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SLUCare Surgeon Heads for Leadership Training in Antarctica

by Maggie Rotermund
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Concern for the kids she treats and the environment they will grow up in has led Colleen Fitzpatrick, M.D., a SLUCare pediatric surgeon and associate professor of surgery at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, to participate in a leadership initiative that aims to increase the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape the world we live in.

Colleen Fitzpatrick

Colleen Fitzpatrick, M.D., a SLUCare pediatric surgeon and associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, holds up a patient at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Photo by SSM Health.

Homeward Bound is set against the backdrop of Antarctica, where for three weeks Fitzpatrick will be part of a cohort of women leaders in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine). The 80 participants will live on a ship while taking part in learning opportunities, lectures and excursions.

The voyage begins Dec. 29.

Fitzpatrick said the inspiration to do more on environmental science and climate change came after several vacations where she was able to appreciate the wonders of nature.

“I had taken a few critical vacations - along the west coast of Canada and a six-week road trip with my parents through national parks,” she said. “When you are completely awestruck by the beauty and complexity of Yellowstone National Park and you realize it’s evolved after billions of years, you think about your role in the world. I take care of children every day and you have to think about what we are leaving them.”

Fitzpatrick heard about Homeward Bound in 2016, just as the first cohort of women leaders was participating in their voyage around Antarctica. The initiative trains female leaders, who, despite making up 45 percent of the global workforce are globally underrepresented in leadership positions.

Homeward Bound provides women with leadership and strategic skills, a sound understanding of the science, and a strong purposefully developed network, Homeward Bound aims to enhance their ability to impact policy and decision-making for a sustainable future.

Fitzpatrick said one of the goals of the program is to plant the seeds for global conversations by building a place to collaborate and share ideas.

“It is a symposium at sea. There will be women from Australia, Europe, North America, Latin America, China and India,” she said. “It’s exciting to do this with a group from all over the world and understand the unique challenges of each other’s cultures and countries.”

Each participant has a background in STEMM but are a mix of academics, business people, scientists and physicians.

After being accepted to the program last fall, Fitzpatrick has been preparing for her journey for a year by participating in video conference calls and small group trainings with members of her cohort.

“We do a big group call about once a month, with sessions on visibility, strategic development, self-care and other big ideas,” she said. “We also have smaller groups to get to know one another. Each small group will focus on a research area together while on the ship.”

Fitzpatrick’s group will look at sustainability and recycling practices around the world. Antarctica offers a unique location to observe the influence of human activities on the environment.

Another component to her training includes leadership diagnostic training. Early in their preparation, participants filled out a questionnaire on their leadership style and strengths. The questionnaire was also filled out by Fitzpatrick’s supervisors and those who report up to her.

“Eight other people took the test about me,” she said. “It helped to define how you see yourself as a leader and how the people around you interpret your leadership skills.”

She will receive additional leadership sessions while on the ship and Fitzpatrick said she hopes to bring her new knowledge back to SLU to improve her mentoring of women in medical school and beginning their careers in medicine.

Fitzpatrick originally came to SLU in 2012 with the Air Force as part of C-STARS (Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills). When she completed her Air Force active service commitment in June 2016, she became a full-time SLUCare surgeon and chief of surgery at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.

Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious diseases.