Study Break | Study break: In celebration of women | September 14, 2017
September 14, 2017
This month the American Medical Association celebrates women physicians during Women in Medicine Month. Women comprise 70 percent of the employees of our Medical School, including 80 percent of our staff, 41 percent of our faculty, 46 percent of our residents and fellows, and half of our students. Three of our 23 department chairs are women (13 percent), and we have 13 women in dean positions (36 percent). I am so fortunate to be one of a handful of women medical school deans – according to the latest data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), just 16 percent of U.S. medical schools are led by women.
But it’s not just about the numbers, it’s about the people. We should all be proud of the wonderful women of McGovern Medical School. Please join me in recognizing the 4,598 women who bring their expertise, commitment, human qualities, and unique contributions to make McGovern Medical School a very special place.
Today I’d like to introduce you to two outstanding women, Suur Biliciler, M.D., associate professor of neurology, and Gurur Biliciler-Denktas, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics – cardiology. These faculty members have a unique connection and special bond – they are sisters on our faculty. To our knowledge, they are the first and only sisters on faculty at our school (that comes from the venerable source of Faye Viola, director of Faculty Affairs).
Dr. Louise McCullough, chair of the Department of Neurology, says of Dr. Biliciler, “Dr. Biliciler is an absolutely outstanding clinician and one of the most effective teachers in our department. She serves as a role model for medical students, residents, and fellows and serves as the co-director of our residency program. Suur is also incredibly committed to the care of underserved populations and spends considerable time at our Harris Health clinics performing EMGs and providing neuromuscular consults. She has been recognized for the excellent patient care she provides and has been named a ‘top doc’ by Houstonia magazine. We are very fortunate to have Suur here at UTHealth as she is one of the one of the few neurologists in the country that is board certified as a neuromuscular pathologist. She is integral to our neuromuscular program and to our department.”
As her division director, Dr. John Breinholt says, “Dr. Biliciler-Denktas is one of our most experienced cardiologists. She does an amazing job as the director of non-invasive imaging, coordinating a large portion of our faculty who provide imaging services from the Fetal Center, to the CT and MRI suites, to the operating rooms and catheterization laboratories, and to the echocardiograms in inpatient and outpatient areas. She is also the training director of the advanced imaging fellowship program in addition to her very active presence in the McGovern Medical School Faculty Senate. Her patients love her, and so do we.”
How did you become interested in medicine?
Dr. Biliciler-Denktas: Our parents were doctors, and we grew up at the dinner table talking about diseases and patients. Our mom was a pediatrician and our dad was an academic ENT surgeon. I think it’s what I was born to do.
Dr. Biliciler: Yes, our parents were very dedicated – their hobbies were the two of us and their jobs. We ended up talking about medicine all of the time – it was tough to watch a movie as a family because my mom would say, ‘That’s not really a newborn on the screen, that baby is 3 months old.’ Medicine was always integrated into our daily lives – neighbors would knock on our door for medical information, and I would go to my mom’s clinic after school. I don’t see us doing anything else.
You grew up in Istanbul, Turkey – how did you come to McGovern Medical School?
Dr. Biliciler-Denktas: I went to medical school in Istanbul with my husband, and we came to the Mayo Clinic to do our residencies. After my residency in pediatrics, I went to the University of Miami for a pediatric cardiology fellowship for two years while my husband came to Houston to train in cardiology at UT. I went back to Mayo Clinic for my third year and then completed a fourth year in advanced imaging while he was training in interventional cardiology. We returned to Turkey to practice, and then UT recruited us. I’ve been at McGovern Medical School for over 12 years now.
Dr. Biliciler: My sister was doing her residency when I was in medical school in Turkey, and she told me the training here was great, and I should take the USMLE. Initially, I wasn’t planning to come overseas. She said, ‘Just take the test, you don’t have to come.’ I passed the exams, and the rest is history. I ended up coming to St. Louis University for neurology residency and then to Baylor College of Medicine for neuromuscular fellowship. I was then offered a faculty position here in 2009.
How do you work together at the medical school?
Dr. Biliciler: We don’t see each other at work every day, but sometimes we have coffee or lunch, or will take food to each other if the other one is busy. More than once I’ve forgotten my purse, and my sister has brought me money – even once when I took my residents out to lunch, she had to come to pay! This is sisterhood at every level!
Dr. Biliciler-Denktas: We don’t always have common patients – Suur is an adult neurologist, and I’m pediatric cardiologist, but when we have questions, the answer is one text away.
Dr. Biliciler: For triaging or referrals, it’s much faster for our patients when you know people so we help each other with this. We deal with people on a daily basis. We are physicians, mentors, and teachers, and things sometimes can be overwhelming. If there is a difficult situation, I call her because I know I can trust her. And for life outside of work – things as a mother and in daily life, we help each other out a lot.
Who were your mentors?
Dr. Biliciler-Denktas: My mom finished medical school in 1966. She had a very strong presence in the medical field – she was an excellent pediatrician, and her patients loved her. She is what we looked up to – she balanced the work life and the family life. She always told us that the most important thing they will be able to give us was education, which will make us strong females standing proudly on our feet.
Dr. Biliciler: It’s not easy for females in medicine to balance things. Our father also supported us. You have to have males support their daughters and learn from early on that life is equal. At home everything was shared. He made the breakfast on the weekends and sewed the buttons on our uniforms. And he always said that they will help us in any way they can so we can concentrate on our education and advancement. We were very lucky to have that kind of support.
Dr. Biliciler-Denktas: It’s important for us to remember where we came from and help the junior faculty breeze through the same difficulties they may also face. It also helps to have buy-in from our male colleagues and for us to be involved in both the medical school and professional organizations to help junior faculty and other female colleagues and support each other both professionally and in charities outside of work that help strengthen women.
Dr. Biliciler: For example, we are involved in raising money for female students in Turkey who otherwise will not have the means to an education. If you educate women, you educate the whole household. Education leads to knowledge and with knowledge comes understanding that helps create solutions and solves conflicts.
When you see Drs. Biliciler and Biliciler-Denktas, please thank them for their loyalty to our school, as well as their support for patients, medical education, and other women. They are an inspiring pair.
McGovern Medical School is committed to providing a supportive and enriching environment for women, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of our local programs. I also want to make you aware of the AAMC’s Group on Women in Medicine and Science (GWIMS) website which has many resources to advance the participation of women in academic medicine. Our school’s GWIMS representative is Dr. Margaret McNeese, with additional representatives Dr. Kevin Morano, Crystal Parker, and Faye Viola.
Please join the annual Women Faculty Forum Fall Networking Reception, September 20. Featured speakers are Dr. Theresa Koehler, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and the Herbert L. and Margaret W. DuPont Professor in Biomedical Science, and Dr. Janice Whitty, professor of obstetrics and gynecology – maternal fetal medicine.
I am thankful to have so many wonderful women at the medical school. We have so much to celebrate this month.
Distributed via email to all McGovern Medical School employees, students, residents, and postdoctoral fellows, Study Break is Dean Barbara J. Stoll's update of news and items of interest. She welcomes feedback via email.