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The Heart of the Story: My Improbable Journey as a Cardiologist


The Heart of the Story: My Improbable Journey as a Cardiologist is an examination of the struggles and successes of one woman cardiologist. The story initially focuses on the unlikely path Dr. Joan Thomas took to become a cardiologist — a specialty still dominated by men.

This inspiring memoir encourages the next generation of young women, whether just entering or already working in the medical profession, to understand not only the risks and sacrifices made by the women who preceded them, but also the positive changes that have been achieved by breaking through many barriers. 

Dr. Thomas’ astute observations infuse this memoir with topics such as:

  • The importance of transparency in all aspects of healthcare.

  • The importance of improving negotiating skills of women physicians regarding contracts, salaries, and benefits.

  • Equal recognition for equal work in both clinical and research arenas.

  • Inequality in the promotion process in academic medicine and what it takes for women to be promoted.

  • The ongoing, although less-obvious, prevalence of gender discrimination.

  • How and why women are still penalized in the workplace for taking maternity leave and raising a family.

  • The importance of persevering and having the courage to take risks.

This memoir chronicles the challenges the author faced, the glass ceilings cracked or broken, and how Dr. Thomas’ efforts along the way resulted in her professional success.  Her inside perspective as narrator documents the discrimination she endured, but also her gratitude to the male mentors who were ahead of their time, recognizing Dr. Thomas’ potential, irrespective of her gender.

Dr. Thomas’s life story should give women the courage and excitement to think big and pursue their career dreams.  

About Author(s)
Table of Contents

Joan L. Thomas, MD, CPE, FACC, is a retired cardiologist from Rochester, New York, where she healed hearts for 31 years. After finishing high school in the town of Port Washington on Long Island, New York, she headed upstate to earn an RN degree and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Syracuse University. After working as a nurse for eight years, Dr. Thomas completed a nurse practitioner program and then worked in the cardiology clinic at SUNY Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. In 1983, she earned her MD from SUNY Upstate Medical University and went on to an internal medicine residency and then a cardiology fellowship at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

During her long career, she treated thousands of patients in her cardiology practice, improving their quality of life and in many cases facilitating a longer and more fulfilling life. Acknowledging the contributions of the women who preceded her in medicine, Dr. Thomas widened the path to ensure that the next generation of women would be called cardiologists rather than women cardiologists and be accorded the respect and financial remuneration commensurate with men in the profession.

Throughout her career, she was a fierce advocate of financial equity and fair treatment for herself and for the women who would follow her in the profession. She also worked to educate other physicians and the public about the prevalence and treatment of heart disease in women. Dr. Thomas retired in 2021 and volunteers at Volunteers in Medicine, a large free clinic for individuals working without access to healthcare. She lives on Daufuskie Island off the coast of South Carolina with her husband, Clayton Miller, and a rescue dog named Zeus.

For over 45 years.

The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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formerly known as the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE)