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

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Joan L. Thomas, MD, CPE, FACC with Sandra J. Parker

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.  


“This book is both honest and brave, presenting a compelling case for breaking down the glass ceiling in medical education. It should be read, not just by all medical practitioners, but by anyone who cares about the quality of medical care.”

Table of Contents

Chapter 1  A Broken Heart

Chapter 2  How It All Began

Chapter 3  The 1950s

Chapter 4  The 1960s

Chapter 5  Nursing

Chapter 6  The 1970s

Chapter 7  The Big Decision

Chapter 8  Starting Medical School

Chapter 9  Second Year

Chapter 10 Third Year

Chapter 11 The Hippocratic Oath

Chapter 12 Residency

Chapter 13 Finishing Residency

Chapter 14 Transitional Year and a Wedding

Chapter 15 First and Second Year of Fellowship

Chapter 16 A Year of Survival

Chapter 17 Finally a Cardiologist

Chapter 18 Building a Practice

Chapter 19 Running

Chapter 20 Building a Reputation

Chapter 21 Taking a Leap of Faith

Chapter 22 Breaking Through Barriers

Chapter 23 The Doctor-Patient Relationship

Chapter 24 The Medical Revolution

Chapter 25 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly  


About the Author

Dr. Joan L. Thomas 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 health care. She lives on Daufuskie Island off the coast of South Carolina with her husband, Clayton Miller, and a rescue dog named Zeus.

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