Meet Our First Full-Time Female Cardiologist
This post was updated on July 25, 2022.
Marjorie Stanek, MD, joined the Einstein Cardiology Department in 1977, becoming the first full-time female cardiologist on the hospital’s staff. She has remained here for 39 years, watching the Cardiology Department grow from a unit of just six full-time doctors to close to 50 today.
After graduating from The Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP), Dr. Stanek served her first two years of residency at The Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, R.I., and her last year at Hahnemann University Hospital and completed a cardiology fellowship at MCP.
Dr. Stanek, who is director of Einstein’s Cardiac Stress Laboratory and an assistant professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College, recently sat down to reminisce about her early years at the hospital and how the practice of cardiology has advanced.
Let’s go back 39 years. Can you talk about how you wound up working at Einstein?
Dr. Stanek: I was a fellow at The Medical College of Pennsylvania. The head of my department, Dr. William S. Frankl, knew Dr. Harry Goldberg, the head of Einstein’s Cardiology Department. He called Dr. Goldberg. I came and interviewed, and they gave me the job. It was simple. I’ve been here ever since. [Dr. Goldberg was chief of cardiology at Einstein for 25 years and director emeritus for another 17 years.]
You grew up in Philadelphia?
Dr. Stanek: I did. I was born at Mt. Sinai Hospital, which became part of Einstein in 1952. My father was an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist—ENT) at Mt. Sinai.
What kind of perception did you have of Einstein before you arrived here?
Dr. Stanek: I didn’t know too much about it, but I’d always heard it was a good place. It was one of the places where I had interviewed when I was looking for my last year of residency. My husband took an ENT residency position at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. We moved back to Philly. I needed a third-year spot, so I interviewed at Einstein although I went to Hahnemann instead. Since I’ve come to Einstein, I see it’s a very nice place to work.
You were the first full-time female cardiologist at Einstein?
Dr. Stanek: There were two part-time female cardiologists in this department, but I was the first full-time, to my knowledge. I don’t think there were any full-time women before that.
Did it feel like that was a big deal at the time? Did you feel like a pioneer?
Dr. Stanek: No, not so much. Everybody was very nice. Everyone was used to there not being many women in medicine in general. Things have changed so much. Back when I was applying to medical school—I was an undergraduate at Penn—there weren’t many women applying to medical school. My husband went to Temple University School of Medicine. In his class there were only eight women and 160 men. The ratio was way off. I went to Women’s Medical [since renamed Medical College of Pennsylvania], which, of course, was 100 percent female. There were very few women going into medicine in those days, and even fewer going into cardiology. I was used to that so it didn’t bother me. I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t feel like I didn’t fit in or that I couldn’t manage.
You mentioned that there weren’t a lot of women choosing cardiology. What drew you to that field?
Dr. Stanek: I always liked it because it was exciting and interesting. Dr. Frankl, who was the chief of cardiology at MCP at the time, knew me from when I was a medical student. He offered me a fellowship at the time I was looking for a spot in Philly for my third year of medicine. There was a brief time when you could start your fellowship with only two years of internal medicine residency. I declined because I felt I needed to do the third year, but his interest in my becoming a cardiologist stuck with me. During my last year of medical residency at Hahnemann I wrote him a letter to say I was interested in a fellowship in cardiology. He offered me the fellowship. His confidence and faith in me as a cardiologist, and my interest in cardiology, are what got me into it. His showing that much interest in me and thinking that I could do it and would be good at it, is what encouraged me to do it.
Cardiology was a small department at Einstein back in 1977. There were just five doctors?
Dr. Stanek: Six doctors full-time. Now it’s so many. We had two people doing cardiac catheterizations. We had one person doing echocardiograms. I was in charge of stress testing. Richard Monheit, M.D., read the EKGs. I read the EKGs with him. That was it. We didn’t have an electrophysiologist, a heart failure specialist, none of the things we have now. Now we have several people in the catheterization lab, several heart failure specialists, several electrophysiologists. Back then it was just bare bones. We all did some clinical work, but not a lot. Dr. Goldberg did the most clinical work.
Back in the earlier days, who were the typical patients that you saw or typical conditions that you dealt with?
Dr. Stanek: In the old days if you came in with a heart attack, you could lie in bed here for weeks. We would do a catheterization but if we found coronary artery disease, our only option was to send the patient to get bypass surgery. It was a whole different story. We didn’t have statins, which are so helpful in preventing heart disease. We didn’t have stents. We didn’t have angioplasties where you can open up a diseased vessel. That all started after I came to Einstein.
There was an era of giving thrombotic therapy to patients when they came to the emergency room to break up a clot. Then it was given directly into the coronary artery itself. Then came angioplasty where you could open up the vessel, but they often closed again. Then came stents to hold the vessel open. Then came the drug-eluting stents. Now somebody comes into the emergency room with a heart attack, they’re whisked away to the catheterization lab. They get a stent. They go home very quickly afterwards, if everything is OK. There’s a lot of progress in cardiology. Heart disease has become very preventable and very treatable, much more so than ever.
It sounds like the technology has changed drastically as well.
Dr. Stanek: We didn’t have ICDs [implantable cardioverter defibrillators]. We didn’t have the ablations that we have now to get rid of arrhythmias. Now we also have a heart failure specialty. We have left ventricular assist devices. There is a much better horizon for those with heart disease than in the old days.
Are there any of your colleagues over the years that stand out, who had a big influence on you?
Dr. Stanek: They all do. I pick out Dr. Monheit because he worked until he was 96. He worked almost to the end. I read EKGs with him everyday. He became one of my closest friends here at Einstein for many years. I went to college with his daughter, so I knew the family before I met him. I stepped in the first day, and right away we became friendly. He was very, very, sharp and very good at reading EKGs. It was a small group so it was easy to get close. It was very nice, but I’m glad things have moved on from such a small group to expand to so many more opportunities for patients.
What do you enjoy most about being a cardiologist?
Dr. Stanek: Cardiology itself is fascinating. It’s very exciting. It moves quickly. You make diagnoses rather quickly. You can treat people so much easier now with the catheterizations and stents, bypass surgery, valve replacements. We always had valve replacements, but now we have a valve that you can put in without operating. The heart is always in motion. It’s just a fascinating part of the body.
I enjoy being at Einstein. I love being with my colleagues, talking over cases with them. I love the fellows, my interaction with the fellows and the residents. They keep you young. They keep you interested. They’re smart. They know their stuff. I think that keeps you going. You’ve been a big part of Einstein for a lot of years of its history.
What do you think about Einstein turning 150 years old?
Dr. Stanek: I think it’s great as long as you don’t think I’m turning 150. It’s very exciting. It’s fun to look back at the old pictures and see the changes. We have prevailed where many other hospitals have closed. We have smart people running the hospital who have kept us in a good position. I’m very proud of the hospital for staying alive and doing good work all these years.
Einstein Cardiology Department circa 1985. Dr. Stanek is in the first row on the right. Dr. Goldberg is second from her right. Dr. Monheit is over Dr. Goldberg’s right shoulder.