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Physician Spotlight: Dr. Cynthia Dougherty

Dr. Cynthia Dougherty is currently a practicing general surgeon. She attended Miami along with her sister, and they are both now physicians.

Physician Spotlight: Dr. Cynthia Dougherty

Briefly describe your journey to medicine and your specific specialty (include schools, places of residency, etc.)

I went into Miami wanting to be an art major, however I decided on starting as a systems analytics major since my parents were not very keen on the art major idea. I planned on being a veterinarian since I was interested in animals, so I then switched to a Zoology major. I decided to take extra classes to graduate with both a Zoology and Microbiology degree. I did not know what I wanted to do after graduation, so I applied to master programs. There was an opening at University of Cincinnati, so I enrolled in a program there where I was working for three months in a pathology lab and was then in school for three months. While working at the pathology lab, the residents there advised me to look into the medical school path. So, I ended up applying to medical schools at the same time that I was working at TGI Fridays. I then got a job as a medical technician, but on my first day I got the news that I had been accepted to medical school, I quit that job.

In medical school, I had preconceived notions about wanting to specialize in either plastic surgery or psychiatry. I quickly realized psychiatry was not for me after I finished rotations, so I decided to do a surgery residency. While in this residency, I had thoughts about completing a subspecialty, but realized that doing a subspecialty would total in five years of residency. I had already been in school for such a long time I decided to go forth with general surgery and I haven’t looked back.

What does a typical day look like for you in your field?

I have very long days but each specific day depends on the environment in which you’re working – if you’re working at a major center in a big city there could be surgeries all day. Medicine has changed in the way that, in the past, private practices were responsible for their own billings and appointments, and it was set up for you work as much-or as little- as you want. Lately, small practices are having a tough time surviving, so they are being bought out by larger hospitals. This causes physicians to lose some autonomy, as you now are being told when to work, but saves them from closing their practice entirely.

I currently work and live in a rural hospital that has about 50 beds. I choose not to work every day in order to have a better quality of life, which is an important thing to think about when choosing your career in medicine. I wanted a family and to focus on other interests so I am considered part-time, which means I still work 60+ hours a week, but I get full days off. I am also currently transitioning to working four days a month, which gives me a $75,000 salary. It is very common for me to get recruited to other areas of the country since there are lots of underserved parts that are in need of doctors of different specialties. They offer as much as $650,000, but the goal for me was never to make a lot of money, it was to have a good quality of life. That is why I’ve never worked full-time.

What have you found to be the most rewarding part of medicine?

It is nice to make people feel better. Lots of patients I meet are in pain or are sick and I can do an operation for them. Most of the time it goes really well and when they come back for a follow up, they are like a new person, so getting to experience that transformation is incredible.

What at Miami University helped you on your path to medical school?

The classes I took definitely made a difference, especially those associated with my microbiology degree. Microbiology was super helpful with medicine as it was all about infectious diseases. In regards to medical school, the classes associated with the Zoology degree were not as helpful - we spent a lot of time pulling fish out of the river. I also took a parasitology class that helped a lot.

What was it like going through a similar career journey as your sibling, as she is also a surgeon? Were there any specific challenges or benefits to going through it together?

There were zero challenges; it was 100% beneficial. I was a senior in college when she was a freshman. We went to the same medical school and lived together. We did get placed in different hospitals for residency because the doctors would get us confused since we look so similar. We both moved to Virginia, but now my sister lives in Maryland. However, we call each other about medical cases all the time! She is my built-in referral, which I believe we both appreciate.

What was it like going through medical school together?

My first year of medical school my sister was still in college, but we’ve always gotten along. Medical school was really fun because it was similar to college in the way that you live somewhere and go to class and everyone there is doing the exact same thing you are. It was great because everybody would share notes for lectures and you really bond with your classmates since you’re going through something that is very intense together. I still have great friends from medical school. That’s not to say I didn’t work hard – I had at least five hours of studying every day in the library. And it was a really collaborative environment. People studied together and quizzed each other. The few people that viewed it as competitive did themselves a disservice.

How has your relationship progressed or changed as you have gone through different levels of schooling and entered your career?

My sister and I have always been close. As we have grown older and my sister has done a fellowship at Cleveland Clinic, I now look up to her immensely. My sister may be known as the “important surgeon” and I am known as the “small town surgeon”.

What would you recommend pre-medical students (or even pre-dentistry, PA, or OT) do in their undergraduate career to make themselves stand out to programs?

I was not the greatest student. I did well on the MCAT, which I took just in case. A funny story is that I actually canceled and rescheduled my MCAT in order to compete in a horse show because I was on the equestrian team. During my interviews for medical school I really bonded with my interviewer, which helped a lot. I think my personality has helped me stand out as well. I am a fairly relaxed person, I’m willing to work, and I don’t give up. Some advice is to not listen to what other people tell you. If you want to do it you can do it, you just have to do the work. I had a professor that told me I shouldn’t go to medical school because I was too “ethereal,” but if I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. I am logical, sensible, realistic, and recognize that I can always do it- I just have to put the time in. In my practice right now I’ve learned that there is work to be done and you have to do it. When you’re on call you don’t get to sleep through the night but you still have to work the next day, dig deep, have toughness, and like what you’re doing.

What is your fondest Miami University memory?

I was on the riding team, so a lot of my fondest memories come from being with the team and going to horse shows.