If You Really Love It, You Can Do It All.
Dr. Lisa Mielniczuk
Division of Cardiology
The grand-daughter of polish World War II survivors, Lisa Mielniczuk absorbed at an early age that nothing comes easy in life and to value hard work. She would study to become a Cardiologist with advanced training in Heart Failure and Transplantation, co-found and direct numerous innovative clinical programs and build from scratch a unique clinical and translation research program to evaluate mechanisms and novel treatments of pulmonary hypertension and right HF. With over 65 peer-reviewed publications, a University Research Chair, numerous Provincial and National consultancy positions and invitations to speak at countless international venues, she is considered one of the Departments young female superstars.
I THINK those that are very successful are those that have learned the importance of perseverance and tenacity.
AM I REGIMENTED and organized? Yes, absolutely, very much so. The first thing I think about in the morning is what needs to get done— both personally and professionally. When I get to work every morning, I write what I need to accomplish that day on sticky pads. Even on the weekends I write myself a list. I’m the type of person who will put something on that list that I’ve already done, just to cross it off —because that feels good to me.
PEOPLE HAVE JOKED that I use the word phenomenal a lot, that I’m over enthusiastic about things.
THIS SUMMER I took my kids up to the Yukon with some other family members, rented an RV— it was absolutely phenomenal (1). We went camping in Whitehorse and Alaska and I was completely unplugged for the first time — for about a week! It was stressful at first but felt good after about the second day.
APPRECIATING THE BEAUTY of nature and being outside is a shared family trait.
I DON’T LIKE IT when people say, “That is not my problem”. Complaints are normal, they’re what move us forward as a program, but it’s that discontent matched with ’but I don’t want to take part in building a solution’ that I find frustrating. Those that are unhappy would have the most valuable input because that’s exactly where we’d get the most delta in terms of things that need to change.
THE BEST WAY to get things moving is to move them yourself.
I’D EAT homemade bread and aged cheese all the time if it wasn’t for my health.
EVERYTHING tastes better when you’re camping.
MY GREATEST GUILTY PLEASURE TV show is the Walking Dead. At first, I thought it was the worst show ever and then I got hooked. It’s a phenomenal (2) story about human survival under the most perilous conditions; how do we stay together, how do we keep our humanity in the face of everything that is tearing humanity apart both literally and theoretically — that’s the part of the story I love. By no means would I suggest that I am attracted to the gore, it’s horrible but sadly you can desensitize to it after about the first four or five episodes.
MY FAVOURITE MEAL is turkey dinner, everything from the preparation to the dessert— it is such a wonderful meal to share with family and friends.
MY MOST PRIZED childhood possession was my Playmobile ambulance. My parents bought it for me when I was about six or seven and I loved it. It had a little stretcher, paramedics, a patient with a cast that came on and off; it even had little intravenous bottles and plastic tubing. From that I built a hospital using a little bookshelf in my room. That was probably my earliest interest in healthcare. Although at that age I don’t remember saying I wanted to be a doctor.
I GREW UP in downtown Toronto. My father was an early IT specialist; my mother was a salesclerk at the Bay. I was raised to be a strong and confident person. My parents taught me the importance of resilience and self-reliance. I come from very humble beginnings. My fathers a phenomenal (3) man; he himself had very humble beginnings. His parents are Polish and were displaced in the Second World War by the Germans into a work camp. My father’s upbringings were one of self-reliance, resilience, working hard to get to where you need to be and he instilled that in us. This idea that nothing comes for free, that you must work very hard— these are important traits that I’m trying to teach my children. And then when you are successful, be grateful and give back, make sure you share that with others.
I’M PROUD OF MY BROTHER for always following his passion. When we were growing up, I always had my nose in the books and he would do what needed to get done to get through, but still always had a very good sense of balance. He loves sailing, he co-owns a boat, he’s very physically active and fit and always takes time to take care of himself and to do the things that he likes to do. I probably could learn from him. I tend to switch the needle from work and Cardiologist to Mother. One of my character flaws is that I don’t have a lot of middle ground. My brother is very good at finding that middle ground.
I TOOK A JOB in high school as a receptionist at a health clinic in my neighbourhood. I was so curious, had so many questions, and one of the physicians there taught me things about medicine and about the world of being a physician. There have been people in my life who have been incredibly influential. She was one of them. Her patients adored her — the feedback I used to get at the front desk about this woman was phenomenal (4). She changed their lives and I thought, I want to be like her.
MY MOM taught me to believe in myself.
I ALWAYS WANTED to have children. I played with dolls as a child, babysat as soon as I was old enough; I was a caregiver the whole way. Where I grew up, there was a group home for developmentally handicapped kids right down the street from my house. I started volunteering there when I was ten and would go every day after school and on weekends. These kids —who were essentially my age — were severely physically disabled, non-verbal, wheel chair bound, needed to be fed and needed lots of care. The group home parents there were people who also influenced me greatly.
I WOULD NEVER DO WELL in any environment that was based purely on making a profit.
SPEAKING MULTIPLE LANGUAGES is the talent I’d most like to have that I currently don’t possess. Sadly, I’m unilingual; even after being in Ottawa for 10 years, my kids know more French than me. I’m fascinated with people who can speak multiple languages. It’s on my bucket list to become more of a polyglot but I don’t know if it’s too late for me.
WHAT I REALLY LIKED about heart failure and transplantation was the relationships that you developed with the patients. You are with them at some of the most critical and life-changing points in their life and that’s a real honour in my mind. And the complexity involved in those decision-making processes is very intense and I found it very enjoyable and very rewarding. These patients will be under your care for the rest of their lives. You really have an opportunity to get to know folks very well and be involved in their care at a very deep and intimate level. And I was absolutely drawn to that.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED in research. Going to the literature to find the answer and then not finding the answer is exciting to me. I spend my day dealing with patients at the bedside on a one-to-one level but I also have this great opportunity to hopefully influence the care at a population, or a system level with research.
I’VE HAD THIS GREAT OPPORTUNITY to participate as part of Provincial and National groups and that’s really where the rubber hits the road — where you’re actually around the table with incredible geniuses and phenomenal leaders trying to figure out how best to serve a group of people at a population level.
WITH RESEARCH, the ratio of investment of time for dividend reward is very skewed. And when you are a clinician researcher, you have to be prepared to accept that a lot of that gets done after hours. If you don’t love it, don’t do it, because research is all encompassing. And you have to be all in to do it well. If not, you won’t be happy.
I SEE THE POSITIVES when the system takes care of the patients in the right way and I unfortunately see the downside, the limitations, whatever they may be; constraints on resources, lack of therapies, lack of transitional care, whatever those constraints are I see them and I see how they influence patients. For me, being able to affect change in a positive way in any of those areas, that’s my biggest driver.
I ALWAYS TELL PEOPLE that I am the luckiest person in the world because I love my job; I love coming to work but I also love being home. I’m happy wherever I am but by far and away, my greatest accomplishment is raising my three children. If nothing else, creating three little people that I hope will make this world a better place — to me that is the number one important or impactful thing that I will ever do in my life.
BEING IN MY POSITION I get an opportunity to respond to people who ask, “Is it possible to have it all?”, especially women coming up through medicine. They feel — especially as they train in Cardiology — that they almost have to choose. Am I going to have a family, am I going to be academic, should I go into private practice and I like that I have the opportunity to say, “If you really love it, you can do it all”. You have to depend on some of these crazy things like ’Nannies On Call’, and have good support around you but you absolutely can. I think academic medicine affords that, perhaps even more than private practice. Because you get the beauty of patient care and if you love research, leadership, administration, teaching, whatever it is — you get to do it all!