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Vital Signs

Clinical Observation

Laurie Latchaw, M.D.
Associate Professor of Surgery and of Pediatrics

Latchaw is section chief of pediatric surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Norris Cotton Cancer Center. Her clinical interests are neonatal surgery, thyroid surgery, and childhood solid-tumor surgery. She joined the faculty at Geisel in 1999.

What made you decide to become a physician?
When I was nine to ten years old I read a series of books about a nurse, Cherry Ames. Cherry Ames and Nancy Drew were big back then. It soon became clear to me that the male doctors in the books had the best job, so when asked I started telling people that I wanted to be a doctor. Most people just smiled and said, "No, you want to be a nurse!" There were very few female physicians at that time. My grandfather, who was a large-animal veterinarian, and my parents always told me I could be anything I set my mind to, and they were right.

How did you become interested in pediatric surgery?
I decided on pediatric surgery because I loved general surgery but felt I needed a specialty. The mid to late 1970's were when surgical specialties really became popular. Of all the possible specialties, pediatric surgery seemed the best fit for me. I was naive enough to think it was general surgery just on children. The year I applied there were only 15 pediatric residency positions available in the U.S. and Canada. Luckily, I matched at Montreal Children's Hospital.

What's your favorite nonwork activity?
My favorite nonwork activity presently is birding, or bird-watching as some people call it. I am new to the activity so am still learning a lot about birds, birdsongs, and how to identify them. I have also started wildflower identification. It is a natural combination—and no weeding required.

Who was your medical mentor?
I grew up in a small farm town in Illinois and during high school worked in the lab of our only medical clinic. Dr. Joe was a surgeon and general practitioner who founded the clinic with his father and brother. I had known him my whole life and loved him. When he found out I was interested in medicine, he became my mentor and made sure I saw all of the interesting cases presenting to the clinic.

What about you would surprise most people?
That I love fast sports cars, especially convertibles. There is a race called the Gumball 3000 every year in Europe that I wish I could drive in.

What advice would you offer to someone contemplating going into your field?
First, love being a surgeon. Be prepared to make sacrifices. It is impossible no matter what anyone tries to tell you to be a surgeon and have a "normal" home life. Both are demanding and time-consuming commitments; each will have to give way to the other frequently. Balancing the two will be your greatest challenge.


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Geisel School of Medicine at DartmouthDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical CenterWhite River Junction VAMCNorris Cotton Cancer CenterDartmouth College