‘You can’t be what you can’t see’: Cleveland Clinic doctor shares inspirational journey to improve lives of women, minorities

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — From starting out wanting to be a chemical engineer to working as a Radio City Rockette, the path to success wasn’t always a straight line for Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Deirdre Mattina.

One thing she had plenty of was inspiration.

Mattina was raised by a single working mom, and she knew she wanted to find a stable job after high school where she didn’t have to struggle so much. She became the first person in her generation to go to college.

“It was very important for me to be the spokesperson of my family,” said Mattina. “I’m a big proponent of ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. So for me, I felt a real responsibility to use the resources that I had so that I could achieve success.”

Now a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, Mattina specializes in cardio obstetrics and high-risk pregnancies. Her passion is working with women, addressing health care disparities and working with public health initiatives.

She said her love for working with people became clear early on in college.

After high school, Mattina, 43, went to Cornell University to become a chemical engineer. She soon found she didn’t want a job behind a desk with no interaction with people. She had danced her whole life, so she became a dance major and worked on her pre-med requirements.

After four years of college, she decided to travel, pay off student debt and work. That’s when she joined the Rockettes.

“It was a great opportunity,” she said. “I was in New York for four years. I’d do it all over again.”

Mattina returned to her studies, choosing the field of cardiology, with a focus in treating women.

“There’s definitely inequity in medicine,” she said. “Part of that is how we deal with women in general and, specifically, women of color.”

She said most heart research has been on adult Caucasian men, and it’s only been in recent years that more attention has been given to women’s heart health.

After completing a fellowship, Mattina said she had it in her mind to start a women’s health center.

In 2016, she founded the Henry Ford Woman’s Heart Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit to identify at-risk women in need of cardiovascular screening and disease management.

“It was really sort of marketed to women, for women and by women, and it was very successful,” she said. “I think women deserve care that is tailored to them.”

Last fall, she moved into the next phase of her career — and to Cleveland with her husband and two children — as a cardiologist specializing in cardio obstetrics and high-risk pregnancies related to heart disease.

She said America, despite all the advances it has, is one of the worst in the world with maternal mortality during childbirth. She said many of the diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes are preventable and “this is where I like to focus my energy on.”

“I like to work in the realm of health care disparities and work on public health initiatives,” she said. ” So this was a perfect fit for me.”

Her team helps manage women through their pregnancies who might have preexisting heart conditions, for example.

She and her team are also currently expanding a program that was already in place at the Cleveland Clinic to regional hospitals in Fairview and Hillcrest.

Last year, she received a $15,000 American College of Cardiology Chapter Grant to launch the #SheLooksLikeACardiologist campaign, which offers mentoring to females in high school who might be considering careers in medicine.

“What we’ve realized is just last year over half the enrollees in medicine school were female and this is a new trend,” she said. “However only a small fraction of the women are choosing cardiology as a specialty. And as a female cardiologist, we really need more women in the field and want to create equity in all areas of medicine.”

The goal of this program is to show students what life is like as a cardiologist and inspire them to break through myths about the profession. The program runs from six different states in the Midwest, and a virtual seminar will be held Feb. 27.

She said as we celebrate Black History Month, it’s important for people of color and women of color to realize there are opportunities for them in many fields, especially medicine.

“We are looking for diversity inclusion in all fields of medicine because we know that people tend to seek out people who look like them for care,” she said.

She has a message for young girls.

“You can’t really let your circumstances define you,” she said. “If you are persistent, and you believe in yourself, there’s always a way to move your path forward.”

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