This site is not optimized for Internet Explorer 8 (or older).

Please upgrade to a newer version of Internet Explorer or use an alternate browser such as Chrome or Firefox.

Featured Profile: Penelope Adinku

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Growing up, Dr. Penelope Adinku’s parents always encouraged her and her sisters to fearlessly pursue their dreams. Today, Dr. Adinku is Ghana’s first female cardiothoracic surgeon. She began her position at the National Cardiothoracic Centre at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Ghana in April 2022, where her special interests include pediatric cardiac surgery. 

Dr. Adinku attended Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to study medicine before completing a three-year general surgery membership program with the West African College of Surgeons (WACS) in 2017. Following this training, she completed a fellowship program with the WACS before beginning her current position. When she is not working on the advancement of cardiothoracic surgery in Ghana, Dr. Adinku enjoys dancing and watching movies with her husband.

CTSNet spoke with Dr. Adinku about her accomplishments as the first female cardiothoracic surgeon in Ghana, challenges facing the country’s surgical programs, and more. Read on for the full interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.

CTSNet: What made you want to become a cardiothoracic surgeon?

Dr. Adinku: I knew I wanted to be a surgeon in my final year of medical school. As I did my rotation in the Department of Surgery, I saw people come with varying conditions which were treated by surgeons. During my housemanship rotation in pediatrics, I also came across children with congenital heart disease, and I had the desire to help them. This drew me more to cardiothoracic surgery. 

CTSNet: What was your training experience like? Do you feel you faced any challenges that your male counterparts did not?

Dr. Adinku: The training was quite intensive, and I worked long hours every day. But each day brought new opportunities to learn, which I enjoyed.  

The challenge was mainly the bias from some male colleagues, female health workers, and patients who are used to surgeons being males—which I couldn’t do much about. I just focused on my work and let my results do the talking. 

CTSNet: What is the biggest challenge facing cardiac surgery in Ghana right now?

Dr. Adinku: Although cardiothoracic surgery in Ghana began in the 1960s, the first cardiothoracic center in Ghana was only set up in 1992. In a developing country like Ghana, one of the biggest challenges facing cardiac surgery is the cost of open-heart surgeries, which makes it difficult for many people to afford the surgery. There are also logistical constraints like lack of ICU space and personnel, which limits the number and the complexity of cases that can be carried out.

CTSNet: What changes have you seen for women in cardiothoracic surgery since becoming the first female cardiac surgeon in Ghana?

Dr. Adinku: Becoming the first female cardiac surgeon in Ghana has definitely created the awareness that this is a field women can aspire to be a part of. I have personally met more female doctors after this feat who have expressed interest in cardiac surgery. There however needs to be a lot more deliberate work done for the numbers to increase considerably. We need more mentorship programs to expose more females to the specialty. 

CTSNet: What has been your biggest accomplishment as a cardiothoracic surgeon?

Dr. Adinku: That would be having created and continuing to create the awareness of the gap in the specialty for females which needs to be filled. I look forward to a time when the female-to-male ratio in this specialty is at least one-to-one.

CTSNet: Technical skill is obviously important for surgeons, but can you address the importance of leadership skills and the capacity to foster the surgical team’s success?

Dr. Adinku: No person is an island in cardiac surgery. It takes great and proactive leadership to identify, harness, nurture, and synergize the strengths of team members to produce an exceptional team. When as a team we all put in our best and work together to achieve a common goal, only then can we attain success in patient care and get excellent results.

There are quite a number of people I have worked with that I admire. I also particularly look forward to working with some of the great female cardiothoracic surgeons in the world.

CTSNet: How important is the international exchange of ideas, information, and techniques in cardiothoracic surgery?

Dr. Adinku: It is very important, as there are improvements taking place with newer and better techniques resulting in better quality of life, lower mortality, and more across the world. In sharing ideas and techniques, we equip and sharpen each other, bridging the gap between countries with different levels of development in terms of cardiothoracic surgery to give our patients the best care possible.

I also find CTSNet videos and Thoracic Gurus on YouTube particularly helpful.

CTSNet: How can we best or most efficiently effect change in the professional areas we are most passionate about?

Dr. Adinku: We can encourage positive change by treating colleagues and juniors with respect, creating a non-hostile environment where people feel free to speak out and share their ideas, adopting a problem-solving approach, being empathetic, rewarding strengths, and helping people to improve upon their weaknesses.


The information and views presented on represent the views of the authors and contributors of the material and not of CTSNet. Please review our full disclaimer page here.


Add comment

Log in or register to post comments