UPMC’s Margarita Zuley Leads Magee-Womens Hospital in Superior Patient Care
By Andrea Bosco
Photography: Michael Fornataro
Sponsored by CONSOL Energy
“Patients are family,” says Dr. Margarita Zuley. As University of Pittsburgh professor of radiology and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC director of breast imaging, the New Castle native graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1991. Last month, she was promoted from associate professor to professor, training radiology residents and breast imaging fellows alongside her. She is a true nurturer, wife, and mother of three who comforts her patients through the most difficult time in their lives — the fight against cancer.
On a typical diagnostic day, Zuley delivers good and bad news, does clinical exams, performs biopsies, and reads screening and diagnostic imaging exams, all while educating students and conducting research, among other duties. “It can be extraordinarily emotional,” she says. “Most patients are unbelievably brave in the face of diagnosis of cancer. To deliver the news that a patient has breast cancer, and to be present in that moment with the patient, is a very powerful thing.”
Under Zuley’s direction, Magee-Womens Hospital is a leader in technology, research, testing, and patient care worldwide.
In 2006, the hospital served as an alpha-testing site for 3D mammography, or tomosynthesis, pioneering the way for the groundbreaking procedure. The hospital had one of the first two pieces of equipment in the country, and in 2011, partially due to its research, the FDA approved the procedure for routine clinical use. “We have not only the rich clinical knowledge of how the technology works, but we’ve also published quite a few papers on the topic,” she says. “We have a very deep understanding of this technology and how it can help our patients.”
Passionate for research, Zuley feels that she would be neglecting her patients if she didn’t continuously pursue new horizons for clinical care. “I think it’s incumbent upon those of us who are in academic medicine to really reach beyond the boundaries of what’s acceptable standard of practice now and look for the state-of-the-art that’s going to be here in 10 years,” she says. “Without this, medicine would stagnate.”
With parents who grew up during the Great Depression, Zuley views her education as a blessing and says her opportunities have been her primary motivators. “If I do my job well, my patients by and large will live long, happy lives, and the news that I give to them is really just a bump in the road of life,” she says. Seeing how patients have moved on after surviving cancer is one of the most rewarding parts of Zuley’s career. She also feels honored to be invited to lecture to other physicians and be published for her scientific projects. “It is humbling,” she says. “It drives me to do a better job because I want to make sure that I’m doing the very best I can when I teach my peers.”
This year, in large part under Zuley’s direction, one of Magee’s main focuses is to roll out personalized breast screenings for each patient. “Quality care isn’t delivering the same thing to every patient,” she says. “It means you deliver the right care to the right patient at the right time. We’re seeking to find the exact, right combination for each person.”
For Zuley, there’s a responsibility to provide patients with equal treatment at every UPMC facility in even the most rural communities. “Working with colleagues at other facilities has given me a real understanding of the breadth of knowledge and skill set that’s out there,” she says. Aside from instructing residents on reading images for false positives and false negatives, Zuley coaches them to evolve into a clinical physician who is able to care for a patient by not just taking care of the body, but also the person. “Never stop being a student, I tell them,” she explains. “And, always take care of your patients like they belong to your family.” Now that’s something we can all learn from.