Dr. Mary O’Connor enjoyed science and math, was good at it and knew she liked people, too.
While majoring in biochemistry at Yale University, she chose a career path that took her through the Medical College of Pennsylvania and then to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester as a resident in orthopedic surgery. That was 1985.
Today, O’Connor chairs the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Florida, based in Jacksonville. She came to town in 1991 and was named chair in 2005.
“I’ve been very blessed,” she said.
Her “average” day at work starts about 6:30 a.m. and, if she’s lucky, she’s home by 7:30 p.m. for dinner with her husband and the youngest of her three children.
She then joins her 13-year-old daughter in the study, where they sit side-by-side doing their individual versions of homework. “There is an unending amount of work,” she said.
Her oldest child, a 23-year-old daughter, graduated from Boston University and is planning for graduate school. Her 20-year-old son is at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
All her children are rowers like their mother. O’Connor, a Pennsylvania native and second of six children, rowed at Yale and also was selected for the 1980 U.S. Olympic rowing team. However, the U.S. boycotted the Summer Olympics held in Moscow in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
She was disappointed, but “to hang onto anger or disappointment is not productive.”
At Mayo, she has clinic days and surgery days. She performs knee and hip replacements a well as surgery for bone and soft tissue tumors.
O’Connor also is leading a study to determine if there is difference between knee pain and inflammation experienced by men and women with knee arthritis.
She and a group of researchers were awarded a $127,000 grant and she is the study’s principal investigator.
She said the project will study whether women and men have sex-based biological differences in their knee tissues and fluid, which could account for the higher burden of disease experienced by women.
O’Connor tries to exercise before starting her work day. “If I do it in the morning, it gets done,” she said. “Nobody is going to take care of my body except for me.”
Her best stress-management advice came from her older sister, a CFO: List your top five or 10 priorities and decide what’s No. 1. Then focus on that.
“I really love taking care of my patients and working for Mayo,” she said.