Dr. Kristine J. Guleserian, director of the Congenital Heart Surgery Program at Medical City Children’s Hospital, is the first woman to lead a congenital heart program. She is board-certified in general surgery, thoracic surgery and congenital heart surgery. Originally from Boston, she earned her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine after graduating from Harvard College with a degree in the classics. After her residency and fellowships, she served as a surgeon and director at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami and at Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She is a founding member of the World Society of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery and serves as a member of numerous national and international professional societies and committees. She has two miniature schnauzers, Gigi and Gus.

On History

Past experience:

“Back in the day, when I was with my young medical students, patients would look to the medical student and say, “OK, doctor,” and I’m thinking, “Wait a minute. This guy’s not even a doctor yet.” They would just make the assumption that because they were male, they were the leader of the team. It probably doesn’t help that I’m 5 feet tall either.”

On Leadership

Her leadership style:

“I was always hang- ing out with my brother and his friends. We would do crazy things like go skiing on trails that you weren’t supposed to be skiing on. I was always one of the guys. It’s probably helped me in my career to be a little tough because it is a tough field. They always say with women in surgery, you’re either a bitch or a pushover. I want to be feminine. At the same time, you’ve got to be firm in a way that people, hopefully, are going to follow your lead.”

On Influences

Her influences:

“I try to model my position as a physician, as a surgeon, after many role models in my life. Dr. Alec Patterson, who is one of my thoracic surgery mentors, was wonderful. Dr. Aldo Castaneda, my brother’s congenital heart surgeon, took me under his wing when I was just a medical student. He was a gentleman, scholar, scientist and he had a very calm demeanor. He was motivated, passionate and funny.”

On Accomplishments

Work accomplishment she’s most grateful for:

“Being able to do what I do every day — to be able to, hopefully, make a really positive impact on families by taking care of their newborn babies and their children. I love to teach our nurses and cardiology, ICU and anesthesia colleagues. I’ve been involved in many societies with putting together publications. We most recently met in a Zoom meeting to put together several papers about COVID and management of congenital heart disease.”

On Thankfulness

What she’s most grateful for besides work:

“Family and friends. My younger brother has a congenital heart defect, and we’re very close in age. I didn’t know a lot about what was going on at the time because I was just 4, but that certainly made a big impact on my career choice. I was so grateful to the surgeons and cardiologists who helped him that I feel my purpose in life is to make a difference for somebody else’s child and give that gift back.”

On Gender in the Workplace

On her role as the first woman to lead a congenital heart program:

“I applied to 22 different programs, hoping one or two of them would accept me for an interview. I ended up getting interviews at all of them. But I was usually the only woman in the mix. When I would go in for these interviews, I think they assumed I was the wife of another candidate because they’d say, “Oh, you know what? The staffers are over here.” And they would direct me off to another area. I said, “Oh, actually, no. I’m the applicant.” Today, what’s really nice is that there are so many more women in the field. One of our societies is called Women in Thoracic Surgery. It’s a great outlet for women who are interested in the field to find mentors. My feeling is you need to become that for somebody else.”

On Relaxation

What she does for fun:

“I have this passion for the ocean. I also grew up living on the beach, and I think my best job ever was when I was 15, and I was a lifeguard. I love to fish. One of my cardiac ICU colleagues and I just booked a trip to Belize in the fall to go fly fishing there. Also, I dream of my dream kitchen. I’ve been looking for homes recently, so the kitchen is always the focal point. I have a garden that I’ve been growing.”

On Advice

Advice she’d give to her younger self:

“Follow your dreams and never give up. I may have chosen one of the most difficult pathways in life in terms of career. There are lots of obstacles, but you have to persevere.”

On Legacy

How she’d like to be remembered:

“As somebody who made a little contribution in life. We can all participate in some way to help change the world. Helping a baby live to be an adult when they otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity because of heart disease, that’s always a wonderful legacy.”

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