Mary O'Connor, M.D.
Mayo Clinic in Florida
"I knew Mayo Clinic had one of the best orthopedic departments in the country," says Dr. Mary O'Connor. "But residents at my medical school said I didn't have a chance of getting in at Mayo because the competition was very tough and because I was a woman. There were few women in orthopedic surgery at that time. I was told to apply to less prestigious programs."
This lack of encouragement did not diminish her passion for pursuing a career in orthopedic surgery. She drew that passion from several important life lessons learned as a member of the U.S. Olympic rowing team in 1980. That year, the United States boycotted the summer Olympics in Moscow as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. "Yes, it was a big disappointment to miss the Olympics," says Dr. O'Connor, "but one has to put this in the right perspective. I chose to focus on the honor of being selected to the team."
The experience taught her about leadership, priorities, persistence, and what's really important in life. Despite the lack of encouragement from her fellow medical school students, in 1985 she was accepted as a resident in orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She joined the Orthopedic Surgery staff at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville in 1991, and since 2005 has served as department chair. With her background and wealth of experience, she encourages and welcomes more women to join the staff and fill leadership roles.
"In terms of Mayo, women physicians and, in particular, surgeons can do very well," explains Dr. O'Connor. "Mayo is very supportive of balancing the demands of family and career. We want to continue to attract the best and the brightest. This means attracting outstanding women and being an institution that welcomes diversity. This is a fabulous place for both men and women — there's so much opportunity for professional and career development."
When hiring physicians to her staff, Dr. O'Connor is adamant about skill level. "The ability to have expertise and to be outstanding at some aspect of orthopedics is essential," she says. "With that you bring value to the care of the patient. I also look for people who are willing to continue to grow in their expertise. This requires discipline and focus."
Dr. O'Connor has continued to grow in her own professional skills by taking advantage of leadership opportunities. Leadership and skills enhancement demand that she prioritize, balancing career growth while focusing on clinical, academic and research activities that are important to her, and ensuring time for her family. "While I value my career, and my patients are extremely important to me, ultimately my most important job is raising our three children," she says. "They are most precious to me."
At the top of her daily list of priorities are the patients she cares for: people with arthritis of the hip and knee, failed joint replacements, and pelvic tumors. "Taking care of my patients is my number one work priority," says Dr. O'Connor. "It is critical to me that I am at an institution where I am surrounded by really good people who help me give the best care to my patients."