UVA Heart & Vascular Center cardiologist Brandy Patterson, MD, has dedicated her career to helping others maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle. It was her clinical focus and passion for preventing cardiac disease among women that made her the perfect fit as our Club Red ambassador. Now a year-and-a-half in, Patterson has eagerly embraced her many roles at UVA, all the while taking on an entirely new challenge at home: motherhood.
We spoke to Patterson about her career, her family and her health to find out how she maintains a happy balance. Take a look at the Q&A below:
Q: What made you choose to become a cardiologist?
A: My grandfather had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. He was very busy working three jobs to take care of my grandmother and his daughters. He wasn’t exercising and he smoked. After years of sacrificing his health for his family, he had a four-vessel bypass. It was at that time I realized the importance of eating healthy, exercising and taking care of yourself. This left a lasting impression on me as a young woman.
My mother is an OR nurse and after my grandfather’s bypass, my mother took me to the OR during “take your daughter to work day.” I was fascinated by the operating room, the patients’ stories and the amazing outcomes. Initially I thought about surgery, in particular cardiac surgery, but chose cardiology. It was simply a better fit – I could be involved with prevention, which is my passion, and help people avoid cardiovascular disease.
Q: Why did you choose to focus on women in particular?
A: During my internal medicine residency, it occurred to me that women take a different approach to their health. Those who had a heart attack never felt like they were at risk for heart disease. And those having a heart attack were still in denial.
I noticed that men never doubted that their chest pain was a heart attack. However, women would assume it was anxiety or stress but never a heart attack. I decided to do my fellowship in women’s cardiac disease prevention to educate women about their risks for cardiac disease, as well as the symptoms of a heart attack. I believe there are physical, emotional and psychological components to our health that I like to address with all of my patients. I also feel that, as a woman, we so often give all of ourselves to our families and work, leaving little time for ourselves and our health. I enjoy working with women to better understand the complexities of their lives and how I can incorporate healthy living skills into their routine.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: There is no typical day when you have an infant! I usually wake up early with the baby and get us ready for the day. After the baby is attended to, I head to work where I will see patients and/or read echoes [a sonogram of the heart]. My work hours vary, but often I will work a 12-hour day. Hopefully I will have remembered to defrost something for dinner! Usually we’ll prepare boneless skinless chicken breasts on the grill with spices. We may make organic instant quinoa and have a vegetable like broccoli or cauliflower. After dinner, my husband and I clean the dishes, give our daughter a bath, read her a couple books or take her for a walk, then put her to bed. And if I have the energy, I will do sit-ups or pushups before I go to bed myself.
Q: What are some of your timesavers when it comes to mealtime?
A: I try to do a little cooking and prep over the weekend. I may make sweet potatoes and reheat them during the week. I will chop up vegetables over the weekend so I’ll throw those together for a salad.
Q: Do you follow a particular diet?
A: I do stick to a Mediterranean diet. It’s been shown to be the most beneficial for heart health. I eat oatmeal with raw almonds and blueberries or a kale strawberry shake with zero fat yogurt for breakfast. For lunch I’ll have chicken and salad. I eat whole foods as much as possible – I don’t buy processed foods and I minimize my sugar intake, so no sodas. It’s really about moderation. Because I’m not exercising as much as I would like, I really try to behave most days of the week. If I were exercising then I may eat more but I’m conscious of portion size.
Q: Do you have any guilty pleasures?
A: Ice cream – I could polish off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s very easily. But for my body, it’s not a good idea. So I’ve cut down. For the first month, it was hard. I replaced ice cream with sorbet. It’s not the same, but it did satisfy my need for sweetness. Now that I don’t eat it as often I don’t crave it. Every couple of weeks, I’ll splurge and have a frozen yogurt or ice cream, but I limit the portion size.
Q: What tips do you give your patients about eating healthier?
A: I will ask patients to minimize processed foods and to cook more at home rather than eating out. Restaurants add a lot of salt and butter to their food. I recommend using olive oil instead of butter, replacing fried foods with something grilled or baked and including steamed, grilled or roasted vegetables to a meal.
I will also advise patients to eat smaller meals more often so that they don’t feel like they’re starving and binge eat. If you eat smaller portions throughout the day this will actually boost the metabolism. So a meal may be half a cup of cottage cheese with fruit, carrots and hummus or a salad with chicken.
Q: When do you fit in exercise?
A: At work, I take the stairs all the time. I don’t use the elevator. If get home early from work, then I will take a 3-4 mile walk with my daughter. But there’s not a set schedule during the week. I fit it in when I can. We usually fit in at least 80-120 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise on the weekends. I have been playing golf since high school, so if time permits we play nine holes of golf.
Q: What activities would you do more of if you had the time?
A: If I have the opportunity to do anything physically active I will do it. I like to hike, Zumba and spin, but my passion is dance. My husband and I took ballroom dancing when we lived in Philadelphia and we’ve talked about getting back into it again now that our daughter is older, but it’s still a bit difficult with our schedules.
Work-life balance is hard. I’m still trying to figure it out and it’s constantly changing. My father, who was a pitcher for the New York Yankees and tore his rotator cuff in the 70s, said: “Life seems to throw all of us curve balls, but no matter how many strikeouts we get, keep swinging because the next time at bat may be a homerun.” So I will continue to meet the challenge to keep my body and mind healthy – and help my patients do the same.
Learn more about Dr. Patterson.