Iva Minga, MD
Emigrating from Albania at age 18, this cardiology trainee is passionate about cardio-oncology and patient education.
Iva Minga, MD, is a second-year general cardiology fellow at the University of Chicago NorthShore Hospital, Illinois, where she also completed her training in internal medicine. Originally from Albania, she grew up in a family of physicians and received her education at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, Madison. Minga is well known in Chicago for her interest in the burgeoning field of cardio-oncology, and she was instrumental in designing and running the first support group in Illinois for patients with cardiac complications associated with cancer treatment. She is also passionate about cardiac imaging and plans to pursue training in echocardiography and MRI to aid in her ability to treat cardio-oncology patients. Personally, Minga is a new mother, welcoming her son Alexander earlier this year.
What drew you to the field of cardio-oncology?
While I was completing residency, two subspecialties stood out to me: cardiology first and oncology second. Having lost my dad to cancer at age 42, I have always had oncology on my mind. However, the subject is just a little bit too personal for me, and I have always had a great interest in cardiology. The cardiology and oncology departments at NorthShore are fairly large, with about four cardiologists who specialize in cardio-oncology. The knowledge I gained from them, as well as conducting research with Dr. Tochi Okwuosa, set me on my path. This really helped combine both fields very well for me.
How did you start the biannual cardio-oncology patient education series?
Many oncology patients do not necessarily see cardiologists at the beginning of their treatment, yet they come down with complications that they would be better served by if they had a cardiologist on their team. I believed it was a wise idea to raise awareness, so I suggested it to Dr. Okwuosa. In my present role, I am part of the meeting's planning committee, which decides how the meetings are run, who will present, and what topics we will discuss. I often present at these sessions, and my last presentation for the session was about COVID and heart health.
How has this past year working through the COVID-19 pandemic changed you as a physician?
This past year has been extremely challenging. This was due to the difficulty of providing care to patients with COVID. Seeing many of them without close family members was heartbreaking. In one specific case, I was called upon to do an echocardiogram on a patient. She was very young, just a little bit older than I am, and unfortunately, she passed away. Additionally, it was heartbreaking to know her kids or her family couldn't visit her. For me, it was also extra challenging because I was pregnant throughout the COVID pandemic. Taking good care of my patients and doing my best for them while protecting myself was difficult. Although we now know COVID causes a significantly higher mortality rate among pregnant women, I didn't know much about its effects at the time. Therefore, balancing this out has been challenging on many different levels. Yet as a physician, it made me stronger.
What has surprised you the most about becoming a cardiologist?
What surprised me the most is the impact that we have on patients. Although cardiology is a field that is very cerebral and data-driven, I see how attached patients become to their cardiologists and how central we are to their lives The connections that we create with patients are very long-lasting, very impactful. We have an emotional connection that is very real and palpable. We're talking about heart health, and that's extremely, extremely important, and you really do see that especially in heart failure and transplant cardiology when patients are dying. These cardiologists, the heart failure doctors, they are there for them. Some of these doctors give their cell phone numbers and they really attend to these patients’ needs 24 hours a day. It can be very emotional.
What is the best piece of advice you've received from a mentor?
The most valuable piece of advice that I've gotten from a mentor is that when there is an opportunity that comes your way to pretty much go ahead and take it and not say no. The reason why I'm saying that is because there were opportunities for me that came from research, for example, which is something that you really need for cardiology and if you want to pursue a cardiology fellowship. They might not necessarily have been projects that I would work on otherwise, but I said yes to them. As I did so, not only did they grow on me, but I learned things that I'd later apply to projects in which I had more interest. I would say just go ahead and take any opportunity you have because you'll learn from it and other opportunities will open up as your network grows and you're recognized for your hard work and success.
If you could change something about the cardiology training pathway, what would it be?
It has been a pleasure to be a part of my program and do cardiology, and my program has been extremely accommodating to my needs. They have given me almost 3 months of parental leave, which is really outstanding. As a new mother, I can attest to the challenges of balancing family life and work. It would be great to have a path for all fellows in all programs when it comes to having or adopting a child and raising a family to make the privilege of parenthood less of a challenge. We need to simplify the process a bit across all programs.
What do you like to do in your free time to balance out your work life?
Right now, my priorities are so different from where they were a few months ago. I just love spending time with my family, my husband and my son. And we have a lot of family around, so that's pretty much what we do, especially now that things are opening up, but we cannot really go anywhere. Otherwise, exercising has always been something that I'm very passionate about and traveling is something that we really enjoyed.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?
My most important experience was emigrating to this country from Europe at the age of 18 and completing medical school and training. If I can make it, so can everyone else. And I really do want to encourage women. This is something that is very important to me, and I mentor some residents who want to pursue cardiology. They are concerned about raising a family and balancing everything, so I tell them if you like cardiology and want to pursue it, then do so. I am the best example of how you can have a kid in the first year of fellowship in the midst of a COVID pandemic. So I really hope more women are able to pursue it.
What her nominator Tochi Okwuosa, DO (Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL), says:
Iva first began by working with me on organizing a biannual cardio-oncology patient education series. Despite her busy schedule, both clinical and research, Iva quickly developed a protocol which she then worked on submitting to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association for sponsorship after first obtaining the best contacts to apply to. We were successful in both applications, mainly due to Iva’s tenacity and efficiency in ensuring this process. This series is now in progress; we have just run the third one in May. Iva and I have also written a number of manuscripts together.
In my experience with her, Iva is extremely hardworking, extremely driven and industrious, and a great team player. She is also extremely professional and always completes any tasks she agrees to, and in a timely fashion. She also takes initiative and is always on target in completing assigned duties. It is no surprise she has taken on a number of leadership roles in residency and has authored and co-authored a number of manuscripts. Iva's hard work and professionalism is so recognized that she was invited to be the only fellow representative to our Chicago City-Wide Cardio-Oncology Rounds.
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