Last Updated on March 12, 2019 by SDN Staff
Dr. Mona G. Flores is the director of ventricular assist devices for the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at University of California, Davis, Medical Center in Sacramento. Prior to studying medicine, Flores studied business, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from American University of Beirut, Lebanon (1986), and an MBA in management information systems from State University of New York at Albany (1988). From 1991-1992, she took post-graduate science courses at University of California at Los Angeles, then earned a master’s degree in biology from San Jose State University (1995). Flores earned her MD from Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland (1999), and completed a general surgery residency at FINCH University of Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School (1999-2004), followed by a post doctoral research fellowship with the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department at Stanford University (2002-2004). Dr. Flores completed another general surgery residency at UCSD School of Medicine, San Diego (2004-2006), a cardiothoracic residency at Columbia University Medical Center (2006-2008), and a LVAD fellowship with Columbia University Medical Center, Junior Attending (2008-2009).
Dr. Flores has been published in the Journal of Immunological Methods, Transplantation, Atherosclerosis, the Journal of Surgical Research, Transplant International, and the Journal of Clinical Oncology. She has presented at the American Transplant Congress in Washington D.C., the American College of Surgeons 89th Annual Clinical Congress in Chicago, the 3rd International Congress on Immunosuppression in San Diego, and the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation 29th Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions in Paris. Dr. Flores is currently the chair of the Ventricular Assist Device Steering Committee, and a member of the Intensive Care Units Committee, Cardiac Services Performance Improvement Programmatic Subcommittee, Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Committee, and CQI Committee. She is also a member of the American College of Surgeons, The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, Women in Thoracic Surgery, and Sacramento Surgical Society.
When did you first decide to become a doctor? Why?
I grew up in a civil war. Surgeons were the doctors needed most during that time, and I wanted to be able to do something about hideous war injuries happening all around me. I decided to become a doctor after graduate school and working for a few years. It was always something I had wanted to do, but did not have the opportunity to pursue it before.
How/why did you choose the medical school you attended?
I considered the reputation of the school, the cost, and convenience (as I was already residing in Oregon, where I went to school).
What surprised you the most about your medical school studies?
They are not as hard as everyone makes them out to be.
Why did you decide to specialize in thoracic/cardiac surgery?
I initially wanted to be a trauma surgeon. However, as I found out later, trauma is becoming less and less operative. And then I scrubbed into a cardiac case, and I was hooked. The heart is a fascinating organ.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still specialize in thoracic and cardiac surgery? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I would do it all over again. I love operating and taking care of patients. As I said before, there are a lot of sacrifices. At this point, the balance is still in favor of me being a cardiac surgeon. This of course can always change.
Has being a specialist in thoracic and cardiac surgery met your expectations? Why?
Yes. It is still the most interesting discipline I have come across, and the most rewarding when things go right.
What do you like most about being a specialist in thoracic and cardiac surgery?
The operative experience is amazing. It’s very stressful, but also very rewarding. Every case is a case of life and death, and the stakes are so high. A wrong move, and the patient can die. The loss is usually overwhelming. But, if you do everything right, they will probably live, and be there again for their families. What could be more rewarding?
What do you like least about being a specialist in thoracic and cardiac surgery?
Your time is never your own. In one way or another, you are always on call. I guess this depends on the type of practice you are in. In my practice, I am on call 24/7 unless I am away on a conference or I am on vacation. As a surgeon doing high risk surgeries, I have a very special relationship with my patients. I believe that it is my responsibility to make sure they are doing well, even if I am not on call, which is rare.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
Finding a job in this field is very difficult, as there are very limited opportunities available. In my opinion, this will change in the next few years, and more job opportunities will open up. Most jobs in this field are by word of mouth, and networking is of utmost importance in finding a job.
Describe a typical day at work.
Start at 6 a.m. or 6:45 a.m., round on patients, operate all day, round again and then go home when done. I have clinic two afternoons a week, and meetings, lectures and conferences all through the week.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
Actual hours worked are between 40 and 80 depending on the week. I am on call all the time unless I’m on vacation or away at a conference. I accrue 16 hours of vacation per month, but I actually take about two weeks a year.
Are you satisfied with your income? Explain.
It is what you would expect in an academic setting.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Explain.
No, but I did not take out many loans.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you started your medical career?
Treat every opportunity as golden, and give all tasks your best effort.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your medical studies?
Have a long term goal, and try to align your short term goals to achieve your long term one. Ask advice from your colleagues, seniors and mentors. Do not be shy.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
Lack of efficiency in care delivery. There is a lot of waste in our health delivery system. One example is that we have patients sitting in the hospital for weeks on end, because they have nowhere to go, or they need a device or drug that they cannot pay for. The costs to the health system because of this are tremendous, and could be addressed in a much more efficient matter.
Where do you see cardiac and thoracic surgery in five to 10 years?
I see this specialty much more dependent on percutaneous and minimally invasive procedures. Catheter skills are a must for cardiac surgery.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
None at this time.
Do you have family? If so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life outside of work?
I have a husband and a son, and I definitely do not spend as much time with them as I would like. Each physician will have to find their own balance.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing thoracic and cardiac surgery as a career?
Make sure you understand the sacrifices you have to make. If you are ok with them, go for it. It is the most exciting field out there.