Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Dr. Dominick Megna
Jan 11, 2021 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Meet cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Dominick Megna! He joined Cedars-Sinai in 2018 and became surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program and co-director of the Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit in 2020.
When he is not transplanting organs and surgically repairing aortas, he can be found fine-tuning his other passion: cooking. We chatted with Dr. Megna to learn why he decided to become a cardiothoracic surgeon—and how he manages the intensity involved in transplant medicine.
How did you know you wanted to be a physician?
Dr. Dominick Megna: I was interested in science from a very young age. My aunt was a chiropractor, and a close family friend was a surgeon. By high school, I was reading nutrition books and learning about the human body.
I took all of my pre-med requirements in college, and then I took a year off to work as a nurses' aid at the same hospital where I ended up doing my general surgery residency. I thought I was going to be a trauma surgeon and then shifted toward general thoracic surgery.
But my vision changed when I scrubbed into my very first transplant at Cedars-Sinai as a first-year fellow. I never imagined pursuing a career in that direction. But after that first night, I was hooked.
"With cardiac surgery, you have to control the environment, remain calm and also recognize that you're on the clock. There's no time to mull over decisions or approaches. Most important, you have to remember that anything you do in that operating room can change someone's life."
What about that heart transplant "hooked you"?
DM: To me, the heart is the most beautiful part of our anatomy. It's almost like a textbook—it just makes sense. It's also the center of everything. If your heart is not working, all of your other organs shut down.
So, operating on the heart can be intimidating. But once you develop an understanding of the anatomy of the heart, the physiology makes sense. There are emergency surgeries on the heart and sometimes there's planning involved. In every case, when we do something to "fix" the heart, patients experience immediate results.
What is the most challenging part of the job?
DM: I love a good challenge, but with cardiac surgery, there's a constant low level of stress and intensity mixed with moments of unimaginable pressure. You have to control the environment, remain calm and also recognize that you're on the clock.
There's no time to mull over decisions or approaches. You have to think on your feet, make split-second decisions and be precise. Most important, you have to remember that anything you do in that operating room can change someone's life.
How do you manage the intensity of transplant medicine?
DM: As a transplant surgeon, I'm always on call—and I really like the challenge and intensity of the job. When you operate on someone, that's the most intimate relationship you can ever have with another human being.
If one of my patients isn't doing well, I have to be at that person's bedside. I can't just hand my patient off to the physician on call. With transplant medicine especially, we spend so much time with our patients that they become almost like family. Fortunately, my wife is a physician, so she gets it, but sometimes the couch or the guest room becomes my "on-call room."
How do you wind down when you're not in the operating room?
DM: I love to cook. I grew up in a big Italian family where food is a big deal. We had these huge home-cooked meals for 20 or 30 people every Sunday. I also worked in kitchens and restaurants clearing tables and as a waiter when I was a teenager. Then I took up cooking as a hobby in college and medical school.
So, for me, cooking is a stress release. It's almost like surgery in that there's a methodology to it. You don't have to follow a certain pathway or recipe—and the reward is worth the investment.
I make heart-healthy dishes like fish with fresh tomatoes, olives, capers, pine nuts, herbs and spices—and I love pasta, in moderation. One of my favorites: spaghetti with olive oil, anchovies, toasted bread crumbs, fresh tomatoes and pepperoncini.