January 2021 Responsibility to Community: Alumnae in Women's Health

In a time when healthcare workers are under special stress, three alumnae continue to impact the future of women’s health. Physicians Generosa Grana '81, Nicole Lamborne '93, and Leona Chang '08 discuss motivations developed during their time on campus: the importance of giving back to their communities, empowering their patients, and helping others.

Responsibility to Community: Alumnae in Women's Health

by Miranda Madrid '15


Meet three Notre Dame alumnae who have dedicated their lives to caring for women. Generosa Grana ’81, MD, FACP is Medical Director of MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper Hospital in Camden, N.J., treating breast cancer and working on breast cancer genetics. Nicole Lamborne ’93, MD, MBA, FACOG, is Program Director for Women’s Health at Virtua Health System: South Jersey, designing programs and growth for the future. Leona Chang ’08, DO, Gynecologic Oncologist at Virtua Health System: South Jersey, is beginning her first year as an attending physician.

Dr. Chang worked with Dr. Grana during her residency at Cooper Hospital during a breast rotation, and, years later, met Dr. Lamborne when interviewing at Virtua Health. In our conversations, it was evident that the Notre Dame connection matters. These alumnae represent three decades of Notre Dame education, and they have used that experience to better women’s health in South Jersey. While the pandemic has challenged their field, all three remain focused on working toward a more inclusive, promising future.

Generosa Grana with her parents on graduation day (photo courtesy G. Grana)

Notre Dame Experience

“I felt that Notre Dame developed the whole person, not just the academic aspect. You can have a much greater impact if you’re well-rounded and in touch with every aspect of what makes you who you are.” Dr. Nicole Lamborne

The words ‘community’ and ‘opportunity’ frequently came up when describing their Notre Dame experience. Coming to the United States at age 10, Dr. Grana only spoke Spanish and found adolescence to be challenging. She explains, “It was upon going to Notre Dame, and meeting my friends, that I felt, for the first time, part of a community.” She took part in the Urban Plunge program as an undergraduate, serving in Gary, Ind. and Chicago, Ill. Today, her interest in working with underserved communities can be traced back to the “community awareness” that experience instilled. 

Dr. Lamborne echoed how Notre Dame encouraged pursuing opportunities and finding meaning in your passion. Being a biochemistry major was challenging and motivating; “I gained confidence over those years in realizing that I had something valuable to say. Experiencing bias as a woman in science helped strengthen my resolve to help other women.” Dr. Lamborne now uses her voice to impact the health of women at Virtua. 

Growing up, Dr. Chang’s parents modeled the values Notre Dame would continue to cultivate. “I grew up with my parents really dedicating themselves to community and international relief, volunteerism. It was just a part of who I was.” An openness to learn about, and embrace others in their differences, contributed to Dr. Chang’s desire to address diversity issues at Notre Dame, and ultimately set the stage for her focusing on women’s health.

 

Women’s Health Today

“I felt the impact I could have on a patient and their family was so unique. I thought my personality could fit this field well.” Dr. Leona Chang


There is exciting work in women’s health. As a surgeon, Dr. Chang is thrilled by the increase in minimally invasive surgeries, specifically robotic surgeries which minimize postoperative recovery time and complications for patients. “We’re doing more tumor-specific testing. There’s more technology to help us diagnose and treat our patients better so that the treatments we offer are more tailored to the patients themselves and their tumor types,” she explains. Staying on top of the newest research is critical. For example, there have been “thirteen new regulatory approvals in the last six years for the treatment of ovarian cancer which means treatment recommendations have changed,” said Dr. Chang. 

Class of 2008 graduates, from left to right: Christina Lee Sterling, Leona Chang,
Sheila (Mamandur) Hiler, and Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft (photo courtesy L.Chang)

Dr. Grana has also observed the dramatic change in cancer care during her twenty-five years in healthcare. Since her fellowship in 1994, she has witnessed the field’s transformation, from “counseling families about genetics when there were no genes to test for” to “genetic testing that is now common, available, and accessible.” With the ability to predict risk and make decisions about prevention, Dr. Grana sees a bright future; however, she emphasizes that “over 240,000 women will be diagnosed [with], and over 40,000 will die of breast cancer this year, with Hispanic and African American women disproportionately dying because of late-stage diagnosis.” Her mission is to help underserved populations take advantage of screening services.

Dr. Lamborne is involved with the New Jersey Department of Health and the New Jersey Hospital Association working to standardize care and impact outcomes for maternal healthcare. There are significant racial and socioeconomic disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity in New Jersey.  “The alarm bell has been wrung,” Dr. Lamborne says, calling attention to the fact that “in the state of New Jersey, a Black woman having a baby is four to five times more likely to die in childbirth or have a severe morbid outcome. This means there is bias in how we’re delivering healthcare, how we’re treating our patients, how we’re hearing our patients’ concerns, and the seriousness with which we take those concerns.” Improving the delivery of healthcare is a combination of standardization and patient-focused care. Integrating more holistic and midwifery care, along with traditional medicine, ultimately reaches the needs of more patients.

Empowering Women

Mentorship is so powerful, particularly for women, having other women as mentors. It was really the female leaders that were such a powerful influence for me.” Dr. Generosa Grana

Female physicians empower their female patients as well as their colleagues. From her time in the field, Dr. Lamborne notes, “Women [today] are more educated and knowledgeable about their bodies and their healthcare.” While it is crucial for physicians to teach their patients to be savvy with the available information, Dr. Grana is happy with the “openness with which we talk about cancer and health.” Dr. Grana believes “it helps [the younger generation to] see other women and underrepresented women in higher positions at an institution. To me, it’s really important to not just teach, but to be available and to listen.”

Dr. Lamborne serves as an advocate for younger physicians. “My goal has been to create many different job opportunities so that if your life changes, there is a job that can still keep you in our system. If you leave yourself and your family empty, you’re never going to get to your ultimate goals.” These women use their own experience and positions of authority to create empowering environments that support women in various healthcare professions.

While cancer care has continued during the Covid-19 pandemic, elective surgeries and screenings have paused in many places during shutdowns. Cooper and Virtua Health have worked to find ways to reduce risk to their patients, while still encouraging them to come in for care. “We have to be more careful about our own lifestyle and habits because we’re taking care of immunocompromised patients,” Dr. Chang said about cancer surgery. 

Dr. Lamborne also noted additional struggles introduced by the pandemic. “I found it challenging to be the one arguing for what we needed in our area. Our volumes didn’t go down, and we had to keep working.” A particular concern rests with women who have had to shoulder childcare and home responsibilities, which Dr. Grana believes is “something we’re going to feel the impact of for generations to come.”

The conversations are best summed up in Dr. Chang’s words: “Notre Dame made you feel a part of the community with responsibility to the community.” The dedication to service fostered at Notre Dame continues to influence the work of these three alumnae and their commitment to the health of women in South Jersey and beyond.
 

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