Faculty Spotlight: Cardio-Obstetrician Katherine Bianco
October 5, 2023
Y. Katherine Bianco, MD is Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford. Her clinical focus includes pregnancies complicated with cardiovascular birth defects and her research interests are in genomic abnormalities that affect fetal development. In addition to her clinical and research interests, Dr. Bianco is deeply committed to mentoring physician-scientists across all career stages. Dr. Bianco herself grew up in Caracas, Venezuela and hopes to inspire other aspiring women and Latinx physicians to continue in the field. Dr. Bianco’s research, clinical, and societal interests combine in her passion for addressing disparities in maternal and fetal outcomes.
Why have you been so inspired to help combat health disparities and treat women?
I have always been surrounded by people that give to the community. Both my parents are doctors, and I have many family members that work for the public. I was raised with the belief that if you have the privilege and opportunity to speak for others who don’t have a voice, you should take that responsibility seriously and speak loudly.
I had many women role models in my family and my village who I admired for many different skills and qualities. All those women helped me to get to where I am. In our field of medicine women, let alone Latinx women, tend to face more adversity because we have different challenges than our counterparts. There is a gender disparity in academia, not just with regards to promotion or publications, but also with regards to salary. These disparities are intensified if you are from a URM background. This is one of the reasons why I have become more passionate about supporting the next generation of Latinx in medicine.
How, as a doctor and researcher, are you helping people find their voice?
I see everything as interconnected. For example, I'm the Director for Diversity and Inclusion in my department as well as a liaison for the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, and I have applied Diversity and Inclusion lenses in my research by looking at gender disparities in academia. As another example, the LatinX MedScholars working with me are pursuing qualitative and quantitative studies in our maternal cardiac population and have found that we really need to be creative to access populations that do not get much of a voice in research: Hispanic Latinas. Right now, I'm trying to better understand how we can have a bidirectional relationship with these vulnerable populations: how we can help them to find their voice and include them in our research. So, we can approach science with a diversity lens.
I also like to help others to find voices through mentoring. One thing we are learning is that the Latinx females don't complete medical school at the same rate as their counter parts. 6% of the entire body of physicians are Latino and only 2.5% are females. In California about 40% of our population speak Spanish, and they don't have doctors who speak Spanish. So, there is very much a need for Latinx physicians and Latina women entering the medical field to stay and to be doctors for the community. Less privileged students might feel lonely, and the journey might be a little bit harder on them and therefore having people like me and many others to support them can help them to continue.
There are many ways to help support future doctors and Stanford provides a lot of possibilities. I mentor Latinx students at Stanford and I also mentor students in the Leadership in Health Disparities Program (LHDP) program. I also have the opportunity to mentor trainees from other medical centers through the Stanford Clinical Opportunity for Residency Experience (SCORE) Program. In last two years, we've been very lucky to attract two medical students to stay on as residents with us. It's a beautiful mechanism to create a pathway for medical students to experience Stanford, who perhaps didn't have as many opportunities in the past. We have also just started supporting the REACH program in Ob/Gyn this summer, which provides research experiences to medical students from minority institutions. I also have a global outreach program with a team of Latinx women called GO MOMS that is fostering research with vulnerable populations. We train medical providers to simulate obstetrical emergencies to decrease adverse outcomes in mortality and morbidity.
So, I feel like in different ways, I continue to find voices for these different individuals – mentees and colleagues. They can choose how they want to use their voice, but I give them the opportunity to have one.
What are the key ingredients that make programs that combat disparities or promote the next generation of scientists be successful?
I think it is important to be clear on what the objective of the program is, and also ensure that expectations are clear between the program and the students. Having very clear expectations for the student about what the program is offering will help make the program successful.
I also think it is important to structure a program that allows the student to really feel welcome, safe, and able to flourish. Mentors who participate in the program should also have unconscious bias training and mentoring training. The program itself needs to understand cultural humility and be very aware of the responsibility of bringing a student to Stanford. Students are leaving the familiarity and safety of their home institutions and they are taking a big leap to be with us.
Is there any advice you would give Latinx women reading this article?
Don't quit and enjoy the journey. Sometimes we are so focused on the destination that we don't enjoy the journey, get burned out, and then decide not to continue. This is how you should approach everything that you're doing in your career: you want to embrace it. Some parts will be more exciting than others, but everything has a role in your life. If you only focus on the end goal you might get so burnt out that by the time you reach it, you don’t want it any more. I just want people to feel empowered and to feel that they can do it. So, I would say, don't quit and be very open to enjoy every single step that takes you to your goal.