Interview with Dr. Diana L. Farmer

12 Mar 2014

by Lauren B. Nosanov

Dr. Diana L. Farmer, an internationally renowned fetal and neonatal surgeon, is Chair of the Department of Surgery at UC Davis Health System, where she oversees more than 250 faculty, volunteer clinical faculty, post-doctoral fellows, residents, students, and staff who provide highly skilled, specialty services in bariatric, burn, cardiothoracic, gastrointestinal, plastic and reconstructive, oncology, transplant, trauma and vascular surgery. A recognized leader in pediatric surgery, Dr. Farmer is known for her skilled surgical treatment of congenital anomalies and for her expertise in cancer, airway, and intestinal surgeries in newborns and for her investigations on the safety and effectiveness of providing spina bifida treatments before birth.

At a recent American College of Surgeons Chapter meeting, I was fortunate enough to attend a Women in Surgery luncheon featuring Dr. Farmer. Among the topics she discussed was the journey she took from the beginning of her career to her current position as Chair of Surgery at UC Davis. She had a great deal of wisdom and advice to offer for surgeons at all points in their professional life. Below she shares some of these insights.

Q: You have taken what some would consider an unusual path through your career. What do you consider to be the most crucial turning points that have brought you to where you currently are?

A: Following my husband to match our careers allowed (forced) me to spend three years in the Lab. My resident surgical oncology lab time (two decades ago) working on adoptive cellular immune therapy for cancer, has proven to be unexpectedly valuable in my career as a pediatric surgeon now working on stem cell therapies for children’s surgical diseases.

Q: What roles have mentorship and networking played throughout your career development? 

A: In the early days, mentorship and networking were less formal, and I would define it as functioning more by observing people who served more as role models than mentors.

Q: Does being a woman affect the way in which you approach your position as Chair of Surgery? If so, how?

A: I don’t think that being a woman affects my approach to the Chair job. It’s a very maternal/paternal kind of job in a very big family!

Q: What advice can you provide to our younger members looking to have a successful career in academic surgery?

A: Follow your passion, “lean in,” don’t be afraid to try things and fail.


Lauren Nosanov is a fourth year medical student at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. She spent a year before her last year of medical school as a Dean’s Research Scholar, dedicating her time to clinical research in the field of Trauma and Critical Care. Having loved surgery from the very beginning, she is excited to start her General Surgery residency in a couple of months. She is passionate about issues surrounding surgical education, mentorship, and finding a balance between motherhood and medicine. Outside of medicine she enjoys practicing Taekwondo and spending time with her husband and children.

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