Launching a medical career

Dr. Cyn­thia Fusco‚Äôs life at Aria Health is a uni­verse apart from her days as a space­craft en­gin­eer.


After ded­ic­at­ing eight years of her life en­gin­eer­ing space­craft for the gov­ern­ment and the private sec­tor, Cyn­thia Fusco quit the aerospace in­dustry. But it wasn’t be­cause she ran in­to a glass ceil­ing.

Rather, Fusco found a high­er call­ing.

In­stead of work­ing on the ef­fort to ex­plore out­er space, she’s fo­cused squarely on in­ner space, so to speak. Now a doc­tor of os­teo­path­ic medi­cine and a sur­geon, Fusco late last year was named dir­ect­or of the Trauma Pro­gram at North­east-based Aria Health.

“I liked math and I liked space and design­ing things,” Fusco said re­cently. “I al­ways en­joyed that as­pect of it, but I al­ways missed the people part of it. [Medi­cine] is al­ways a chal­lenge be­cause every­body is dif­fer­ent, even if it’s the same dia­gnos­is.”

Fusco is based at Aria’s Tor­res­dale Cam­pus, which op­er­ates one of Pennsylvania’s 12 des­ig­nated Level 2 Re­gion­al Re­source Trauma Cen­ters. It is among just a hand­ful of such fa­cil­it­ies in the Phil­adelphia area. The cen­ter draws pa­tients primar­ily from Lower Bucks County and North­east Philly.

“All oth­er com­munity hos­pit­als in the area send trauma pa­tients here,” Fusco said.


Gen­er­ally, trauma pa­tients are those with ser­i­ous or crit­ic­al sud­den in­jur­ies res­ult­ing from ac­ci­dents or vi­ol­ence. Car crashes of­ten res­ult in trauma cases, as do beat­ings and shoot­ings.

“That’s why trauma cen­ters were cre­ated. There’s a whole group of pa­tients that, if you get in­ter­ven­tion quickly enough, you can save them,” Fusco said.

“[At Aria,] we get a lot of blunt trauma, people who were in car ac­ci­dents and people who have fallen, es­pe­cially in the eld­erly pop­u­la­tion. Broken ribs in an older per­son can be life-threat­en­ing.”

Nat­ur­ally, Aria-Tor­res­dale’s emer­gency room is the heart of the trauma fa­cil­ity, but the ER in it­self doesn’t qual­i­fy as a cer­ti­fied Trauma Cen­ter.

“In or­der to be a Trauma Cen­ter, there are a lot of stand­ards you have to meet,” Fusco said. “You have to be avail­able twenty-four/sev­en with a sur­gic­al team on stand-by. And there’s a lot of lo­gist­ics in­volved. We have to make sure we meet all the guidelines and stand­ards at all times.

“You have sur­geons who spe­cial­ize in trauma. We have a core group along with some gen­er­al sur­geons.”

In ad­di­tion, the cen­ter must have an op­er­at­ing room team — in­clud­ing table nurses and an­es­thesi­olo­gists — on stand-by around the clock, along with sev­er­al sub-spe­cial­ist phys­i­cians like a neurosur­geon and or­tho­ped­ic sur­geon. And it must be cap­able of treat­ing more than one trauma pa­tient at a time.

The Pennsylvania Trauma Sys­tems Found­a­tion cer­ti­fies qual­i­fy­ing Trauma Cen­ters and in­spects the fa­cil­it­ies routinely.


As the dir­ect­or, Fusco is re­spons­ible for mak­ing sure that all hands are on deck. In a team­work sense, her med­ic­al ca­reer is not un­like her earli­er en­gin­eer­ing ca­reer.

She can trace her in­terest in both fields to her child­hood.

Her par­ents both hailed from North­ern New Jer­sey, but the fam­ily moved quite of­ten dur­ing Fusco’s youth. Her fath­er’s own en­gin­eer­ing ca­reer led the fam­ily from In­di­ana (where she was born) to Flor­ida, Alabama and New Jer­sey. They even­tu­ally settled in the Phil­adelphia area dur­ing her high school years.

Fusco spent many sum­mers with cous­ins in Long Beach Is­land. She has two liv­ing sis­ters. One is now an in­tens­ive care nurse, while the oth­er is a psy­cho­lo­gist and chief op­er­at­ing of­ficer at Friends Hos­pit­al in North­wood. A third sis­ter was an at­tor­ney and pub­lic de­fend­er be­fore dy­ing tra­gic­ally in a house fire.

When Fusco was a young child in Flor­ida, her fath­er was an elec­tric­al en­gin­eer in the na­tion’s space pro­gram and she watched many launches up close. She even got to meet many of the as­tro­nauts on a per­son­al level.

“I grew up in the hey­day of the space pro­gram in Co­coa Beach,” she said.

She al­ways had a soft spot for the nat­ur­al world, too.

“I al­ways like tak­ing care of things like an­im­als,” she said.


Years later, when it came time to de­cide on her course of study and ca­reer pro­spects, all of these many in­flu­ences came to mind. She chose the un­der­gradu­ate chem­istry pro­gram at Hood Col­lege in Fre­d­er­ick, Md.

After gradu­ation, she worked as a ma­ter­i­als en­gin­eer for Gen­er­al Elec­tric in Val­ley Forge. After four years, she joined a group of col­leagues from GE in mov­ing to RCA in Hight­stown, N.J. GE was primar­ily a na­tion­al de­fense con­tract­or, while RCA worked on private-sec­tor pro­jects.

“We ba­sic­ally de­veloped the tech­no­logy for satel­lites,” Fusco said. “You have to de­vel­op them and test them and come up with new com­bin­a­tions that work.”

Yet, after four years at RCA, even this most ex­treme, cut­ting-edge work had be­come re­l­at­ively mundane to Fusco.

“I had a good job and was do­ing well. Every­body thought I was nuts to go back to school,” she said, “es­pe­cially med­ic­al school, and nobody was writ­ing the [tu­ition] checks.”

That her fath­er had re­cently died from colon can­cer also drew her in­terest to medi­cine. She re-learned all of her old or­gan­ic chem­istry texts just to take the med school boards and earned ad­mis­sion in­to Phil­adelphia Col­lege of Os­teo­path­ic Medi­cine.

Her ma­tur­ity and ex­per­i­ence in the prac­tic­al world prob­ably made her a bet­ter stu­dent than she might oth­er­wise have been.

“I really wanted to be there and I had been work­ing, then I was back in school,” Fusco said. “I knew I wanted to go in­to medi­cine so bad. I knew I wouldn’t have any re­grets.”

And she hasn’t.


“I en­joy the chal­lenge of prob­lem solv­ing and ap­proach­ing things from dif­fer­ent view­points. And it’s chan­ging con­stantly. You’re al­ways go­ing to be learn­ing,” she said. “And I like the tech­nic­al as­pects of sur­gery.”

The work presents phys­ic­al chal­lenges, too. The hours are long and ir­reg­u­lar. One mo­ment, she may be sit­ting at her desk do­ing pa­per­work or mak­ing the rounds of post-op­er­at­ive pa­tients. Then the next, she’s scrub­bing up for the im­min­ent ar­rival of a stabbing vic­tim who may or may not sur­vive the am­bu­lance ride.

“We work on all parts of the body. Some­body can come in with a head in­jury, a punc­tured lung and a broken leg,” she said.

“You get kind of pumped up. You can go up to the op­er­at­ing room and be there for five hours and don’t even real­ize it. You do feel it af­ter­wards, but the ad­ren­aline kicks in at the time.”

Whatever the out­come, it will have pro­found af­fects on the pa­tient and those close to him or her.

“Emo­tion­ally, you try to de­tach your­self to func­tion. You go in­to a mech­an­ic­al mode. When I get more emo­tion­al is when I go talk to a fam­ily,” Fusco said.

“I like be­ing in touch with fam­il­ies, ex­plain­ing things. It’s rough for fam­il­ies on a day-to-day basis. I like help­ing them un­der­stand what’s go­ing on.” ••


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