After 6 years, Hamilton Health Sciences’ pioneering cardiac surgeon quits amid sexism allegations

On Jan. 4, Dr. Vaneesa Patel, the founding head of cardiac surgery at Hamilton Health Sciences — and the first woman to head the division — will be leaving the hospital.

Patel said in an interview with The Washington Post that she is going because Hamilton Health Sciences chose the wrong person to replace her. But contrary to accounts the hospital provided The Post in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Patel said it was the hospital system’s board of directors that rejected her candidacy and that her male counterpart became president and CEO without her approval.

The university system gave Patel the high honor of serving as the first female president of the Hamilton Health Sciences division, and was pleased when her candidacy for the post ended in 2007, according to an October 1997 statement from the hospital and the Wiehle-Riordan Foundation, the philanthropic organization to which Hamilton Health Sciences dedicated $5 million.

But the system is now hoping to return to a more traditional board of directors, and says the decision to replace Patel didn’t come as a result of an interview with her but an “internal discussion.”

“The board met to discuss what it would take to return Hamilton Health Sciences to an appropriately qualified and independent board. The board decided not to extend the offer to Dr. Patel,” the hospital said in a statement emailed to The Post.

But Patel, 56, said it was her decision to step down after six years. “I can no longer accept being a follower,” she said. “I’ve given my leadership.”

Patel has provided direction for more than 10 years, and people who have worked with her say she has done an excellent job. The former chair of cardiac surgery, Dr. Mark Klein, said the division as a whole was built around Patel’s theories on using minimally invasive techniques to create a more precise delivery of medicine.

“Some will see this as progress being made, and I can see where you’re trying to me more open up and personalize your practice and system more closely,” Klein said.

But Klein also notes that Patel’s achievements at Hamilton could have been even more impressive had she been given the chance to serve as the division’s first female president. “It’s important to remember she broke ground here because no one was working at this level at a system of this size,” he said.

Patel is not particularly surprised by the current controversy surrounding the board decision. “It’s a male world,” she said. “Part of the [description of] the workplace I’ve never understood and think is inappropriate.”

“They’re only entitled to disagree, but don’t just remove someone from their position because they disagree,” she added.

She said she is now working on building new connections in the Middle East and Japan as a managing partner of 4iX Consulting and will be traveling more often. “My heart is now in the Middle East,” she said.

Klein is in support of Patel’s return. “I think it’s impossible to find someone who’s done more at the division and would have done more,” he said.

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