Amy Fiedler, MD, a cardiac surgeon and assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, has been named to the 2020-21 cohort of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program. She continues to develop her personal leadership project for the program, despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Presidential Leadership Scholars program selects 60 candidates annually from all geographic, professional and societal demographics to study leadership through the lens of the presidential experiences of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Scholars travel to each participating presidential center to learn from former presidents, key former administration officials, business and civic leaders, and leading academics. Fiedler was able to attend two in-person sessions before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amy Fiedler
Amy Fiedler

“The program, even in the short time that I had in-person, has really changed my mindset and my thought process about a lot of different complex problems, whether related to medicine or leadership in general,” said Fiedler. “I think I’ve grown a lot as a result of it.”

As part of the program, scholars create a personal leadership project intended to solve a problem in their community, country or the world. To address the challenges of rheumatic heart disease in Rwanda, Fiedler has partnered with non-profit Team Heart to establish the first cardiac surgical unit there.

“We’re focused on creating a sustainable care model so that cardiac surgery can be safely performed by Rwandans for Rwandans. You have to move yourself outside of your comfort zone and really integrate yourself into that culture to understand what people need and want in order to get to a point where you can create sustainable change for a population you’re not part of,” says Fiedler.

Because Fiedler and Team Heart are unable to travel to Rwanda to mentor surgeons and provide necessary infrastructure, she has chosen to pivot her project and is currently working with technology firms to develop a virtual operating room. Cameras would be implemented in the operating room in Rwanda, allowing for real-time operative feedback from on-call physicians involved with Team Heart.

“I have a true passion for health and human rights and believe that everyone should have the same standard of access to health care,” said Fiedler said of her project. “I’ve been able to take my love of cardiac surgery and couple it with a love of global health, health inequities and human rights, which provides a lot of personal motivation for working towards these goals.”

Fiedler hopes that her experience in the Presidential Leadership Scholars program will not only have a tangible impact on patients suffering from rheumatic heart disease in Rwanda, but also bring visibility to women in science, technology and medicine.

“I hope that people can see my experience in the program and that I can serve as a mentor or role model to some women who don’t know if they can aspire to do things like this,” she said.

Although all 2020 in-person Presidential Leadership Scholars sessions have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars keep in touch virtually. In order to allow the class of 2020 to experience the remainder of the in-person sessions next year, the program is not accepting applications for 2021.

By Josie Zindler, communications intern, as part of a series focusing on members of the school who received national awards during the 2019-20 academic year.