Dr. Kathy Magliato

January 14, 2011

By Maya Parmer

"What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" Dr. Magliato, Executive MBA Class of 2006, lives by this theme. As a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, Director of Women's Cardiac Services at Saint John's Health Center, mother of two boys, wife of a liver transplant doctor, philanthropist, author and businesswoman, Dr. Magliato knows what it takes to reach for the stars ... and still sleep at night. She believes that the fear of failure keeps us from accomplishing our dreams.

As a child raised in upstate New York, Dr. Magliato worked in the orchards that her parents tended as farmers. It was here that she established the steadfast work ethic that has allowed her to sail through the extreme highs and crushing lows of her career. While her parents instilled support, they provided little guidance to the young girl who dreamed of becoming a doctor. "Your parents give you two things. One is roots and the other is wings," says a needlepoint given to Dr. Magliato by her family.

Dr. Magliato's attitude of 'achieve it and never quit' motivated her to challenge the boundaries of her gender and profession. In high school, Dr. Magliato lost the valedictorian spot. Then, she got rejected from medical school. "Things happen for a reason. You cannot see it at the time but they really do." Of course, Dr. Magliato eventually did get into medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. When faced with the distinct fork between going into medicine or surgery, Dr. Magliato did not hesitate; she already knew she loved surgery. She then began her surgery training at Akron General Medicine Center and was the first woman to ever train there.

Dr. Magliato was also the first woman to ever train in cardiothoracic surgery at Loyola University Medical Center in 1996. Then, she was the first woman to complete a transplant fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh in 1999. Similarly, Dr. Magliato happily challenges the misconception that female surgeons have dainty little hands by showing her 'mitts' that could palm a basketball since childhood.

As an intern, Dr. Magliato was thrown into surgery, where she fell in love with the heart. In the introduction to her book Heart Matters: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon, Dr. Magliato eloquently explains her fascination with the heart. "When the heart muscle contracts, it becomes firm with vigor of expelling blood with all its might. When the heart muscle relaxes, it softens and becomes flaccid to allow blood to gently flow into its chambers. Both functions are diametrically opposed and yet work in concert for one purpose and one purpose only -- to sustain life."

As a female in the predominately male field of surgery, Dr. Magliato quickly learned to wear what she calls her 'metal jacket.' She explains this as not thinking about what is physically happening on the operating table and instead letting the mind retreat. Despite the harrowing and hope-filled surgeries she performs every day, Dr. Magliato emphasizes the importance of compassion in her profession. She moved the audience deeply when she told the story of taking off her 'metal jacket' while disconnecting an infant with a hole in its heart from life support. Here she learned to balance compassion with keeping her head in the game.

However, Dr. Magliato does not believe in the common proverb, 'opportunity knocks.' She believes that you have to seek it. "Go for it; get in the car and drive there." Dr. Magliato mentions the countless stories of sexism she was faced with yet is happy she can at least laugh at them now.

Already in the thick of her medical career, Dr. Magliato married and had her first child after the age of 40. As if this was not enough, Dr. Magliato wanted a business perspective to complement her life. She began attending UCLA Anderson's Executive MBA Program in 2004. While at Anderson, Dr. Magliato had her second child and, believe it or not, she was sitting in class to take a final the day after her C section! "Anderson is like a springboard for your mind. I approach problems differently. I think it honestly changed my life."

Yet, Dr. Magliato's fondest UCLA Anderson memory was when she negotiated the class out of a final, in her Negotiations class with Professor Robert Spich, and won. "I feel so indebted for the opportunity Anderson gave to me."

Dr. Magliato is also working to encourage more women to go into medicine. She believes that fewer women are in medicine because of the lifestyle issue. Due to the duration of training required to succeed, one must wait to have a family and get married. Most recently, Dr. Magliato is wearing both her medical cap and her MBA cap in developing a non-profit to assess patients for cardiovascular disease in Guam.

To learn more about Dr. Magliato's medical mission and to read on about her book, Heart Matters: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon, visit www.kathymagliato.com.

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