Leading the way
Growing up in Montreal, Alexandra Bastiany, MD, FRCPC, DRCPSC, says her parents made sure becoming a doctor was never too big of a dream. Seeing her mother work as a nurse helped light a fuse for her to pursue a career in medicine. And, as she was completing her undergrad, her father arranged for his daughter to complete an observational rotation with a Black female doctor.
“It was very far from my current field,” Dr. Bastiany recalls. “However, just seeing a woman of colour in this area was enlightening for me, because we don’t see that a lot.”
In 2020, Dr. Bastiany became Canada’s first Black female interventional cardiologist, an accomplishment she shares with her family and many in the Black community. “I’m very happy that we can finally say that there is a woman of colour who did it,” she says. “It’s not an achievement for me, I am just the first of many more to come.”
Overcoming barriers in training and on the job
Despite her successes, Dr. Bastiany often heard during her training that Cardiology might not be for her – something that would have prevented her from doing what she loved if she had taken the comments to heart.
“You get a lot of, ‘but women don’t do that.’ I’ve heard that many times. I was told that I shouldn’t pursue a fellowship, and that maybe I shouldn’t do Cardiology because it’s a very stressful practice – maybe I wasn’t fit to do that,” Dr. Bastiany says.
While doing her rotations in medical school at the University of Montreal, Dr. Bastiany knew she wanted to do something hands-on. She loves Interventional Cardiology because she gets to have a role in all stages of patient care. “I get to see the patients before I get to treat their coronary disease, and I assure their follow up. I help them change their habits and work on things like smoking cessation, and all the other factors that are affecting their coronary disease.”
Now, in her practice, she works with a small, diverse team of interventional cardiologists. A typical day involves about eight minimally invasive procedures done by catheter. However, she still faces racism and microaggressions regularly. She makes a point to introduce herself as Dr. Bastiany when she walks into the room. Yet, she says, “even after the introduction, some people ask me, ‘So where’s the doctor?’ Or they turn to my nurse and ask them questions. I often have to refocus and let them know I’m the one in charge.”
An advocate for women
Dr. Bastiany is now working on growing her practice after setting up in Thunder Bay a few months ago. “It’s rocky because I’m just starting! I’m now independent, so I have to make the decisions on my own, and I am entirely responsible for my patients — it’s a lot of adjustment.” She also sits on a working group for the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Alliance, an opportunity to revisit her interest in women’s health promotion.
“I’m trying to get involved because women’s health, I believe, is neglected,” Dr. Bastiany says. “There are a lot of holes in the literature, but we also know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. We also know that there are a lot of preconceived notions about women’s symptoms and cardiac health, so we’re trying to break those taboos. We are promoting a better approach towards female patients in general.”
When it comes to bringing more women into Cardiology, Dr. Bastiany says mentorship is the key. “I think that women need to be a force and we need to be out there so students know where to find mentorship, she says. “Just to have someone that you can email or give a call to, share your apprehensions with and ask your questions. I think it is one of the things that could make a difference.”