Dr. Danielle Henry is able to combine warmth and directness in describing her approach to treating her patients. "Surgery is a specialty that gives you, as the surgeon, the unique opportunity to cure disease by removing it completely." She says this when you ask her why she wanted to be a surgeon instead of practicing another type of medicine.
Henry is a board-certified general surgeon and fellowship-trained breast surgical oncologist with the Breast Care Center at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center. It is common among cancer surgeons to be direct and maybe a little simple when they are trying to explain to laymen the very complex things they do: You find where the disease is and then remove it. Aside from recovery and any long-term preventive measures, the patient is cured. Simple, right? Except we all know that it is not simple.
The road to become any sort of medical doctor is a challenging one, no matter the specialty. But the road to becoming a surgeon has its own particular set of challenges. And some of those challenges are blamed for there being a significantly smaller percentage of women performing surgery. Although the number has risen steadily in recent years, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports that women account for only about 20 percent of all surgeons.
But ask Henry if she feels like a "trailblazer," and she laughs. "No," is the answer. Her voice is warm, but direct. "No."
"I had always been interested in being in a field of medicine related to women's health," she said. "And then as I was doing my general surgery rotation in medical school (at Florida State University's College of Medicine), I discovered that I was really interested in surgery." She knew that was the path she wanted to pursue. And the way she explains it, you know she did not dwell on the fact that she was entering a predominantly male field.
"More women are entering medicine, and more are starting to enter surgery," she said. "It just so happens that I am one."
Henry grew up in the South Florida city of Miramar. There she went to the local International Baccalaureate high school, a rigorous academic program that usually leaves its students with little time for extracurricular activities. But not Danielle Henry. She played soccer, and earned a varsity letter. In fact, she still plays soccer; she is a mid-fielder. And, the opportunity to do that as an adult is one of things she loves about Orlando.
From Miramar she went to the University of Florida and then to medical school at Florida State University. She completed a general surgery internship and residency at Orlando Health, where she served as administrative chief resident and won "Best Resident Award." She went on to complete a Society of Surgical Oncology breast surgical oncology fellowship at Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, Tampa. While at Moffitt, Henry received the Junior Scientist Partnership Award for collaboration with the immunology lab to investigate local immunity within breast cancer tissue.
"It is really exciting to practice at the place where I did my internship and residency," she said. Being part of the breast cancer treatment team is one of the things Henry likes about Orlando Health. She credits her partners at the breast care center with helping to mentor her and make her part of the team without regard to anything but her ability as a surgeon.
The approach to treating breast cancer at Orlando Health is multi-disciplinary, involving everything from the oncologist to radiologist, to surgeon, to nutritionist and genetic counselors. And the specific treatments vary according to the individual.
"And all of these things combined make it interesting," she said.
Among the advances in treating breast cancer that Henry finds most interesting are those which limit surgery on patients, advancements that minimize the invasiveness of invasive procedures.
"These advancements limit the complications for the patients, not the outcomes," she said.
While there is no typical day for a surgeon, the hardest part is always telling a patient that she has cancer.
"You have to be direct, but you also have to take the time to explain all of the options, and to make sure the patient knows that you are there to help them get better," she said. "Breast cancer is a very intimate diagnosis, and that is an advantage women surgeons might have. We can understand what the patient is going through."
Although new to her practice at Orlando Health, Henry is a familiar speaker on breast cancer topics. Her clinical interests include high-risk breast cancer groups, like genetic carriers and minorities, in addition to adapting new technology in the operating room.
Henry is a member of several professional societies including the American Society of Breast Surgeons, Society of Surgical Oncology, American College of Surgeons, Association of Women Surgeons, Association of Academic Surgeons and Society of Black Academic Surgeons. She is active on committees in the Florida Chapter of the American College of Surgeons and the Association of Women Surgeons.