The official student newspaper of The Hockaday School

The Fourcast

The official student newspaper of The Hockaday School

The Fourcast

The official student newspaper of The Hockaday School

The Fourcast

The Varsity coxed quad with their coxswain from The Nobles School.
Web Exclusive
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Elizabeth Truelove, Sports Editor • November 30, 2023

Crossing under Elliot Bridge, senior Caroline Stevens and her other boatmates listen to the mass of spectators watching above, hearing the cowbells...

One of the outdoor classrooms used by the conservation biology class
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Hands-On Bio Exploration
Jessica Boll, Staff Writer • November 30, 2023

The new conservation biology class, piloted by Jessie Crowley, focuses on learning different biology concepts through hands-on learning.  “Kids...

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Debate goes the distance
Anya Aggarwal, Staff Writer • November 30, 2023

Hockaday debate students hosted the 46th annual Debate Invitational Nov. 9-11 with close to 800 participants in attendance.   The Ed Long...

Juliet, played by Ava Shipp, begs her mother, played by Saxon Mosely, to stop her impending marriage.
A Timeless Tragedy
November 30, 2023

Art in the Operating Room


It’s 4 a.m. She gets on the treadmill and goes for a run. After making breakfast for her 12-year-old twin sons, Sam and Jake, she drives them to the bus stop. It’s 7 a.m. and she is already at work.

Alumna Shanda Blackmon ‘87, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is the first woman to be on staff in her field at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Blackmon performs four to five surgeries every other day. When she is not in the operating room, she does clinic or rounds and checks on her patients. On clinic days, she has lunch meetings for research. And when she goes home, at around 5 or 6 p.m., she trades her scrubs for Scrabble. Her kids help cook dinner and they play a game such as Rummikub. Then, it is bed time.

However, this wasn’t always her plan.   

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I thought I might be interested in art, so when I went to college, I was an art major,” she said. However, during college at the University of Texas at Austin in the late ‘80s and in the early ‘90s, she spent a lot of time studying various sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology. She worked in the art sector for a year after college but found that it wasn’t the right fit for her.

“I realized that I liked painting for me,” Blackmon said. “I didn’t like so much painting for other people.”

Nevertheless, having an art background has helped her in her career. “A lot of surgery is being able to visualize the anatomy and understanding complex anatomical relationships, and I think if you are a very good craftsperson, and if you are good with your hands and if you have good 3-D spatial relationship, that you can put together and change in your brain,” Blackmon said.

Senior Maryam Bolouri can relate to this philosophy and is aware of the importance of creativity when studying science. As a current member of Hockaday Dance Theater, she hopes to pursue medicine as a career while continuing to dance in a student organization while in college.

“It’s much more difficult to study these topics when you’re used to things being so concrete and literal, so I feel like tapping into that creative side through the arts opens a window to an entirely different way of thinking,” Bolouri said. “It’s cool to see a woman so successful in her field advocating the joint pursuit of the arts and the sciences.”

Blackmon returned to school to get her master’s degree in public health at Emory University in 1994. That same year, she started medical school at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. She thought that she wanted to be a pediatrician because of her love for children, but decided to pursue general surgery instead.

“It was a better personality fit,” Blackmon said. “I enjoyed the work, and I enjoyed the immediate gratification,” she said. “I enjoyed using my hands, much like the art.”

Nancy Penn Penson ’41 & John G. Penson Distinguished Teacher in Fine Arts and Dean of Upper School Ed Long sees the contributions of an art background.

In response to art, to notice what is unnoticeable to others, to be particularly visually sensitive to subtleties that helps when you’ve had an established background like that,” Long said.

Blackmon found her specialty when she had a patient with a complex aortic injury, which is the second most common cause of death in trauma patients, according to the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma.

“That case was so exciting to me that it made general surgery not seem as appealing anymore,” Blackmon said.

Her training consisted of five years of general surgery at Georgia Baptist Hospital/Atlanta Medical Center from 1998 to 2003, two more years of cardiothoracic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a year beyond her residency to do more thoracic cancer and oncology training at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

And Blackmon has been a trailblazer—during her training, she broke many boundaries. In her general surgery training in 2003, Blackmon became the first female trainee in the history of the 50-year-old program. While at Baylor, she became the first cardiothoracic surgery resident to give birth in the program. However, despite being the first in much of her career, Blackmon has always felt very comfortable working with men.

“I tried to outwork the men. I worked just as hard as they did if not harder to prove myself,” she said.

But she never felt that she had to prove someone wrong. “I knew I was smart enough to do anything, and I knew I was very capable,” she said. “It was important for me to achieve something in my life that would make a difference in other people’s lives.”

Yet there have been instances in her career where women have outnumbered men. For example, Blackmon’s first job out of her training was at Methodist Hospital in Houston. The chair of her department was a woman and there were more women faculty than men.

“I think that you know that you have reached gender equality not when you have reached threshold, like 50 percent women 50 percent men,” Blackmon said. “I think you know that you’ve reached a threshold when gender doesn’t matter anymore.”

In fact, after she joined there were more female residents in cardiothoracic surgery than male residents.

“Some of the minority groups, when they then become the majority, need to remember what it felt like to be a minority and treat the new minority like they would have wanted to be treated when they were the minority,” Blackmon said. She recently wrote an article on this reverse discrimination in a Mayo Clinic magazine, the Surgical Sentinel.

Now as a woman in a leadership position, she is an advocate of making medical events inclusive to entire families. For instance, at one conference, there was no room for breast pumping. As a result, she advocated for a station, and now this is a national standard for medical conferences.

Blackmon has experienced this need for family-friendly accommodations firsthand. She frequently takes her children when she travels and this month, her husband and kids are traveling with her to Florida for the 63rd Annual Southern Thoracic Surgical Association.

All in all, Blackmon found a passion and she followed it.

“I kept my mind open, and then whenever I had a really positive experience, and I enjoyed something, I continued to follow that bliss until it led me to where I am now,” she said.

Sonya Xu – News Editor

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