By Paul Harasim
Dr. Jennifer Baynosa often heard as a child that one day she would find a nice man, fall in love, get married and have a family. Taking care of her children and her husband, preparing their meals and washing their clothes was the future that would be hers.
“I grew up in a conservative Hispanic family,” says Baynosa, today an associate professor of breast oncology surgery at the UNLV School of Medicine, as well as the general surgery residency program director. “Women were basically seen as caregivers in that culture.”
However, her mother saw a future where there would be more options for Baynosa and her sister. “She wanted us to be able to stand on our own two feet, not to just depend on a man,” says Baynosa, whose father, an elementary school teacher, helped instill a love for learning in his daughters.
If she wanted to be a traditional homemaker and stay-at-home mom, that was fine, Baynosa’s mom said, but it should be her choice. That philosophy is one that Baynosa holds dear today.
“I was lucky to have a mother like that, who believed you should be able to do whatever you want to do in life” Baynosa says. “It is what I believe as well.”
At the University of California San Diego, Baynosa was an honor student. While at the USC medical school, she initially thought she’d go into pediatrics like her older sister. But she realized she appreciated treating adults who could better explain what was troubling them. She decided to do a residency in general surgery because she liked the fact that most surgery “dealt with problems you can fix. If I take someone’s bad gallbladder out, I have fixed the problem.”
After a general surgery residency at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine, where she met the man who would become her husband, she completed a breast surgery fellowship at Stanford University. It turned out working with a team of doctors to help a woman overcome breast cancer gave her immense satisfaction. Medical, surgical and radiation oncologists working together, she says, goes a long way toward helping women beat breast cancer.
Today, Baynosa is happily married to Dr. Richard Baynosa, the chief and program director of the division of plastic surgery at the UNLV School of Medicine. They have two girls in elementary school. Her eldest, an 8-year-old, talks of becoming a teacher.
There are times when Baynosa and her husband, who does breast reconstruction surgery, are in the operating room together. As she finishes up a double mastectomy, for example, he will begin his work. “It’s nice to work as a team together,” she says.
Baynosa says she’s proud that the UNLV School of Medicine has women in teaching roles to help young women wrestling with questions about family and their professional lives. They act as important mentors, she says, for female students.
“I’m super excited to be part of the new UNLV School of Medicine,” she says. “The vision of Dr. Barbara Atkinson (founding dean of the school), of having a true academic medical center in Las Vegas so people don’t have to leave town for quality health care is one that I share. We want to be a center that can take care of all the health needs of the city’s population.”