Trailblazing Westmead cardiologist Sarah Zaman encourages female scientists to pursue their dreams on International Women’s Day

Interventional cardiologist Sarah Zaman in Westmead Hospital catheterization laboratory (cath lab) – an examination room used to visualize the arteries and the chambers of the heart.

One of only 17 female interventional cardiologists and leading an Australian-first study into heart disease in young women, Associate Professor Zaman wants to make a difference.

Her chosen field has always been about challenging the status quo and the Westmead Hospital interventional cardiologist is first hand proof that growth comes from tackling accepted methods and standards.

It’s this approach to break with convention that leaves her well placed to talk about International Women’s Day and this year’s theme: Choose to challenge – from challenge comes change.

“If you see that something is not fair, choose to challenge it,” Associate Professor Zaman said.

“To all young women considering a career in cardiology, or other competitive fields: you should absolutely do it!

“Seek mentors and role models who will give you the opportunities to grow.”

A Heart Foundation Future Leader and one of only two researchers in Australia in 2020 to be awarded the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand Bayer Young Investigator Grant, Associate Professor Zaman puts her success down to hard work and the support of mentors.

“I hadn’t thought of becoming a cardiologist, but when I started as an intern at Westmead Hospital, it was my first appointment. My love for cardiology just evolved from there,” she said.

Prof Zaman in Westmead Hospital’s cath lab after performing an angiogram – a procedure to see the heart’s blood vessels using X-ray imaging.

“I was lucky to be supported and receive encouragement from both male and female mentors. Cardiology is a quite male-dominant field with only 15 per cent of women in it and less than 5 per cent in interventional cardiology.

“At the beginning of my journey, I worked with two female cardiology registrars who inspired and motivated me. They both had families and kids and were completing their PhDs. I thought to myself ‘if they can do it, so can I”.

Associate Professor Zaman is raising awareness among healthcare professionals and young women about SCAD – spontaneous coronary artery dissection – which is responsible for forty per cent of heart attacks in women under 50.

Her study will involve more than 800 patients who have had SCAD to understand what triggered their first episode, how it can be better diagnosed, and to find preventative treatments.

“For me, being a clinical doctor and researcher is a way to make an impact in two different ways.

On one hand, I help individual patients when I see them at the clinic. By doing research and contributing my knowledge, I can impact the lives of thousands,” she said.

The Westmead cardiologist said juggling a career and having a family in such a competitive field was difficult, but possible.

“It has always been like this: when you go on maternity leave, it impacts your competitiveness. I am happy to see that now the possibility of taking time for your family is factored in most of the government grants.

“Once again, challenging the status quo can lead to change.”