Leading the way

YOUNGSTOWN — A breast surgeon for Mercy Health-Youngstown is helping to empower other physicians to tap into their leadership skills to enable them be better advocates for their patients and themselves.

Dr. Nancy Gantt was among 1,300 breast surgeons from around the world recently in Boston for the annual American Society of Breast Surgeons meeting, during which she made a presentation on leadership and advocacy.

The presentation, “Leadership for Policy Change in Health Care: The needed role of surgeons in advocacy,” allowed Gantt to share best practices on how surgeons can advocate for legislative health care change to benefit their patients, their trainees, their colleagues and themselves.

Advocacy is speaking out about something a person is passionate about, Gantt said, and that was the message she tried to convey at the April 26 daylong meeting.


The society’s annual meeting is unlike any other surgical meeting, Gantt said, in that it skews young and female as far as attendees.

“To have this room packed with many early career surgeons and be able to talk about leadership and advocacy was really a treat, it really was,” Gantt said.

Gantt has been an advocate in the field her entire career in Washington, D.C., and in Columbus through the American College of Surgeons (ACS), which has more than 85,000 members internationally, and the organization’s Ohio chapter.

“There are so many levels of advocacy. There is advocacy when we are in Washington and go to our Congress and meet with our legislators … but there is also advocacy at the very individual patient level and getting them the psychological support, the social work, the financial support (and) getting things in the hospital that they need so they can get a really good quality of care.”

She recalls an instance in 2014 when she was able to impact change on a legislative proposal to change Ohio law to mandate reconstructive breast surgery for every woman who received a mastectomy.

So, said Gantt, she sat down with the lawmaker to break it down — that in 80 percent of surgeries the breast is not removed, but rather a lumpectomy is performed, leaving the breast looking fine and the patient satisfied.

Another of her concerns then was mandating operations when the field changes so quickly, and the bill implied surgeons were not talking to patients about reconstruction, which they were.

Also problematic was logistics.

The legislation, she said, called for the hospital to make sure every patient learned about reconstruction, but, really, the first time patients go to the hospital is on the day of their surgery.

There were questions about how the information would be relayed and, she said, it’s not like there is a bullpen of plastic surgeons and surgical equipment ready that day.

“We were fortunate in the final act that changed Ohio law simply said that national guidelines need to be followed in the care of breast cancer patients. Win. That was a huge win for everybody,” Gantt said.


Gantt, of Poland, co-medical director at the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Youngstown, is originally from Chicago, but grew where she was planted in Youngstown after meeting her future husband, who was from the city, while doing her general surgeon residency at the University of Pittsburgh.

He was there doing his orthopedic residency.

In 1989, they returned to the area and she opened a general surgery private practice. He did the same, but in orthopedics.

“My practice gradually evolved from all of general surgery and trauma and critical care and everything else, and it evolved into doing primarily breast surgery, and that especially came about after the creation of the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center,” Gantt said.

Oncology as a surgeon, Gantt said, provides the “opportunity to form really long relationships with your patients,” for years, if not the rest of their lives.

“That was extremely attractive to me,” Gantt said.

What also her drew her to breast surgery is how quickly the practice changes with new studies released all the time. It gives her the chance to learn and grow as a physician to provide the best care available for her patients.

“We have to be in constant communication with our partners in medical and radiation oncology to make sure we are delivering the absolute up to the minute standard of care for our patients,” Gantt said.

“It’s never boring,” she said.

She’s also involved in educating upcoming surgeons at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown, and works to increase diversity among the surgical workforce — from women to other underrepresented groups like Latino, blacks, Native Americans and native Canadians — through her work with the Association of Women’s Surgeons and ACS.

She said about 55 percent of medical students are women; about 45 percent of general surgery residents are women, “but then as we go higher up, only about 10 percent or less of women are chairs of surgery and maybe 20 percent or 25 percent are professors of surgery.”

“So we are a little bottom heavy and we’re working very, very hard to get more women in leadership roles,” Gantt said.

In 2021, it was the first time three black women were chairs of surgery, and “you can’t be it if you can’t see it, right, so it’s very important if we are going to have a diverse surgical workforce that we have diverse leadership.”


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