Q&A With Leigh Neumayer, Interim SVP for Health Sciences

Q&A With Leigh Neumayer, Interim SVP for Health Sciences

By Robin TricolesUniversity Communications
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Neumayer is renowned for her expertise in breast cancer surgery and research, advocacy for women's health issues and surgical education.
Neumayer is renowned for her expertise in breast cancer surgery and research, advocacy for women's health issues and surgical education.
Dr. Leigh Neumayer
Dr. Leigh Neumayer

Dr. Leigh A. Neumayer, the Margaret E. and Fenton L. Maynard Endowed Chair in Breast Cancer Research, recently was named University of Arizona interim senior vice president for health sciences. She is renowned for her expertise in breast cancer surgery and research, advocacy for women's health issues and surgical education. She previously served as the first-ever female head of the UA Department of Surgery.

Lo Que Pasa talked with Neumayer about her new role as interim senior vice president and about her life as a clinician, surgeon, wife and mother. 

As UA interim senior vice president for health sciences, what is your focus in the coming months?

We have big things going on in Phoenix. We're working on the search for a dean at the College of Medicine – Phoenix. We have a site visit by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education coming up at the end of February, and we're hoping to go from provisional to full accreditation. We also will work to evolve our relationship with Banner Health from an alliance to a true partnership. Those are mission-critical.

I also would like to start putting together interprofessional teams of students from all different professions within the health sciences and have them serve as "health advocates." For example, a nursing student could be paired with a pharmacy student or a public health student.

The other thing I really think we need is a state campaign on health. Because we're the state's academic health sciences center, we're in the best position to do that. We should be trying to keep people well and make them healthier.

How did you find your way to the University of Arizona?

I was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. I went to my first football game in utero. My birthday is in October, and my parents were not going to miss a football game just because my mom was really pregnant. My father was a general surgeon and my mother was a medical technologist. I'm No. 4 of five children. I attended medical school at Baylor in Houston and received a great education. I then completed two years of my residency in San Francisco, where I met my husband, David Bull. That was great and we loved living in San Francisco. My husband and I came to the UA as third-year residents, finished up and then moved to Salt Lake City for his cardiac surgery residency – and we stayed for 22 years. He'll be moving here from Salt Lake City in about a month. During that 22 years, we had three kids, and my oldest, my daughter, is headed to medical school.

What made you pursue surgery?

I loved it. I love being in an operating room. It's the best career ever. First of all, I find anatomy fascinating: It's one thing when you're dissecting a cadaver as a medical student, it's another thing when it's in living color. And you get this feedback loop: You see a patient in the clinic or the ER, you feel their belly or their breast, you examine them, you look at their imaging, you look at their lab work, and then you can take them to the operating room and usually fix them. It's a pattern recognition kind of thing. Your patients come back and thank you for saving their lives. They give me presents! And they give me hugs! So, I can't imagine a better job. I love being in the operating room, and I love taking care of patients.

Do you think being a surgeon will help you with your new job?

No, I think being a mother will help me with the job. You learn all kinds of skills as a parent, but especially as a mom. You learn how to work through periods of extreme tiredness when you have a newborn. I actually thought surgery residency was the best training for being the mother of a newborn. When I was a resident, I got to sleep every other night, but when you're a mother you don't get a break. And as your kids grow up, at every age, there's a different challenge. So, you develop a whole range of skill sets. If you love being a surgeon, I think being a surgeon gives you a respite from chaos. People don't bother you in the operating room – they know your attention needs to be on the patient. 

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