Robin Lacour and Molly Decker, North Colorado Medical Center surgeons. (Joshua Polson photo.)
Decker was an accomplished sophomore at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, a high school valedictorian attending
college on a full-ride Presidential scholarship. Looking for something to do, she started teaching aerobics classes, and that led her to ponder becoming a personal trainer.
UNI had a health promotion major that included personal
training, and Decker met with an academic advisor for those who declared the major or were interested in doing so.
me bring my ACT scores and my valedictorian stuff,” Decker said, “and he’s looking at it and he said, ‘Respectfully,
you’re overqualified for being a personal trainer.’”
Though the advisor emphasized to Decker there was nothing
wrong with that line of work, he said his own son wanted to be a doctor but his grades weren’t good enough. He told
Decker her academic record was impeccable and suggested she think about becoming a doctor.
Until then, venturing into a career
in which women still are in the minority, becoming a physician hadn’t crossed her mind.
“It was a 15-minute appointment
with an advisor — I couldn’t even tell you his name — and he changed the course of my life,” Decker
36, Decker is a general surgeon at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, recently returned from maternity leave after
giving birth to a son, Jacob. As she spoke, she was wearing light blue scrubs and had just finished performing an appendectomy.
She and two
other NCMC women surgeons — Robin Lacour, 41, who specializes in gynecologic oncology; and Lyndsay Deeter, 37, who mostly
does burn surgery — recently talked about their careers and how they got here.
The Association of Women Surgeons’ most
recent figures estimate that as of 2015, of the roughly 160,000 surgeons in the United States, about 19.2 percent are women.
That’s up from 3.6 percent in 1980, 8.8 percent in 1995 and 13.6 percent in 2007.
This is a story first and foremost about relatively
young surgeons who have wound up in Greeley. But, yes, it also is about women breaking into what still often is perceived
as a male-dominated craft.
“I think those numbers are probably increasing every day,” said Lacour, who joined
the NCMC staff in January. “If there were obstacles in the past, we’re overcoming them now.”
one of those obstacles by going into general surgery. She said specialty surgeries can be tricky for any doctor because of
the training time required, but they can affect women the most.
“When I was going into general surgery, there weren’t
that many females that wanted to go that route because — and this is a generalization — they wanted to start a
family,” Decker said, “and they wanted to have that work-life balance that you can’t have as easily in a
Decker is a first-time mother who is married to Scott Fernandes, an actuary for Cigna who works
remotely at home. She said that when she was interviewing for residencies, she was asked “a couple of times” if
she was planning to start a family. “That’s something they’d never ask now,” she said.
burn surgeon, called general surgery residencies “an old boys’ club.” But her field offers some hope for
majority of general surgery residencies are dominated by male residents,” Deeter said. “But my (burn specialty)
for some reason has really began to propagate female surgeons.”
All three said they often are mistaken for nurses and can
field requests for pillows and water but that it involves more benign assumption than disdain and that acceptance generally
“If it’s an older patient, they’ll look at me and go, ‘You’re going to do my surgery?’ ”
said Lacour, whose gynecologic oncology patients are, of course, all women. “I’ll go, ‘Yes, ma’am,
that’s why you’re here.’ They think about it for a minute and then they’re like, ‘OK.’ ”
burn center partner is Dr. Edwin Garcia.
“Most of the time if I walk into a patient’s room and my partner is there,
they don’t think I’m the doctor,” Deeter said. “And I have a lot of patients say, ‘You’re
going to do the surgery?’ I say, ‘Yes, I am … and it’ll be great.’ ”
The three surgeons’
ROBIN LACOUR, 41
Husband: Eric Blankenship. Sons: Cole, 6, and Bryce, 4
Raised in Slidell, La., Lacour decided in high school to pursue
medicine. There was no medical background in her family, since her mother was a bus driver and her father was a carpenter.
a combination of a love of science and wanting to work with people,” she said.
She ended up attending the LSU Health Science
Center School of Medicine and did a fellowship at the residency at the renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University
of Texas in Austin. She came to NCMC from Shreveport.
“I was a good time for my family to make a move and we thought that Colorado
would be a great place to live,” she said.
Caring for patients with women’s cancers can be wrenching. Lacour can
be involved with a patient as soon as confirmation of a diagnosis, then through surgery, chemotherapy, surgery and followup.
say it’s probably more rewarding because of that emotional relationship, and I think that with women, you’re more
likely to have that relationship as their physician,” she said. “I didn’t choose it for that reason, but
being that I started with my interest in obstetrics and gynecology, I’ve really never known any different.”
LYNDSAY DEETER, 37
Trauma, specializing in
Husband: Mike Deeter.
As a girl in Wichita, Deeter set the bar of ambition high.
“I was going to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader,
followed by president of the United States,” she said, laughing. “Then in elementary school, I started saying
I want to be a doctor.”
A star volleyball player in high school and at Creighton University, she had multiple knee surgeries,
and after consulting with the surgeon about what had been done, she targeted orthopedics.
She also went to medical school
“I owe them my first born,” she said.
During general surgery residency in Phoenix and on the way to specializing
in burn surgery, she worked with a patient who suffered burns on 90 percent of his body in a house fire.
“I took care of him for about
my last two months there and then I had to hand him off to another resident as we rotated,” she said. “I went
to Portland for a rotation and came back and I beelined to his room. His wife was there, she gave me a big hug, and this was
the first time I could talk to the patient because he had been sedated. He said, ‘I don’t know your face, but
I know your voice.’ It was the coolest thing ever.”
From a fellowship in Seattle, she came to NCMC and the burn
center in 2015.
MOLLY DECKER, 36
Husband: Scott Fernandes. Son: Jacob, 3 ½ months.
After that life-changing redirection from personal training
to medicine, Decker graduated from UNI and then went to a clinic for homeless and high-risk youth in Los Angeles. She was
the facility’s coordinator.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “A little small-town Iowa girl goes to
Hollywood and Gower in Los Angeles. I had a pretty sheltered view and I was in the big city.”
She returned to Des Moines for
medical school and her residency. Her mother, Kathy Decker, died of cancer complications on the first day of her daughter’s
residency. It made her even more determined to be a caregiver as a general surgeon.
“The highs are really high and the lows
are really low,” she said. “It’s hard to leave it at the door when you go home. It’s definitely choosing
a lifestyle, not a career.”