In recognition of the many major accomplishments by women in anesthesia, CSA will be highlighting a variety of women leaders who practice throughout the state, bringing their diverse backgrounds and life perspectives into their work, taking purposeful steps to create pathways for mentorship and sponsorship, and helping support the clinical and research work that is being driven by an increasingly diverse field of anesthesiologists.
Below is one of the series profiles on women making great things happen in anesthesia:
Odmara Barreto Chang, MD, PhD
- Assistant Professor in Residence, University of California
San Francisco, Department of Anesthesia & Perioperative Care
- UCSF Latino Medical Student Association Co-Advisor
- ASA Committee on Professional Diversity
How did you get inspired to go into medicine?
I grew up in Puerto Rico and was the first in my family to go to college and medical school. I didn’t have any doctors or scientists in my family as role models. But during undergrad, when I was at the University of Puerto Rico, I spent every summer coming to the U.S. to do research. I had amazing teachers in college and mentors in my research summer programs that encouraged me to pursue my dream of combining medicine and research. I went on to do the MD/PhD program at Stanford, then residency and a research fellowship at UCSF. I’ve stayed at UCSF to develop my interests in improving patient care through translational research. I love being able to think about new questions, test my predictions, and impact the way we practice medicine.
What are you working on?
As a physician-scientist, my research focuses on elderly patients who experience cognitive dysfunction after surgery. We know that it happens, but we are still trying to figure out why, what are the risks, and how to prevent it. We are identifying patients who are experiencing long-term cognitive dysfunction and trying to tackle this problem. I think this is an exciting area of medicine because people live longer, and there are more surgeries taking place on older people who are more medically vulnerable – so we need to understand the impact of surgery and anesthetics. Understanding how we can most effectively optimize elderly patients prior to surgery and the risk factor for developing cognitive dysfunction after surgery will allow us to develop interventions to provide the best care for these vulnerable populations.
What was it like transitioning to the United States from Puerto Rico?
There were so many challenges and unknowns for me coming here from Puerto Rico and speaking a different first language. I think the transition is hard when you encounter a different culture, a different language, and you are a minority. You have to work hard and really want it. You need to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and to fail in order to achieve your goals. I had kids during my training; it was challenging and required a lot of sacrifices. Now that I’m through school and training, it’s better. Being an Anesthesiologist is a gratifying profession; we take care of patients in their most vulnerable times and this is a great responsibility but also a privilege. For young women looking to go into medicine, I would encourage them to make sure that medicine motivates them and they feel passionate about it. Being a doctor is too hard if it’s just a job. You need to be passionate, and you also need to build a support network around you. For people early in their careers or in their studies, join associations and clubs to get exposure to many areas of medicine and learn from each other and keep each other motivated. You also build connections through these networks for ongoing collaboration.