From her extended family what Dr. Jennifer Baynosa often heard as a child was that one day she would find a nice man, fall in love, get married, and have a family.
Taking care of her children and her husband, preparing their meals and washing their clothes, was the future that would be hers.
“I grew up in a conservative Hispanic family,” says Baynosa, today an associate professor of breast oncology surgery at the UNLV School of Medicine as well as the general surgery residency program director. “Women were basically seen as caregivers in that culture.”
However, one woman who had a lot of clout in Baynosa’s family, her mother, saw a future where there would be options for Baynosa and her sister.
“She wanted us to be able to stand on our own two feet, not to just depend on a man,” says Baynosa, whose father, an elementary school teacher, helped instill a love for learning in his daughters.
If she wanted to be a traditional homemaker and stay-at-home mom, that was fine, Baynosa’s mom said, but it should be her choice. That philosophy is one that Baynosa holds dear today.
“I was lucky to have a mother like that, who believed you should be able to do whatever you want to do in life” Baynosa says. “It is what I believe as well.”
Even when Baynosa got to medical school she heard words of discouragement “When I said I wanted to be a surgeon at USC
(the Keck School of Medicine)
, I kept hearing from people that as a surgeon, marriage and a family would be difficult, that having to be on call at night wouldn’t be appropriate for someone with a family.”
Today, Baynosa is happily married to Dr. Richard Baynosa, the chief and program director of the division of plastic surgery at the UNLV School of Medicine. They have two girls in elementary school. Her eldest, an 8-year-old, talks of becoming a teacher.
Baynosa says she’s proud that the UNLV School of Medicine has women in teaching roles to help young women wrestling with questions about family and their professional lives. They act as important mentors, she says, for female students.
It’s not unusual for Baynosa to have speaking engagements where she tells her story.
“Outreach is critical for medical schools,” she says. “We have to show kids what’s possible.”
Baynosa grew up in San Diego.
“My mother says I wanted to be a doctor ever since she can remember. I think I always felt the need to help others. She also says she never had to push either me or my sister to study. It was just something we always wanted to do.
At the University of California San Diego, Baynosa was an honor student. While at the USC medical school, she initially thought she’d go into pediatrics like her older sister, a physician who specializes in pediatric rheumatology. But she realized she appreciated treating adults who could better explain what was troubling them. She decided to do a residency in general surgery because she liked the fact that most surgery “dealt with problems you can fix. If I take someone’s bad gallbladder out, I have fixed the problem.”
After a general surgery residency at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, where she met the man who would become her husband, she completed a breast surgery fellowship at Stanford.
It turned out working with a team of doctors to help a woman overcome breast cancer gave her immense satisfaction. Medical, surgical and radiation oncologists working together, she says, goes a long way toward helping women beat breast cancer.
“I spend a lot of time explaining what’s going on to my patients,” she says of her breast surgery practice in Las Vegas. “I try to put them at ease, give them my email address and phone number so they can ask me questions about the surgery I’ll perform, about all their treatment. I let them know that we have a definitive plan for treatment, how we’re all going to fight it together. I follow them for five years and often more. We become close.”
There are times when Baynosa and her husband, who does breast reconstruction surgery, are in the operating room together. As she finishes up a double mastectomy, for example, he will begin his work. “It’s nice to work as a team together,” she says.
Baynosa’s day begins at 5 a.m. with a workout on her stair stepper machine at home. “It’s the only time I’m really alone. I have the time to step away from life. I listen to music, watch TV, get away from everything. It’s a great stress reliever. Fortunately, my mother-in-law is now living with us to help us with the kids. With our first child, my husband and I took care of it all and it was a bit complicated, but we worked it out.”
Her medical practice includes general surgery, often dealing with hernias and gallbladders.
“I’m super-excited to be part of the new UNLV School of Medicine,” she says. “The vision of Dr. Barbara Atkinson
(founding dean of the school)
, of having a true academic medical center in Las Vegas so people don’t have to leave town for quality health care is one that I share. We want to be a center that can take care of all the health needs of the city’s population.”