The Mayo Clinic in Arizona is widely viewed as one of the elite medical institutions in the world. Among the Mayo Clinic’s emerging cardiologists is University of Nevada, Reno alumna Lisa LeMond, M.D.—recipient of the College of Science’s 2019 Young Alumni of the Year Award—a practicing cardiologist specializing in heart failure and transplantation.
LeMond’s current titles include Assistant Professor and Senior Associate Consultant in the Department of Cardiovascular Diseases, where she has practiced since 2016. In her daily work, she treats the most severely ill patients, literally giving them time to live they wouldn’t otherwise have, or caring for them as they near the end of their lives.
In 2004, she received dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno, in biology from the College of Science and in biochemistry from the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, with a minor in chemistry. She went on to graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine in 2008.
LeMond’s mother, Lynn, and her late father, Stephen, had both attended the University of Nevada, Reno, for a time before starting their family, but Lisa was the first in her immediate family to graduate from college. Just after Lisa was born, the family moved from Minden to Las Vegas. There, Lynn was a successful woman in the male-dominated hotel sales and convention industry.
“I think that very much left me with this feeling I could do anything I wanted because my mom could,” LeMond said, “and college was an important part of that.”
Years later, inspired by her daughter’s medical accomplishments, Lynn would return to school to become a nurse at age 50, fulfilling her own lifelong dream of having a medical career.
Caring for the most severely ill: new beginnings and final chapters
At the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, LeMond is one of five cardiologists who treat varying degrees of heart dysfunction. LeMond and her colleagues take care of very severely ill “end-stage” heart failure patients – patients for whom traditional medical therapies are failing. They’re being evaluated for either implantable heart pumps known as LVADs (left ventricular assist devices) or for a heart transplant.
“We take patients through situations where they’re facing imminent death into something where they’re now facing a new beginning and they get to restart their lives again.”
The group performs about 50 transplants each year, in the top third of volume in the country. Mayo Clinic in Arizona currently has the best three-year survival rates for transplant patients in the country, according to LeMond.
“We take patients who are dying from heart failure and we have the opportunity to completely change the trajectory of their lives, to add many years they would not otherwise have,” LeMond said. “We take patients through situations where they’re facing imminent death into something where they’re now facing a new beginning and they get to restart their lives again.”
Due to the complexity of care, LeMond and her cardiology colleagues take on each transplant patients—not just for cardiac-related issues, but in overseeing all medical care—for the rest of the patient’s life.
“A lot of what we do—because not everybody is a transplant candidate or LVAD candidate—is end-of-life care,” LeMond said, “which is such a valuable piece of medicine that I think not everybody appreciates. I’ve always felt that it’s easy to be somebody’s doctor when they’re doing well, but it’s the times when they really need you, when things aren’t going well that I think you have the greatest ability to impact their lives. So, I really enjoy end-of-life care. It’s the hope and sometimes the tragedy. Being there for patients during those times—it’s really special.”
The journey from Reno to the Mayo Clinic
With the new Millennium Scholarship being offered for Nevadans in 2000, LeMond chose to stay in-state, heading north to attend the University of Nevada, Reno. Chemistry professor Sean Casey became an early mentor, who spurred and supported her interest in research. LeMond excelled on that research, earning the chance to present a paper at a national American Chemical Society meeting, writing grants to raise travel funds.
“I mostly just acted as a sounding board,” Casey said. “Lisa was the one getting it done. I’m sure she’s an excellent doctor, because that’s who she is and how she does things.”
LeMond stayed at the University of Nevada, Reno, entering med school. Unsure of what path to take in medicine, another key mentor entered the picture: Dr. Phil Goodman.
Dr. Goodman, who passed away unexpectedly in 2010, was “a very consummate physician, somebody who was really everything I aspired to be,” LeMond said. “He was somebody with a great bedside manner who was very intelligent, thoughtful, kind and caring, and he inspired me to go into internal medicine.”
LeMond graduated from the University of Nevada School of Medicine in 2008, and with the help of Dr. Goodman, landed an internship at the University of Colorado Hospital in internal medicine. She then obtained a cardiology fellowship at the Oregon Health and Science University at the School of Medicine in Portland, Ore. After that initial fellowship, LeMond secured an advanced fellowship in Advanced Cardiac Failure back at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. Once she was on the market, Mayo Clinic was quick to snatch her up in 2016.
“When I started out on this journey,” LeMond said, “I thought I would do internal medicine and I didn’t put any thought into doing any advanced training beyond that – until I got to residency. Then, I had some pretty inspiring interactions with both transplant and cardiology patients and I decided to meld those two things and do transplant cardiology.”
While in her residency, LeMond was faced with the sudden loss of a liver transplant patient, a young professional woman about her own age with whom she had felt a common bond. LeMond broke the news to the family she had become close to, sharing hugs and tears.
“I just realized how important it was and how profound that was,” she said. “And I thought there’s no way I could ever do anything other than this, even though that was one of the saddest patient experiences that I’ve ever been through, still. You have to love both parts of it. You have to love the joy of it, but you also have to be able to appreciate what you can offer patients and families during their hardest times, too.”
Dr. LeMond’s future … and the future of girls and women in medicine
As she was interviewed via Zoom from her Mayo Clinic office in Phoenix, LeMond pointed out the University of Nevada, Reno diplomas on the wall behind her.
“I really do feel thankful for the education I received at the University,” LeMond said. “I just feel fortunate to have had those experiences and for the footing that it gave me to help launch my career. I think that in a lot of ways, I had a lot of very distinct advantages and I just can’t express how thankful I am for that. The University is a huge asset for the state of Nevada and it’s a high-quality educational institution.”
"I’m trying to talk to women about how they can navigate medicine while making sure that they find a career that they love, but also find a way to have your family too."
LeMond is currently working to earn her ACGME (Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education). In the past year, she’s become more interested in educating others to do what she does. She spent the last two years developing Mayo’s first advanced heart failure fellowship program, with its first fellow starting this summer.
LeMond, who with her husband has four children, ages 10, 9, 6 and 2, knows how hard it is to find balance and the kind of family support such a demanding job requires.
“I work a lot,” she said. “I work a minimum of 60 hours a week. And it would be untenable unless it was something that you loved. I love my job. I find it to be more than a job. It’s cheesy to say, but I feel it’s a calling. It’s something that you have to throw your whole life into. Your family, your entire family, has to be supportive. It has to be something that you can’t imagine not doing.”
One of the key aspects of LeMond’s medical educational pursuits is to encourage and support women in medicine. In cardiology, four out of five physicians are men.
“I’m trying to talk to women about how they can navigate medicine while making sure that they find a career that they love,” she said, “but also find a way to have your family too.”
What encouragement does LeMond have for young girls who today are imagining their futures, or women pursuing their own medical or STEM careers? “Don’t ever let people tell you that you shouldn’t do something that you love,” LeMond said. “You’re not always going to be perfect. Keep working towards things. One failure does not amount to total failure and success is working at it and continuing to strive toward those goals. It won’t always be beautiful from the outside. It’s not always graceful, but keep doing it.”