Women in Medicine: How this female transplant surgeon inspires

In Women in Medicine, read stories of Baylor Scott & White physicians, leaders and employees who are paving the way for women in the field of medicine.

As early as age 5, Tiffany Anthony, MD, knew she wanted to become a doctor. The personal impact of a pediatrician inspired her to pursue a career in medicine.

As she chased that dream, she never wavered.

Dr. Anthony worked as a nanny in college for two married surgeons and was heavily influenced by the mother, a spine surgeon who worked in a field not typically occupied by women. She didn’t know it yet, but she would one day follow in those footsteps to a similarly male-dominated field — transplant surgery.

Now one of only about 100 female transplant surgeons in the U.S., Dr. Anthony’s path to becoming a surgeon was a focused 25-year journey, fueled by inspiring mentors and affirming experiences.

A surgeon in the making

During her undergraduate studies in biology at the University of Texas, Dr. Anthony got her first hands-on experience as an orderly in an Austin hospital operating room.

“I didn’t have a good concept of what surgery was about,” she said. “During my first week, I was sent to various operating rooms, where I was afforded the opportunity to see human hearts, livers and intestines up close. Getting that job was a life-changing experience.”

Dr. Anthony was hooked — she knew she wanted to be a surgeon.

During her eight years of training after medical school, Dr. Anthony honed in on transplant surgery. She was attracted by the skill and the confident but down-to-earth nature of the transplant surgeons she encountered. Under the tutelage of renowned Baylor Scott & White transplant surgeon Giuliano Testa, MD, Dr. Anthony became a skilled transplant surgeon.

She performed her first liver transplant on her birthday in 2008, and has worked at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas since 2012. She specializes in liver and kidney transplantation, and is the director of the Robotic Donor Nephrectomy program for living kidney donors.

According to Dr. Anthony, being a transplant surgeon is a fulfilling and rewarding role. It’s more than her occupation — it’s her passion.

“I am very privileged in that I get to bear witness to the miracle of organ donation every day at work,” she said. “I feel like I am making a lasting difference in the lives of others.”

Part of a major medical milestone

And Dr. Anthony is doing just that. As a part of a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses and research investigators, her involvement in a landmark uterus transplant clinical trial at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, through Baylor Scott & White Research Institute, recently led to a major medical milestone. Dr. Anthony and her colleagues celebrated the first child born in the U.S. to a mother who received a uterus transplant. The team transplanted a uterus from a living donor to give this new mother the ability to carry her own child, something doctors told her was impossible due to absolute uterine factor infertility.

“As transplant surgeons, we generally take care of people with end-stage organ disease,” Dr. Anthony said. “So when we do the transplantation, we generally see the organ working immediately. What’s different with a uterine transplantation is that there is a lifesaving, life-giving aspect of all of it. As a woman, it has been an amazing experience to help a woman, and her spouse, bring a child into this world. She spent her whole life since puberty thinking she would never be able to have a child of her own because she was born without a uterus. Being able to help her fulfill that dream is very rewarding.”

“A bright light to her patients”

Dr. Anthony is the recipient of the 2017 Outlive Yourself Award, given annually by Dallas-based Taylor’s Gift Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes organ donation. The award was presented at the organization’s annual banquet this past fall.

“Dr. Anthony was selected not because she is an extraordinary doctor and leader in the transplant field, but because of how she treats others,” said Taylor’s Gift Foundation co-founder Tara Storch. “She is very kind-hearted and truly cares about her patients. She is a bright light to all her patients.”

For Dr. Anthony, it’s not the awards that motivate her every day. It’s knowing that she is making a difference in her patients’ lives.

“I was overwhelmed that I was chosen (for the award),” Dr. Anthony said. “As transplant surgeons, we work hard, long hours in and out of the operating room, but we do it because we absolutely know we are positively affecting the lives of our patients and their families.”

A leader in a male-dominated field

There are only about 100 women in the transplant specialty in the U.S. and very few elsewhere in the world. Dr. Anthony says the lack of female transplant surgeons likely is because of the time-consuming nature of the work.

Transplant surgeons have daytime office hours and often perform surgery at night. Donated organs can become available at any hour and require surgeons to prepare for surgery on a moment’s notice. Dr. Anthony and her colleagues are on call and available most days of the month except for their two dedicated weekends off, leaving little time to pursue personal interests or hobbies. She used to enjoy opera, but “I’d fall asleep all the time,” she joked.

Although her line of work requires some sacrifices, she finds fulfillment in her interactions with patients and the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.

Dr. Anthony was the featured speaker at her brother’s 2015 high school graduation in her East Texas hometown of Naples, and at her sister’s graduation in 2002. She urged the graduates to fight daily for life and happiness, a lesson she has learned from her patients, who often inspire her with their positivity and determination.

“In my line of work, it is an honor and privilege to have an inside look at patients who are facing their own mortality and death,” she said. “I have learned over the years that patients facing the end of their life are acutely aware of the value of an extremely tough day on Earth.”

To those considering becoming an organ donor, she would say this: “Organ donors, both deceased and living organ donors, save lives, period. There are very few people who will ever have the chance to say that they saved someone’s life.”

Learn more about the transplant program at Baylor Scott & White Health, and find out how to become a living kidney or living liver organ donor.

About the author

Steve Jacob
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Steve is a senior marketing and public relations consultant for Baylor Scott & White Health. He spent nearly four decades in newspaper and magazine editorial and business management and is the author of two books on healthcare reform. He was also the founding editor of D Magazine's D Healthcare Daily.

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Women in Medicine: How this female transplant surgeon inspires