Women of Influence: Newman’s influence extends to individual patients and cardiovascular fieldFARGO – A sixth-grader in suburban Ohio as Title IX legislation was coming in to play, Roxanne Newman asked to take drafting instead of home economics.
By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM
FARGO – A sixth-grader in suburban Ohio as Title IX legislation was coming in to play, Roxanne Newman asked to take drafting instead of home economics.
She had no interest in becoming an architect.
“I thought the precision would be very important for surgery,” says Dr. Newman, the well-known Sanford Health cardiothoracic surgeon.
Newman says she knew from a young age she would go into medicine and surgery.
The youngest of four, she didn’t come from a family of medical professionals. Her dad was a builder. Her mom stayed home and was instrumental in the business, taking care of the bills and banking.
So what spurred her interest in medicine?
“How do you know what color you like?” she asks in reply.
Acknowledging it would have been nice to have a mentor, Newman says she took as many math and science classes as she could in high school, and then entered an accelerated combined degree program at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
The 51-year-old has a love of learning that continues today, evidenced in her pioneering work with robotics and cutting-edge procedures.
“That’s how you keep the passion and excitement for what you do,” she says.
Otherwise, she says, it’s like a musician who masters one composition and never plays another.
For her, healing the heart provides immediate gratification.
“You not only save their life but impact their life for a long period of time,” she says.
Newman’s focus on minimally invasive bypass procedures and her success as a woman in a male-dominated specialty make her influential, says Dr. Michael Mack, a member of the board of trustees for the American College of Cardiology and past president of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.
“Roxanne is one of those individuals that not only has thrived as a surgeon but has served as a model for a successful cardiac surgeon,” says Mack, director of cardiovascular disease for Baylor Health Care System in Dallas.
He has seen Newman present at national meetings and is familiar with her work. He describes her as polished and confident.
“She has the esteem of her colleagues because she’s able to be an innovator despite the challenges of being a woman in the field, so she gains extra respect for that,” Mack says.
Newman recognizes she’s in an unusual situation, as it’s difficult to advance in a career without moving.
Having started at Sanford (then MeritCare) in the mid-1990s, she says she’s operated on generations of families and followed patients for 10 to 15 years. She receives regular Christmas cards.
“It’s not often that a surgeon can be like a family practice doctor,” she says. “I’ve got a great job … If there’s something you want to do that’s new, it’s supported.”
Newman nearly left Fargo in 2001, accepting a position with a heart institute in Nebraska.
She decided to stay after MeritCare made plans to invest millions into the cardiac department to establish new procedures.
In October 2002, Newman performed a robotically assisted heart surgery in the nation’s first live webcast of the procedure – an event she says gave recognition to the Fargo hospital’s excellence.
She stresses it’s the people in the building who make the difference in the quality of the program. “You don’t just buy a robot and become somebody,” she says.
When asked about her influence on those people, Newman uses a music analogy. A group of great musicians needs a conductor to combine their individual gifts and expertise into an orchestra, she says.
“I think my team is that, and conductors can be very demanding,” she says.
Newman says she’s never able to completely leave her work behind, but it’s fairly seamless.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t have balance. Even if it’s not separate, there can still be balance,” she says.
Her husband of 25 years, Greg Lammle, is her physician assistant. She says there’s no one she’d rather operate with, describing him as her biggest advocate and toughest critic.
“He knows exactly what I’m going to do before I do it,” she says.
They have two Rottweiler dogs and a cat adopted after Newman sewed up its gashed leg with spare sutures. She named the cat Stitch.
Newman also has two “geriatric” horses and a young Mustang from the Bureau of Land Management.
Newman says she rides to be outside, and for the camaraderie. She enjoys horse camping.
She also loves music, playing piano and viola. She recently started playing bass, a gift from Lammle, who plays guitar.
She describes her music lessons as a “diversion.”
At work, Newman performs about 300 surgeries a year, including 280 open-heart procedures. A stuffed Energizer Bunny sits in her office, a gift from a patient and commentary on her breakneck pace.
One patient she recently operated on is 60-year-old John Saude of Ada, Minn. She sewed up a leaking valve in his heart Oct. 18. Left unchecked, it could have led to a stroke, he says.
Saude says Newman was calm, easy to understand and relatable.
“She’s very professional and educated in procedures,” he says. “She’s so concerned about what’s going on with me as a patient.”
That may be the intersection of Newman’s influence: on the field of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery as a whole, and on each individual patient’s life.
Her advice for young women and men interested in medicine – and really, for anyone, regardless of age – is to pursue education. Newman earned a master’s of business administration in her 40s.
“No one can ever take away the initials behind your name,” she says.
For years, Dr. Roxanne Newman has made headlines in Fargo as a high-profile surgeon. Here are some of the stories you may remember:
Nov. 1998: Newman installs plastic heart pump in patient, the first time the device was implanted at MeritCare.
Jan. 2001: Named by The Forum as a person to watch in 2001.
Jan. 2001: Aids in resuscitation of a 20-month-old boy found unconscious outside with body temperature of 69 degrees.
July 2001: Replaces diseased heart valves on two Mongolian teenagers brought to Fargo by Dr. Susan Vitalis.
Dec. 2001: Rescinds decision to leave MeritCare as hospital commits to investing millions to start new procedures.
Oct. 2002: Performs nation’s first live webcast of a robotically assisted heart surgery.
Feb. 2003: Uses robot in replacement of leaking heart valve, a regional first.
Feb. 2004: Performs bypass surgery on a beating heart, a procedure shown live on the Internet.
May 2004: Fixes hole in heart of girl from El Salvador.
Sept. 2006: Named one of the five most powerful women in Fargo-Moorhead by Forum newsroom committee.
July 2009: Was one of 18 members of MeritCare board of trustees that mulled merger with Sanford.
Feb. 2012: Profiled as one of four female heart doctors at Sanford.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556
“Women of Influence” is an ongoing series exploring the women in our community who have the most impact and influence. Each profile will explore a different element of influence and redefine what it means.