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Constance K. Haan, M.D., M.S.: Cardiothoracic surgeon's generosity reaches around the world

By Lorrie DeFrank
October 2010

Constance K. Haan, M.D., M.S., is continuously mindful of her personal mission to make a difference, one patient at a time, in what she calls her global community. Villagers in impoverished African countries are healthier because of her humanitarian efforts. Closer to home, through her contributions of time, talent and finances, she enhances services at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, improves the health of its patients, and inspires the residents and fellows who benefit from her knowledge and commitment.

One of the few women cardiothoracic surgeons in the world, she is a professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, at UFCOM-J, where she also serves as senior associate dean for educational affairs and program director of the Patient Safety Fellowship. "I love a good operation," said Haan, who oversees the entire academic program, "but I view education as having a much broader effect on helping patients, as I get to help more than one at a time."

From slums in Khartoum to UF laboratories in Jacksonville, she challenges people to use their skills and abilities to help themselves and those in their care. For example, in Swaziland, where HIV-AIDS has devastated the South African country and left orphan children raising each other, Haan helped plant gardens so natives could depend on their own resources and not airdrops to survive.

"My approach to whatever I do is to help others find their strengths," Haan said.

At the UFCOM-J, Haan is a huge proponent of patient safety. Nationally, deaths from medical errors average a "jet crash a day," she said. "Patients assume they will be safe. I care very much about ensuring they are safe." She is hopeful that the new institutional Patient Safety Training Program in UF's Center for Simulation Education and Safety Research will significantly improve patient safety statistics in Northeast Florida. In the simulation lab, residents and fellows practice and observe procedures and see how errors might occur. "I truly believe this is one of the most important things we do for our patients," Haan said. "We are doing something proactively to make sure they are safe."

Financially, in addition to funding her humanitarian trips, Haan made a five-year monetary commitment to graduate medical education at the college of medicine. "This is a great place to give. No matter how small or large a gift, it can make a difference for our community, patients and students," she said. "There are a lot of dedicated people here who will put it to good use."

The daughter of sharecroppers in South Dakota, Haan gained the virtues of resourcefulness, selflessness and embracing diversity at an early age. She and her two younger brothers had 12 foster siblings, many of them Sioux from nearby Indian reservations. On her third birthday she proclaimed that she wanted to learn how to sew and be a doctor, predicting her future success as a highly regarded surgeon.

"A handful of educators made a profound difference in my life," said Haan, who, in turn, influences residents today through her academic leadership. A graduate of the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, she completed two residencies—surgery and thoracic surgery—and two fellowships—cardiothoracic surgery research and adult cardiac surgery. Haan has lectured around the world, been widely published in medical journals and conducted global research on cardiothoracic health and patient safety. She said she wrote her autobiographical book, "Living on Purpose: A Surgeon's Story," to inspire readers to "find their own purpose."

To Haan, learning, teaching, traveling and reading are pleasures as well as responsibilities. She also enjoys writing, playing the piano and collecting art—purchased from famous galleries and kiosks on dirty streets.

"People don't mind working hard if they know they can make a difference," Haan said, reflecting on her contributions to health care and humanity. "Any gift extends our ability to make a difference."

Information about giving opportunities at the UF College of Medicine is available through the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs.

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