5 Questions with Laxmi Mehta, MD
For this issue, Cardiology Today spoke with Editorial Board Member Laxmi Mehta, MD, FACC, FAHA, FNLA. She is a noninvasive cardiologist and professor of medicine in the division of cardiovascular medicine at The Ohio State University. She holds the Sarah Ross Soter Endowed Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health, is the section director of preventive cardiology and women’s cardiovascular health and director of lipid clinics and is the vice chair of wellness for the department of internal medicine at Ohio State.
Mehta received her medical degree from Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in 1998 and then went on to William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, where she completed her residency, clinical cardiology fellowship and advanced cardiac imaging fellowship. She moved to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in 2007, where she specializes in women’s heart health and preventive cardiology.
Mehta was the first female governor of the Ohio chapter of the American College of Cardiology and is chair of the ACC’s Board of Trustees’ Task Force on Clinician Well-Being. She also serves on the ACC’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion and its Lifelong Learning Oversight Committee. She is also involved with the American Heart Association, chairing its Cardiovascular Disease in Women and Special Populations Committee. Mehta also chaired the committees that wrote AHA scientific statements on acute MI in women, the intersection of breast cancer and CVD and CV considerations of pregnancy.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career?
Dr. Mehta: There have been different mentors at different stages of my career. When I was a resident and fellow at Beaumont Hospital, two attendings that helped get me into cardiology were William W. O’Neill, MD, FACC, MSCAI, Cindy L. Grines, MD, FACC, MSCAI, and Pamela Marcovitz, MD, FACC, were instrumental in teaching me about cardiology, ranging from interventional cardiology to advanced imaging and women’s CV health. One of the fellows at that time, Kimberly Skelding, MD, gave me an opportunity to be involved in CV research, which was necessary to get into a cardiology fellowship.
I later got recruited to Ohio State by William Abraham, MD, FACP, FACC. He and Thomas J. Ryan, MD, MBA, helped me develop as a leader and educator, both at Ohio State and at the national level. I got involved with the ACC at the state level and eventually the national level. Early on, I was fortunate to have met Dipti Itchhaporia, MD, FACC, FESC, at a conference for women in cardiology. She has been an outstanding role model and mentor.
I’ve also been involved with the AHA, predominantly through the Go Red for Women movement. Jennifer Mieres, MD, FAHA, and Ileana L. Piña, MD, MPH, FAHA, both provided me opportunities to be involved with AHA committees. Thereafter, I chaired the Cardiovascular Disease in Women and Special Populations Committee, and chaired several scientific statement writing groups that advance our knowledge of CVD in women.
Another mentor who stands out is Pamela S. Douglas, MD, MACC, FASE, FAHA. We have been involved with well-being, women in cardiology and diversity and inclusion initiatives for the ACC. She has been an exemplary mentor and sponsor for me and numerous other cardiologists across the globe. There are many more who have positively influenced my career and I am truly grateful to the many people who have believed in me and supported me.
What area of research in cardiology interests you most right now?
Dr. Mehta: Given my career path, I am interested in prevention as well as CVD in women. However, over the last several years, I have had a strong interest in the well-being of our cardiology workforce. This is an important aspect of cardiology and more attention needs to be focused on our professional lives and fulfillment. Several years ago, as part of ACC’s Professional Life Survey, we reported that more than one quarter of U.S. cardiologists were feeling burned out. Clinician well-being is an important aspect of the ACC’s strategic plan. There is so much for us to learn not only about the drivers of burnout in cardiology, but also how to develop solutions or safe spaces for our entire CV care team to experience professional fulfillment and to practice self-compassion.
What advice would you offer to a student in medical school?
Dr. Mehta: Medicine is rewarding and has so many career options. You should explore the different fields with an open mind and find one that you enjoy the most. It is also essential to find mentors who can help support you during your training years as well as throughout your career.
The human connection is an important concept and key purpose that brought many of us into medicine. Although electronic health records have had advantages, the burden on clerical tasks that clinicians have experienced is not negligible. Unfortunately for many people, it has resulted in less time with patients and more time behind the computer screen. I would urge the medical students to remember the human connection and spend more direct face time with patients. The human touch is part of the healing process for our patients.
In addition, it is important to be a sponge. You are there to learn as much as possible in a short period of time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is so much we can learn from our colleagues and team members, but also from our patients. As the saying goes, “with humility comes wisdom.”
Finally, make sure you are not comparing yourself to others. We are each unique in our own way. Enjoy that.
Have you ever been fortunate enough to witness or to have been a part of medical history in the making?
Dr. Mehta: As a cardiology fellow, I was in Dr. O’Neill’s clinic for 3 years and saw not only complex PCI patients but also many structural heart cases. During that time, Dr. O’Neill was one of the first to perform transcatheter aortic valve replacement in the United States. I got to see his patients before and after their procedure and partake in the imaging workup of these patients. Patients were being sent to us for innovative procedures from all over the country.
Also during my training, I had the opportunity to participate in stem cell therapy research, including one of the earliest cases of intracoronary autologous stem cell transfusion with Dr. Grines and Steven B. Timmis, MD. We were also at the forefront of new treatments for STEMI, including two different cooling trials simultaneously. It was a busy and exciting time to be a fellow at Beaumont Hospital.
What was the defining moment that led you to your field?
Dr. Mehta: As a child, I knew I wanted to be a doctor because my father was one. When I was in ninth grade, my high school had a career day where you had to shadow someone. My father had arranged for me to shadow an interventional cardiologist. That morning, I observed cardiac catheterizations and the ICU unit. I met the cardiology fellows and thought why would anyone want to train that many years to become a cardiologist. Unfortunately, that day, my father, who was in his early 40s, had a MI. Everything that I learned that day was suddenly happening to him. And that was the defining moment. No longer did the number of training years matter. I decided then that I wanted to be part of the team that fixes people’s hearts.
During my internal medicine residency, my maternal grandmother, who was diabetic, suddenly died from a massive MI. Prior to that, no one ever considered her to be at risk of heart disease. This inspired me to become interested in women’s heart health and to spread the knowledge that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. I am a women’s heart health specialist and a preventive cardiologist due to heart disease affecting my father and grandmother.