Heart to Heart. A cardiologist tells young women they can have it all. Some people simply know from the time they are small children just what they want to do when they grow up. Actually, many children declare, “I want to be a fireman” or “I want to be a cowboy.” Some say it and then follow through, because they do know what it is they aspire to be. Cinthia Tjan Bateman, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at South Denver Cardiology Associates, is one such person.
“I came here to this country from Indonesia when I was 4,” Dr. Bateman says. “My father was a physician, and he would come home and talk about his patients. He might say that the patient is short of breath and explain that to us. “I grew up knowing I wanted to be a doctor. I did rounds with him, I filed for him, I did EKGs with him. I was involved in his work in medicine from early on,” she adds. Being in close contact with a doctor and father she calls an amazing person soon lit the fire of passion to be in health care for this young woman, a role model for all people who set their personal bars of achievement high. She has worked hard to arrive at the place she is now, an attending cardiologist at four different medical facilities in the metro area. While earning her stripes in medicine, she has also managed to raise a family in partnership with her husband, who is also in the field of medicine.
While she admits that it is necessary to “give up a lot of things and to rely on a support system” to balance both a demanding field and the needs of a family, Bateman’s mission as a role model is to show that young women can have it all. She credits the Colorado culture with being supportive of her as a careerist and family woman at the same time. Moving here from New York has been a positive change in her life experience, as she has found the culture here to be conducive to a balanced life. She and her husband, Mike, relocated in Colorado, where Mike’s parents had retired in Breckenridge. “We came out here for a vacation and are now in our third year as of this coming July. Mike is a plastic surgeon. We matched our residencies together, looked for jobs together,” she explains.
Cinthia Bateman, M.D.Having family life as a priority is important to Dr. Bateman, as it was to her own family of origin. In an early experience in New York, she did not observe that family was a priority at some medical facilities, and today, she appreciates Colorado’s regard for family. “There were so many female cardiologists in New York. They had families. They (the medical facilities) expected a lot from you. They didn’t say ‘oh, because you have two children at home, you don’t have to take calls tonight,’” she explains. This has led Bateman to put in the maximum amount of effort to assure that she isn’t criticized for being a female physician who can’t accomplish a lot because of family pressures. “My role modeling would involve showing women that it is not necessarily easy. You need to just do it,” she comments. Though Dr. Bateman considers herself tough, she does have a softer side. She thinks about bringing snacks in for the groups she talks to about health issues. And she is a dedicated soccer mom who attends the games of her two daughters, 10 years old and almost 12, and hangs out with other soccer parents. She has taken her children to the hospital, where they’ve made the rounds, just as her father did with her so many years ago.
“When I was feeling really guilty about not being home, my daughter said she wanted to be a heart doctor. That does help me feel better about my schedule,” she exclaims. Dr. Bateman explains how it is she started her family early in life: “I met my husband after college. I moved to St. Louis for a year to work in neurology as a research assistant, and my husband was working there already. We both wanted to go into medical school, and while we were applying, we took a full year off and traveled throughout the Northwest and Southwest and worked on the ski slopes. “We then went to Syracuse for medical school, got married after the first year and had Emily and Allison, our two daughters, during second and fourth year of medical school. I had my pharmacology finals a few days after Emily was born. “Anyway, medicine was something we both wanted to do before we met. It just worked out. I think we both always wanted to have a family, although it was definitely earlier than expected.” Although Dr. Bateman followed in her dad’s footsteps, she says she always wanted to be a mom like her own mom was. “That’s probably why I thought of baking cookies for my talk. It’s totally something my mom would have done,” she adds. Cinthia Bateman, M.D.It’s a bit of history repeating itself to hear her daughter declare her professional goal as she did when she was young. Dr. Bateman’s parents had four children, and though her father was a doctor, Indonesia was politically unstable. While the families of her parents resisted, her mother pushed her husband and children to relocate to America. They settled in Long Island, where her father associated himself with Nassau Hospital, now part of the Winthrop South Nassau University Health System.
Dr. Bateman entered Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1989, later earning a degree in behavioral neuroscience. From 1994 to ‘98, she studied at SUNY Health Science Center in Syracuse, N.Y., and earned her medical degree in 1998. In 2000 and 2001, Dr. Bateman was an assistant chief resident in internal medicine at the North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., following stints from 1998 to 2001 as an intern and resident. She became an interventional cardiology fellow in 2004 at the North Shore University-Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Manhasset after her work as a cardiology fellow at that facility. Interventional cardiology is a branch of cardiology that deals specifically with the catheter-based treatment of structural heart diseases. Her first thought was to become a pediatrician. “Up until the time I had kids, I thought I would go into pediatrics. But once I had children, I realized I had a hard time seeing sick kids. It would be very difficult for me to watch what their parents go through,” she says. As a mother, Dr. Bateman knows how tough it would be to observe one’s own child suffering from a serious illness. She would find it difficult to compartmentalize her feelings into the roles of cardiologist and of motherhood. Intimidated by the prospect of getting into cardiology because she didn’t think she would be able to receive a fellowship, Dr. Bateman held back. She recalls, ”In the hospital I was in, there was a group of guys who had a sort of fraternity, and I felt intimidated by that. During my second year of residency, my confidence level had grown, and I decided to become a cardiologist. By the time I was in residency, I already had two kids. I think the intimidation had been a factor because I just never wanted anyone to look at me and say that I had two kids so my work was naturally not as good.”
Today Dr. Bateman is an attending cardiologist at Porter Adventist Hospital, Swedish Medical Center, Littleton Adventist Hospital and Craig Hospital. She is licensed in both New York and Colorado. She was named Cardiology Fellow of the Year in New York in 2002. Cinthia Bateman, M.D.As part of her responsibilities with South Denver Heart Center, she presents programs on women’s health. “When I first started, they asked me to give a conference about women’s health at Porter Hospital,” she says. “At the time, I didn’t have a strong interest in women’s health but realized there weren’t a lot of women cardiologists south, so I felt I needed to do it. Since that time, I have given lectures to physicians and to women about risks of cardiac disease in women. Recently, we have been giving lectures at the heart center, open to all who are interested.” The topics are basic and include the prevalence and prevention of heart disease, risk factors and so on. Since she started, she realizes more needs to be done. She says, “I have many young women patients who have had heart attacks. Many problems were missed by traditional testing. They are amazing women who are having a hard time because they are so young — to think that they have heart disease and stents and heart muscle damage. “So we are now starting a women’s support group for those women under the age of 60 who suffered a heart attack or a stroke. The idea is to give them support by meeting other women who went through similar events. They feel odd when they go to rehab. They have a lot of emotions, and I think they would benefit if they meet others like them. “The plan is to have a meet-and-greet for our first meeting. Our second meeting, hopefully, will involve Rick Collins, the cooking cardiologist, to have a cooking class as a group. Again, the idea is for them to bond and have fun and learn about health in a special setting. I am definitely open to suggestions, as this is in its infancy.”
Coming from a happy family, a family that now includes not only her three siblings but also 10 grandchildren, is a good experience for her parents. “My dad is very proud that I became a doctor, but I think he always expected it. I think I might be more proud of him than he is of me. He came to another country, had four kids, didn’t drive a car, didn’t speak English. I’d have to say I’m awfully proud of him.” Carrying the thought that someone can have a professional life and a personally fulfilling life, too, Dr. Bateman concludes that she would say to girls that if you really want to do something, you can do it. You don’t have to pick just being a career person or being a mom. You can do both.
Written by SHARON ALMIRALL
Photography by STEVE GROER