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April 2014 Bulletin: Women in Medicine

Physician Profile: Heena Santry M.D., Improving Trauma Care

Heena Santry MD

— Sarah Cutrona, M.D., MPH & Joanna Cain, MD, FACOG

Though I knew her already as an acute care surgeon, a health services researcher and a mom, Heena and I had not previously shared a patient. In 2011, sitting in a cramped hospital room next to Heena, I listened as she helped my patient’s family through their difficult decision, exploring the risks of an emergency surgery for an elderly woman with an acute abdomen. When we left the room, no surgery was planned and the family was at peace with the decisions.

It is not every day that I learn communication strategies from a surgeon, and certainly not every day that I’m willing to admit it. But Dr. Heena Santry is the kind of surgeon you want in the room with you for those decisions you never want to have to make. Born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, Heena was a graduate of the Lowell Public School system before going on to earn her undergraduate degree in Anthropology at Harvard. She describes being influenced as a teenager by her proximity to fellow students who were homeless or who were impacted by gang violence or teen pregnancy. At the same time, she attended classes with first-generation English speakers and with students working to support multiple generations at home through after-school jobs. Years later, explaining her choice to become an acute care and trauma surgeon as well as a health services researcher, Heena cites both the suffering she witnessed and her contact with students who were able to overcome tremendous odds as motivations.

We are fortunate at the University of Massachusetts Medical School that Heena’s career has brought her full circle, returning her to the place where she completed medical school, now in a leadership role. After earning her MD and before returning to Worcester, Heena trained in general surgery at University of Chicago, completing a fellowship in Trauma Surgery at the Cook County Trauma Unit followed by an Acute Care Surgery Fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. In the midst of this training, Heena found time to complete the competitive Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at University of Chicago and a Masters of Science degree in Health Studies.

Recruited back to UMass as a surgeon-researcher, she is now Program Director of the UMASS Medical School Surgical Research Scholars Program and Director of Trauma Outcomes Research and Quality Assessment. Heena was honored with the UMass Clinical Research Scholar Award (K12) for her project entitled “Acute Care Surgery Practice Patterns: Impact on Quality, Accessibility, and Costs of Care for Surgical Emergencies.” Heena is studying national variations in acute care surgery practice patterns, using a survey to gather information from all hospitals where adults seek care for general surgical emergencies, with the goal of improving future delivery of care.

Never one to sit still, Heena is currently (as I write this) in India. Heena has helped organize a student exchange program and a Surgical Research Scholar in Residence program at the Charutar Arogya Mandal and Shri Krishna Hospital in Karamsad, Gujarat, India and is actively working to find funding for research and implementation of projects that will improve trauma outcomes in the region. In 2011, the 500,000 motor vehicle collisions in India resulted in 1 fatality per 3.5 motor vehicle collisions; 43% of patients died without any medical care due to the absence of an organized trauma system.

The Charutar Arogya Mandal (CAM) is a rural comprehensive medical complex located at the intersection of two major roadways in rural western Gujarat. CAM’s Shri Krishna Hospital is an all-charity tertiary-care center with over 290,000 outpatient visits and over 22,000 admissions per year, whose surgeons estimate that 70% of their trauma cases are due to motor vehicle accidents. Heena’s work expands on relationships developed through a 2012 project funded by the UMass CCTS Office of Global Health Pilot programs, studying vulnerable pregnant women and newborns treated at Shri Krishna Hospital. Heena also has personal connections to this area; it is the hospital that serves her family village and she is fluent in Gujarati. Though it is not easy to leave her work obligations and her family for the several week visit, Heena feels it is important to ensure that her first Surgical Research Scholar is settled and to further solidify relationships between UMass and Charutar Arogya Mandal.

A few weeks before Heena left for India, she sent me a late-night email to share the challenges of juggling her many obligations. Brief, to the point, the email closed with her assertion: “That.Is.All.” Reflecting on that now, I have to disagree with her. With Heena, there is always more to come. And we can’t wait to see it and be inspired by her leadership.


Sarah L. Cutrona, MD, MPH is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care and a clinician investigator with Meyers Primary Care Institute. Her research examines the role of electronic communication in encouraging adherence to preventive health behaviors (including smoking cessation, cancer screening and vaccination) and to chronic cardiovascular and diabetic medications.

Joanna Cain, MD, FACOG is a Professor and Vice Chair of Ob/ Gyn, and Director of Faculty Talent Management, Office of Faculty Affairs at UMMS. Her focus is on faculty development, advancement, and resilience throughout the career timeline. She is also a gynecologic oncologist with an international focus on medical ethics and cervical cancer control.

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