometimes choose my family over work, but it also means that sometimes it's okay to choose work over family. There are days I don't see my kids at all, and those days, I’m showing them what it means to be a strong woman with a career. Even in those moments, I feel like the tradeoffs might be tough in the short term, but I think in the long term they're all worth it.

Mandeep Kaur: That is really good advice! What are you most proud of personally and/or professionally?

Sandhya Kumar: I would say professionally I’m proud of my clinical work. Working at the San Francisco General was a dream job of mine, and I was lucky that I got to make that happen. I am proud to be part of the surgical practice that serves the city’s most vulnerable patients—especially knowing that I can provide specialized surgery care to those patients. I'm thrilled to be a part of it, and it's a defining feature of my career. It is also probably what inspires me every day.

Mandeep Kaur: It’s really incredible work you do. On to some more fun questions, what are some of your hobbies outside of the hospital?

Sandhya Kumar: One is that I like boot camps. I used to go to Barry’s bootcamp regularly. I haven’t gone since the pandemic started, but I can't wait to go back. The other thing that I picked up during the last couple years is cake decorating. I started making more and more elaborate cakes for my kids’ birthdays and then I found myself learning how to make buttercream flowers, plants, and succulents. It’s really fun because it’s technical, it’s artistic, and you get to work with your hands.

Mandeep Kaur: That’s really good to hear about. My last question is: what is your favorite food or drink?

Sandhya Kumar: I like all food and drink, but I would say probably a Margarita and nachos.

Mandeep Kaur: Nice! Thank you so much, Dr. Kumar, for taking the time to do this.

Sandhya Kumar: Thank you.

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