The Faces of Success
B.A. Biology, 1973
A senior vascular surgeon at St. Luke's-Roosevelt (SR) Hospital Center, Donna Mendes holds the distinction of being the first African-American, female vascular surgeon certified by the American Board of Surgery.
Being a pioneer was not something she recognized immediately. "I was busy just doing my best in my work, so it didn't hit me right away. I came to realize I was different because there were not many female vascular surgeons in general. I would go to large conferences and conventions, and the vast majority of the people there were white men."
Donna has been at St. Luke's since completing her vascular fellowship at Englewood Hospital in 1984. She has been chief of vascular services at SR, and at North General Hospital, one of SR's affiliated hospitals. Currently, she is site director of vascular surgery at St. Luke's, and assistant clinical professor of surgery at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.
While at Hofstra, Donna aced her science classes for her declared major in speech pathology, and soon switched over to premed. "My adviser, Beatrice Nivens, was very encouraging, and she is still a friend to this day," she noted.
Today, Donna tries to mentor other young women interested in her field. "Clearly there are still challenges in the health care profession for minorities," she explained. "Some of the same people that I went through school and training with received a lot more mentoring and guidance along the way than I did. In many ways I'm considered a role model, so it's up to me to be a mentor to other women - both white and minority - interested in vascular surgery."