Professor Paiva encourages women to consider invasive specialties

Dr Asif Qasim, Reporting for MedShr

Sanali Paiva is one of MedShr’s terrific Clinical Leaders, and a Professor in Interventional Cardiology.  This is how she chose her specialty and her advice on how to choose yours.

It was only after I understood that I was supposed to be a cardiologist that everything started to make sense in my life! As a medical student I decided that I would opt for this specialty, and right as I was about to graduate, the head of cardiac surgery at the University Hospital noticed in me some features that could be of value to an interventional cardiologist. It was thanks to this surgeon, who I’d say inspired me, that I came to know our specialty.

From then on, as for a majority of professionals, working hard, putting in the effort and dedication and persevering were the keywords in my life. As for other decisions, I chose to have my two sons before really diving headfirst into the specialty — which somewhat facilitated my journey, since it reduced exposure to X-Rays during the pregnancies. It gave me great emotional tranquillity, having a united family, my parents being around and always willing to support me and a husband who, also being an MD, could understand what this profession entails. This peace of mind was essential to doing my job.

It may all seem like a commonplace story, what I’m telling here, similar to so many other professionals’. And that’s right, indeed it could be. But keep in mind all of this happened in 1996, in an underdeveloped country, with so many prejudices, in a predominantly male society where women had very little space and even less prominence.

It is as if your whole life was like the effort to cross a wild sea, swimming against the waters … all the time! Sometimes you have to stop because exhaustion is imminent, but the sea demands that you continue swimming. And so it goes! Throughout this life’s journey, working as an interventional cardiologist in the private sector and also in the university, I have had the opportunity to see dozens of girls and boys concluding their degrees without having any guidance on the job market, on the difficulties we face, how to choose the specialty and how to manage your career. Annually I teach a class for the students of the medical course, where I try to show that when it comes to making your choice on what specialty to go for after the course some points are essential, such as:

  1. Doing what we simply love very much
  2. Always seek the best possible training
  3. Try to make the most of the residence time, if possible, by connecting it to a postgraduate and/or an MBA
  4. Be sure that for a doctor you are your own business because skills do not transfer
  5. Understand that you often have to divide to multiply
  6. And finally, the human being in its complexity almost always needs multidisciplinary teams.

All the professions are very important for the success of what we propose for our patients.

Strangely, at that moment, I come across girls choosing which specialty to follow, and I clearly notice that however dedicated and studious they are, girls end up choosing less invasive specialties, or why not say … calmer ones! The reasons are always the same: need to raise a family and also have quality of life! This is the reality, in my city and, apparently, all over the world!

There are fewer women in more invasive specialties – Interventional Cardiology is just one example. In Brazil, we are now close to 100 women only. Recently for the first time a woman, Dr Viviana Lemke, was elected president of our society. We created a group – MINT (Mulheres INTervencionistas), as a way to bring women together around an idea. Being a woman is not easy, being a woman and an interventional cardiologist, even more so! Many prejudices, yes! Many barriers, certainly! However, being a man is not easy, being a man and an interventionist cardiologist, even more difficult!

Living is not easy! Throughout my journey I have never considered prejudice to be an obstacle, just the opposite. All the difficulties that I have faced and continue to face, I consider them as challenges and learning opportunities. There is always a good side, it depends on the angle we look at! What for some can be a problem, for others, a chance! Being able to practice interventional cardiology, being a woman, being a person, is a gift of life for me, because it is through my profession that I can feel at all times to feel useful for someone.


Maria Sanali M. O. Paiva MD, PhD
Interventional Cardiologist
Staff Member of Cardiology and Interventional Cardiology of Onofre Lopes
University Hospital
Interventional Cardiologist Hospital Promater – United Health
Connect with Sanali on MedShr or LinkedIn.


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