Dr. Seemal Mumtaz entered the room to see a new patient for an open-heart surgery consultation.
“You’re Dr. Mumtaz, the heart surgeon?”
As her patient struggled to believe his heart surgeon was a woman, her mind flashed back to her childhood in Pakistan. As one of four sisters, she knew from an early age the challenges she faced in her native country because of her gender. Her parents knew, too, which is why they emphasized education.
“They constantly asked what we planned to be when we grew up,” Dr. Mumtaz says. “There was never a ceiling in their minds, nothing we couldn’t achieve.”
Dr. Mumtaz attended medical school in Pakistan and took an early interest in the heart. She trained at Creighton University in Nebraska and completed her specialty training at UC San Diego Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
During training, she gravitated toward cardiac surgery and spent so much time in the OR that her colleagues joked she should call it home. She became accustomed to being one of a few or the only female in her specialty. After finishing more than a decade of training, she practiced in Palm Desert, and then came to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
“With cardiac surgery, the impact you can have on someone’s life is enormous, so the gratification is instant. It’s complex and it takes maximum concentration, but there’s a theory that says maximum concentration equals maximum happiness. Completing a heart surgery is like finishing a masterpiece,” she says.
“You could say I’m a feminist,” she adds. “San Diego is so diverse, especially South County, so I don’t encounter as much surprise when the cardiac surgeon is a woman. When it happens, though, I turn the conversation back to the patient. It’s not about me; it’s about them and their health. I work my hardest to be the best cardiac surgeon I can be because that’s who my patients deserve.”
Dr. Mumtaz is the only female cardiac surgeon at Sharp Chula Vista, but she’s proud to be part of a diverse, collaborative medical staff. She’d like to see more women in cardiac surgery — women comprise less than 3 percent of cardiac surgeons nationwide — but she says what matters most is passion.
“When you’re passionate, everyone around you knows it,” Dr. Mumtaz says. “Growing up in a community that wasn’t as diverse or open, I’ve always had to try a little harder. That has stayed with me and makes me a better physician, which ultimately benefits my patients.”