Celebrating Women's History Month - A Profile on Dawn Coleman, MD, FACS

Mar 24, 2023

Dawn M. Coleman, MD, FACS, is a vascular surgeon practicing in Durham, N.C. She received her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 10 years. She has comprehensive vascular surgery practice with an emphasis on aorto-visceral pathologies; she dedicates significant effort to a sub-set of pediatric patients with vascular disease. Dr. Coleman is the current chief of the division of vascular and endovascular surgery at Duke University.

I had a formative rotation as a third-year general surgery resident at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, during which I first assisted several large open aortic cases with Peter Henke. This followed what I now realize was the intentional outreach, support and mentorship from Gib Upchurch and John Rectenwald during my junior resident years. These touch points with “giants” in the specialty offered me early exposure, inclusion and academic productivity. My fate was sealed! I continue to cherish the patients, the comprehensive toolkit we maintain for diverse and severe pathology, and importantly our community of vascular surgeons (and future vascular surgeons) that are so deeply committed to our vocation. 

Dawn Coleman Headshot

My personal challenges have felt mainly self-inflicted. I have been extraordinarily well-mentored and -sponsored although I appreciate that this may not be the experience of the majority. The minority tax is real, however, and those who know me also know that I have a near inability to say “no.” Integrating the many components of an academic surgical career with military service, leadership and family remains my biggest challenge, and when I “fail,” it’s because I’ve over-extended myself. I also too frequently find myself wondering what others’ perceptions might be; imposter syndrome seems to be a new feeling for me. I now wonder if others see accomplishment as “earned with merit” or “awarded as a token.” This is a personal challenge I probably spend too much energy contemplating. At the end of the day, Dr. Linda Harris once told me, “It doesn’t matter how you find yourself at the table, once you’re there just do a damn good job.”  

I have certainly admired, and learned from, leaders that have been visible to me from an early stage and I worry that a list would be invariably and unintentionally exclusive by inadvertent omission. I will propose that I learned about Elizabeth Blackwell during a pre-medical interest group meeting as an undergraduate. She was the first woman in the United States to be granted a medical degree. Her story goes that she was inspired to pursue medicine after a critically sick friend voiced her thoughts that she would have received better care from a female doctor. Dr. Blackwell described a “moral crusade” that ensued as her response to repeated medical school rejections and advice to disguise herself as a male to gain admission – that “it must be pursued in the light of day, and with public sanction, in order to accomplish its end.” I remember being, and remain, inspired by her courage, fortitude and commitment to helping women and marginalized patients. Her story rings in my ears today as we continue to do hard things to accomplish impactful results for the greater good.

I encourage all members to be engaged with the SVS, however this feels comfortable to you. United, as vascular surgeons, we will be more effective as we continue to strengthen our identity and challenge external threats to our specialty that come from rising population health needs, operational/system-level inefficiencies, decreasing reimbursements and competing specialties. I hope that our members all feel compelled to support both the Political Action Committee and the SVS Foundation. For those looking for the right “time” to consider a contribution, there is no better time than now. In recognition of the women who have paved the way, the who that have supported us and continue to do so, the inspiring women leaders breaking ceilings and advancing patient care through innovation and discovery, the mentors and sponsors that have influenced your personal and professional trajectory, and our future generation of vascular surgeons – please consider celebrating Women’s History Month with a contribution to the SVS Foundation!

Your gift to the SVS Foundation supports the Women of Vascular – past, present and future. Learn more and  make your gift  today.

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