What started as a mentorship for Juliet Ray, M.D. ’12, M.S.P.H. ’16, transitioned into a life-changing friendship and partnership almost a decade after she graduated from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Dr. Ray, now a colorectal surgeon, is working alongside her mentor, Heidi Bahna, M.D., B.S. ’99, to grow the colorectal division at JFK Medical Center in Palm Beach.
“Never underestimate the power of mentorship,” said Dr. Ray. “It changed the whole direction of my career.”
The two first met in 2011 when Dr. Bahna, a brand new faculty member in the Miller School’s Department of Surgery, was a judge for the Eastern-Atlantic Student Research Forum, a conference at which Dr. Ray, then a third-year Miller School student, was presenting. “I didn't know Dr. Bahna,” Dr. Ray said. “My first interaction with her was when she was asking me tough questions while I was nervously at the podium presenting my paper.”
At that time, Dr. Bahna heard her colleagues commending Dr. Ray’s potential, hoping she would match at the University of Miami and stay to complete her residency. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, I’ll be the judge of that,’ ” said Dr. Bahna. “Of course, Juliet was incredibly impressive and I knew she had the kind of talent that would make a difference.”
Dr. Ray did eventually match at UM/Jackson Memorial and trained under Dr. Bahna as a resident, before going on to complete a colorectal surgery fellowship at New York University. The strength of their mentee-mentor relationship grew out of mutual respect and admiration.
“I was drawn to Dr. Bahna’s excellence and the way she worked with colleagues and patients,” said Dr. Ray. “She was one of few women surgeons, and I noticed she had a tough, but professional and kind way about her, unique and admirable qualities that I looked up to.”
In turn, Dr. Bahna was drawn to Dr. Ray’s level of accountability toward patients. She saw a physician who made no compromises in the level of care she would provide. “Juliet came to the University of Miami that way, I didn’t need to teach her that,” said Dr. Bahna. “We can’t really make physicians more accountable and compassionate. Juliet had all those qualities, and did everything within her power to elevate the patient experience.”
Dr. Bahna, who completed her surgical training at Temple University and Orlando Health, returned to UM as assistant professor in the Department of Surgery in 2011, then moved on to a new role as general surgery program director of University of Miami/JFK Medical Center. In 2018, she recruited Dr. Ray back to South Florida to help establish a colorectal division and enhance teaching and research for residents and students.
“She had a lot of options and many of them were considerably more well endowed,” said Dr. Bahna. “What I am doing here in Palm Beach is to establish a model of colorectal care that is equivalent to what we have in larger institutions and will be closer to home for so many people. I knew Juliet had the ability to build something bigger than herself, something that will have a lasting legacy in our community.”
Dr. Ray’s professional and personal trajectories were greatly influenced by the strength of her mentorship and friendship with Dr. Bahna. “I had never really considered colorectal surgery as a potential option until I met Dr. Bahna and she showed me that you could still do what you love, and also have a family and a life outside of surgery,” said Dr. Ray. “I was also able to treat a diverse group of patients for a wide range of diseases, which was important to me.”
Many aspects of Dr. Bahna’s leadership style are now qualities Dr. Ray emulates in her own work mentoring residents. “Dr. Bahna leads by example and I often describe part of this mentorship as a friendship, since we could closely relate to her,” said Dr. Ray. “She would come down to our level and teach us in a way that was respectful and not intimidating, while valuing our opinion.”
Dr. Bahna believes that mentorship is crucial for personal and career growth, “If it wasn’t for a particular surgeon that recognized something in me that I didn’t see as a student, I may not have become a surgeon,” said Dr. Bahna. “If you don’t see people that look like you or someone similar to you who has achieved success within your field, it’s hard to imagine yourself getting anywhere.”
Dr. Bahna also recognizes that mentorship is not a one-way street. She benefits from the complementary skills that Dr. Ray brings to the practice, including her expertise in research which advances new treatment options in their clinical care.
Today, the seeds planted almost a decade ago in a dynamic mentoring relationship are bearing fruit in a partnership designed to elevate patient care and expand research and educational opportunities for residents. The two alumnae are building the Palm Beach colorectal surgery practice together and the guidance gained as a mentee has been a steady beacon for Dr. Ray as she takes on a leadership role with new residents.
“It’s important for all doctors and surgeons to keep in mind that someone is always looking up to you,” said Dr. Ray. “Even if you’re not in a formal mentorship relationship, you have to hold yourself to a high standard and always act in a way that inspires admiration, much like Dr. Bahna did for me.”