Meet Dr. Melissa Mao
Melissa Mao, MD, PharmD, is a board-certified surgeon with fellowship training in endocrine surgery. She sees patients in Philadelphia. She specializes in parathyroid disease, thyroid diseases and adrenal disease, and also performs general surgery.
In addition to having a Doctor of Medicine, you also have a Doctor of Pharmacy. Which degree did you pursue first?
I studied pharmacy first. I went to Northeastern for their pharmacy program. It's a six-year program, and you finish with a PharmD degree. It was toward the end of my fifth year of school that I decided I wanted to pursue medical school. However, since I was that far along, it made sense for me to finish the degree. There was a year between when I finished pharmacy school and applied to medical school, during which I worked as a pharmacist.
What was it about pharmacy that initially attracted you?
I've always been a science-oriented person, and I had some relatives who were in the pharmacy field. They seemed to really enjoy their jobs and had the time and ability to also really enjoy their lives. Once I was in pharmacy school and started working in the pharmacy setting, I realized it was lacking in the kind of patient interaction that I was looking for.
Would you say your desire to interact with patients is what made you go to medical school?
Yes, that was definitely a factor. Throughout pharmacy school, I had clinical rotations very similar to the way medical students have clinical rotations. We would round with medical teams on the floors and in intensive care. I got a glimpse into what it was like to be a physician and saw how they took care of patients and interacted with them. I wanted to be doing what the medical doctors were doing.
How did you decide to pursue surgery?
I went to med school not knowing exactly what field I wanted to go into, and I wanted to keep an open mind. During my surgery rotation as a third year medical student, I had fantastic residents and attendings who allowed me to have a lot of responsibility in and out of the operating room and really made me feel like a part of the team. I fell in love with surgery and never looked back. I couldn't see myself doing anything else from that point on.
What kind of surgery do you specialize in?
My specialty is endocrine surgery, which involves the thyroid gland, the parathyroid glands and the adrenal glands. I take care of any problems involving those three organs.
What attracted you to specializing in this?
I think during surgical residency, you find yourself drawn to certain areas of the body that you enjoy operating on. For me, it was the head and the neck area. I was fortunate to have had a lot of exposure to those cases as a resident, as well as excellent mentors who let me be actively involved during those operations.
Also, I really enjoyed taking care of the patients in other aspects other than just performing the surgery itself. I think the workup of the various disease processes is interesting. There are a lot of nuances that the more you are in the field, the more you discover it's not so straightforward. After surgery, fortunately, most patients recover very well and have a great prognosis. It's always rewarding to see your patients do well.
Do you find yourself drawing on your pharmacy background?
Yes, probably more than I realize sometimes. The endocrine system is an elaborate system involving hormones and their interactions with different organs and the brain. Understanding this interplay helps make sense of how and why we prescribe certain medications and adjust the doses.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month. What do you wish the general population knew about thyroid diseases?
I think the biggest thing for patients to know is that many people have thyroid nodules, and luckily, most of them are not cancerous. We do not recommend everyone get screening ultrasounds on their thyroids in the way that mammograms and colonoscopies are recommended. However, if you have a known thyroid nodule, it's important to see your primary care doctor or an endocrinologist to have it worked up appropriately.
Once you knew you wanted to be a doctor, did you always see yourself being an academic surgeon?
Yes. Where I trained was not an academic center, but all the surgeons there were phenomenal teachers. I wanted to be like them—excellent surgeons who are also able to pass along their knowledge and skillset to future surgeons in training—so teaching has always been very important to me. Being part of a university setting is advantageous because it grants you access to research, organizations and other resources that help you grow your career. I love going to the operating room, taking care of patients in the hospital, and seeing patients in the clinic, but being in an academic setting really lets you explore other aspects of your career too.
How do you like living in Philadelphia?
I'm a New Englander at heart, so sometimes it's hard living in Philadelphia because of the sports fans, since we love our teams in New England just as much as Philly loves their teams! But in all honesty, I do really love being in Philly. It's an amazing city full of great food, culture, and history. I lived here during medical school and am very happy to be back.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work?
I try to stay active and enjoy running. I love going to the beach as much as possible in the summer, so it's nice that I'm much closer to the Jersey Shore now. Of course, I am a big New England sports fan. I am also a huge tennis fan and love going to the US Open in New York City during the summer. My hope is to one day make it to all 4 tennis Grand Slam tournaments.
Name: Melissa Mao, MD, PharmD
Specialty: Endocrine Surgery
Education: MD - Temple University School of Medicine; PharmD - Northeastern University Bouvé College of Health Sciences
219 N. Broad Street
The Arnold T. Berman, MD Building, 8th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.
Back to Top