Linda Lavin, M.D.

Linda Lavin LeskaLinda Lavin Leska, M.D., ’72 has what her father called the “heart” of medicine: a desire to help people no matter what field or specialty one chooses.

Lavin’s father was a family physician who never doubted that his daughter would succeed. “He always said that a person, regardless of sex, race, creed or background, could be successful in medicine if he or she possessed that ‘heart,’” said Lavin. “I was lucky. My father was a great role model and I had an early introduction to medicine. I knew what I wanted to do when I was still very young.”

Lavin’s decision to enroll in Immaculata was influenced by academic and economic factors. Immaculata was known to graduate strong science majors; at a time when women made up less than 20 percent of medical school students, a majority of IC graduates who applied were admitted into competitive programs.

As the second oldest of 10 children, and the first to go to college, when Lavin was granted a scholarship to attend Immaculata, “That was very important,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a burden to my family.”

According to Lavin, “IC stretched me beyond my comfort zone.” She had never been away from home before, and she had graduated from West Philadelphia Catholic Girls High School where she was one of 600 students in her class alone.

“I could get lost–or lose myself–in the crowd,” said Lavin. “It was rather shocking to be in classes with only 10 people. I couldn’t hide there.”

Immersed in an entirely new environment with its focus on individualized attention, Lavin noted that, “I became more confident expressing myself and believing in myself. I valued the friendships I developed, not only with my peers, but with the faculty, as well.”

After graduating from Immaculata, Lavin attended Hahnemann Medical College, completed an internship in pathology at Medical College of Pennsylvania, and her residency in pathology at Hahnemann.

“It is ironic,” said Lavin, “but because I attended an all-women’s college, I became a stronger woman, more self-confident and able to face the sexism that existed at that time in medical school.

“Immaculata continued and reinforced the lessons my father instilled in me–that I would rise or fall based on my hard work, dedication, and confidence in myself as a person.”

Though Lavin originally wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a family physician, she was drawn to pathology while on surgical rotation where she was able to follow patients from pre-operative evaluation through to the pathologic study of tissues after surgery.

Intrigued by the scientific rigor and importance of pathology in medicine, Lavin also realized that a career as a pathologist would allow her to devote herself to an equally important priority–her family. Her oldest son, Timothy James, is now a tax attorney, and her youngest, Andrew Joseph, is in pharmacy studies. Her husband, Dr. Norbert Leska, is an internist with TriValley Primary Care.

Lavin has spent the last 30 years as a pathologist at Grand View Hospital, where she was associate director of pathology and clinical laboratories, as well as vice president of medical affairs. She is associate clinical professor of pathology at Drexel Medical College, where she has taught since 1980.

“It has been my greatest joy to see that more and more women are becoming physicians and succeeding,” she said.

Up until January of this year, Lavin split her time at Grand View between pathology and hospital administration.

“The autopsy is where I felt that I have really contributed,” said Lavin, “to families by telling them how their loved ones died, and to my colleagues by telling them the effects of their decisions and treatment choices.”

Hospital administration also proved rewarding when Lavin was able to guide colleagues along the road to providing patients with the best, safest, most cost-effective care, though administrative responsibilities presented their own challenges.

As patient safety officer, Lavin has been involved in emotional family meetings where a straight-forward apology was the only appropriate response; and some of the most difficult episodes in her career occurred when she “needed to act not as a colleague or peer,” but as the administrator she was hired to be.

“Out of each of these encounters, however,” said Lavin, “we as a hospital, and I as a person, have been able to improve some aspect of patient care and, hopefully, prevent a repeat of the event.”

For Lavin, ensuring that she always meets her own exacting standards is tempered by the understanding that humans are fallible.

“As physicians, we are expected to perform with 100 percent efficiency and precision,” she said, “but I have been fortunate throughout my career in that I was able to recognize when I needed help and I sought it, without any concern about my ego. I am stronger for acknowledging what I don’t know, and then learning–always learning each and every time.”

These days Lavin is concentrating attention on her newest love–her granddaughter–and her chosen specialty.

“Pathology is so beautiful,” said Lavin. “It involves a lot of investigation, almost like detective work. And it allows me to have a life with my family.

“Even though I don’t have patient contact,” she said. “I always remember that there is a patient at the end of what I’m doing. It’s very important for me to keep that front and center.”

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