An Interview with Dr. Audree Bendo, the Newest Inductee in the Academy of WINNERs

Dr. Audree Bendo
Audree Bendo, MD, MS, FASA
M. Angele Theard, MD
Marie Angele Théard, MD

Marie Angele Théard, MD
Chair, Membership Committee

Welcome to WINNER in Focus, a section dedicated to the Women in Neuroanesthesiology and Neuroscience Education and Research (WINNER). Audree Bendo, MD, MS, FASA has been a member of SNACC since 1985. She is the Distinguished Professor and Chair of Anesthesiology at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. Last year at our SNACC meeting in Arizona, Dr. Bendo was inducted into the Academy of WINNERs, an award highlighting women who have made major contributions in the field of perioperative neuroscience specifically through excellence in mentoring. I hope that you enjoy reading about the inspiration, path, success and advice from our newest inductee.

Dr. Théard: What is your home institution? And what is your role there?

Dr. Bendo: My home institution is SUNY (State University of New York) Downstate Health Sciences University, Brooklyn, New York.  SUNY Downstate has been my work-home since 1982 when I joined the Department of Anesthesiology as a resident.  After residency, I pursued a fellowship at SUNY Downstate in Neuroanesthesia (1984-1985), and then joined the faculty in September of ‘85.  In April of 2018, I was appointed Chair of Anesthesiology.  

Prior to becoming Chair when Dr. Cottrell stepped aside, I held many, often overlapping, leadership roles in the department including; Director of Neurosurgical Anesthesia (1986-2013), Fellowship Director, Associate Program Director & Director of Residency Training (1989-2001), Vice Chair for Education (1996-2013), Program Director for Core Anesthesiology Residency (2001-2013), and Executive Vice Chair (2011-2018).

Dr. Théard: What and who influenced you to choose a career in neuroanesthesia?

Dr. Bendo: My mentor during residency and throughout my career has been James E. Cottrell, MD. He was also my department chair. It was Jim’s infectious interest in neurosurgical anesthesiology that caused me to switch my focus from obstetrical anesthesiology to neurosurgical anesthesiology and pursue a fellowship under his guidance. He brought together a team of basic scientists and clinical researchers, and I was fortunate to work with Drs. Joe Giffin, Ira Kass, John Hartung, and many colleagues in other anesthesiology subspecialties, like Drs. Gerry Wolf, Alex Gotta, and Marilyn Resurreccion, all of whom provided shoulders for me to lean on.

Jim created a great work environment for all of us. He wanted all of us to succeed. Our success was his success. That’s how he saw it, and that’s how he continues to see it. For me, he was both a promoter and a supporter, always providing opportunities to take on leadership roles in the department, our institution, state-wide institutions and national institutions. The strength of his regard for both academic and clinical anesthesiology encouraged me to develop clinical skills while contributing to education and research. In short, I guess as is the case for all healthy mentee-mentor relationships, I wanted to be like him! At the heart of it, isn’t that what mentors are for…to serve as role models?

Dr. Théard: How did you find out about SNACC?

Dr. Bendo: I attended my first SNACC meeting as a fellow in 1985 when I presented a research abstract, and I have been an active member since then.

Dr. Théard: Which area of clinical neuroanesthesia interests you the most and why?

Dr. Bendo: My first assigned case as a resident was brought to the OR emergently. She had been found on the street after suffering traumatic brain injury while inebriated. I was the only anesthesiology resident available to manage the case. After the craniotomy and evacuation of a large hematoma, the patient recovered for one week in our neurosurgical ICU and was discharged a week later without deficits. I have spent my entire career remembering what we did right in that case — how we adjusted our initial interventions to accommodate an on-board over-dose of alcohol, in addition to the standard considerations of age, comorbidities and extra-cranial injuries.

When I began my career in neurosurgical anesthesiology, we were researching the effects of anesthetics and adjuvant drugs on cerebral hemodynamics and investigating whether those drugs provide more neuro-protection than neuro-toxicity. This debate and the controversies regarding the ‘best anesthetic’ for neurosurgical procedures is still the focus of my clinical research and educational activities. Needless to say, the debate goes on.

Dr. Théard: What has been the most challenging aspect of your educational career and/or training?

Dr. Bendo: Understanding the politics of organized academic medicine and learning to negotiate political obstacles at work. Separating personality issues from policy issues is critically important. It is important, and often difficult, to stay focused on the end-game and providing excellent patient care while finding time to pursue academic, state, national and international activities.

Dr. Théard: What has been the most gratifying aspect of your academic career?

Dr. Bendo: Mentoring the next generation of anesthesiologists.  It is an honor and a privilege to help students, residents and colleagues achieve their goals.

Dr. Théard: What advice or story would you like to share with medical students, residents, fellows, and junior faculty choosing a career in neuroanesthesia?

Dr. Bendo: Students need to have an open mind when they begin their training. Their goal should be to find the specialty or subspecialty that best suits their personality and skills.   Students are most successful when they enjoy their work and find what they do both interesting and challenging.  The same goes for residency and pursuing a fellowship.   Becoming involved with a specialty society also helps us meet people with similar interests and enables us to grow and learn from experts — and even non-experts — anybody who knows something that we did not know until they explained it to us, which is almost everybody in the field, if you can wheedle it out of them! This has been my experience as a student, resident, fellow and attending over the years. My best advice is to become involved in specialty societies. Doing so provides opportunities for education, training and research opportunities to continue learning after formal training has been completed.  Always push away the sense that you know enough to do your job and the feeling that a colleague doesn’t know enough to teach you anything.

Dr. Théard: What is your advice to women interested in pursuing work in this field?

Dr. Bendo: My advice to women is the same as my advice to men. Manage your time well. Take on projects that you know you can complete on time. Manage expectations for yourself and for colleagues with both a grip on reality and a sense of adventure. 

Pursuing an academic career is greatly facilitated by finding a mentor who will promote you at the university, state, national and international level. A mentor who will provide a supportive work environment, that is, provide you with the time to do non-OR work. The caveat here is that we need to do our part by committing ourselves and living up to our commitments. Spend out-of-the-OR time, including evenings and weekends when necessary, to complete research and other scholarly activities.   

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