She may have left behind an opera career to pursue medicine, but endocrine surgeon Sanziana A. Roman, M.D., HS ’99, retains definite ideas about music. For a long, complicated case, she puts on a CD of Mozart, Brahms or the Romanian composer Enescu. For something quick like an appendectomy, disco works. And when everyone’s exhausted, it’s hip-hop. “Studies have shown that surgeons operate better with music,” says Roman.
While different musical themes suit different cases, one mood runs through all of surgery for Roman: the awe she feels toward the surgeon-patient relationship.
“There is no other specialty that allows you to become so intimate with somebody in such a short time. They entrust their body to you. I think that’s incredible—that you allow somebody to completely anesthetize you and cut you open.”
To gain that profound trust from patients, Roman says, “First and foremost is to listen to your patient. Because if you listen, you will find out what their personal needs are. Do they want someone more aggressive, more direct, or do you have to be more gentle? Are they so scared of the procedure that if you tell them every single complication, they’re going to panic and not hear a thing you say? Or are they very diligent and have done their Internet search and want to hear everything and to quiz you? If you’re able to tailor your approach to every single patient, then they’ll trust you.”
Roman says her personality is well suited to surgery. “I couldn’t do anything else. I’m very gregarious. I’m very decisive. I like the fact that surgery eliminates a lot of variables from the equation of healing. It really depends on your skill. It gives you a lot of control.”
Roman, 34, emigrated with her parents from Romania to Rockland County, N.Y., in 1984, for political reasons. She was 15. Roman already knew she wanted to be a doctor—or maybe an opera singer. She eventually decided that medicine offered a clearer path to stability and success but has managed to combine both interests. She majored in music performance at Cornell, and while working toward her medical degree at Columbia she also studied music at Mannes College of Music in Manhattan. During summers she trained at the Aspen Music Festival and once sang the role of Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Graz Music Festival in Austria. It helps that she speaks five languages fluently. These days she sees a lot of theatre and opera in New York and Boston and performs informally from time to time with musical colleagues.
Roman still retains a little of the diva’s flair. She has been known to wear heels in the operating room and she does not own a white coat. Even on a dress-down day when she’s wearing pants and a tracksuit jacket, she sports eye-poppingly bright floral clogs.
Roman said she sees no reason to keep a low profile for the sake of fitting into the male-dominated surgical culture. “I don’t think being a surgeon means giving up your life or who you are. There’s room for a lot of personalities. I think if you’re someone who can be respected, you can be yourself.”