Power Women 2013: Dr. Mariell Jessup

President of the American Heart Association; Medical Director, Penn Medicine’s Heart and Vascular Center; Director, Cardiovascular Medicine Special Projects for Penn Medicine; Associate Director, Penn Medicine Cardiac Care Outreach Program

In the 1970s, all cardiologists were men, and female doctors of any kind were a rarity. What made Dr. Mariell Jessup believe she’d succeed as a physician? 

“Well, why not?” says Jessup with a laugh. “That was the thinking back then. It was a tumultuous time; truths were questioned. A shift in attitudes was underway.”

Shifts in medicine were also underway. Advances in imaging, surgical techniques and pharmaceuticals have transformed cardiology since 1976, when Jessup graduated from medical school. Equally important, she says, are the lifestyle changes brought about by public education. Back then, jogging was for neurotics, yoga was for hippies, and even doctors smoked cigarettes. “We now understand the links between risk factors and cardiovascular disease,” Jessup says. “The best way to cure a heart attack is to prevent it.”

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That’s the message Jessup is broadcasting as president of the American Heart Association, which has pledged to reduce heart disease and stroke by 20 percent by the year 2020. “That’s an ambitious goal,” says the Villanova resident. “Figuring out how to meet it is challenging and exciting.”

Jessup still has her day jobs. She’s the medical director of Penn Medicine’s Heart and Vascular Center, director of Cardiovascular Medicine Special Projects for Penn Medicine and associate director of its Cardiac Care Outreach Program. In that capacity, she’s consulted with physicians in the United States, Europe and China. Are there women among her colleagues? Some, says Jessup. “But we can never have enough,” she adds.

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