Alumni Profile: Dr. Mark Hoyer '81

Dr. Mark Hoyer ’81 enjoys a rewarding career as a pediatric cardiologist and Director of Cardiac Catheterization and Interventional Cardiology for Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

40783414924 774d25ac9e ZPhoto courtesy of IU Health/Mike Dickbernd

In this Q&A, he shares how his passion and drive for medicine was cemented during his undergraduate experience at Notre Dame and beyond.

When you were a student at Notre Dame, did you plan on going to medical school?

I always enjoyed math and science when I was in high school. I didn’t have any doctor figures in my life; my parents came from Germany—immigrants who landed in this country and had to make a new way for themselves. They wanted to provide a better opportunity for me, the next generation. My dad was main the reason I decided to pursue pre-professional studies. With his upbringing during the horrible social situation during World War II, he taught me the determination to make a complete difference.  Medicine seemed to be the right path for me to make that difference.

Describe you path to medical school, and ultimately, to your specialty in pediatric cardiology.

After graduating from Notre Dame, I took a Health Professions Scholarship with the U.S. Air Force and went to Ohio State University for medical school. The Air Force provided me a monthly stipend, and I had annual requirements to fulfill for the military. These included Officer Indoctrination School, as well as medical school  rotations at Air Force hospitals of my choosing for different specialties. It turned out to be a great experience.

I always enjoyed studying the heart. It was fascinating and made sense to me. When I was in my third year of medical school and did one of my clinical rotations in adult cardiology, I was really encouraged and supported by the staff and faculty. I earned an honors grade that month and was able to apply for a fourth-year elective in the cardiovascular teaching lab, where only one student per month could be accommodated. This proved invaluable, as it allowed me do a detailed analysis and evaluation of two to three patients per week. I could really take my time and take a detailed history, talk with them; examine them with all the modalities available. I then had to assimilate all of the data acquired through examination and testing to correlate the findings for each patient, and present it to two senior cardiology faculty. That was a unique experience.

For awhile, I was thinking about going into internal medicine, but my wife reminded me about how much I enjoyed my time in pediatrics. I am forever grateful for the decision to go into pediatric cardiology – it is so interesting because of the various types of cardiac birth defects, and it is so rewarding. It’s truly something completely different every day.

What is your favorite part of your work?

Because I have pursued a pathway toward intervention, the amazing thing is there’s almost always something you can do to help a child. There are now so many things we can do during cardiac catheterization procedures, including closure devices, stents, and implantable valves, to name a few, that we often can keep people from undergoing open heart surgery in many instances.  It keeps me wanting to move forward, because I’m always learning something, which is why I’ve been involved in industry-sponsored research trials for most of my career.

Is there a particular case that changed you?

One comes to mind that made me reflect on the impact of what I do. A little baby had a complication during a procedure we performed and did not survive. I realized I had to be forthright and honest with the family about what happened, because people definitely appreciate honesty…even if it seems blunt or to the point.

I remember talking with the family, who was very distraught, and going through the sequence of what happened. In the end I remember them thanking me for doing all that I could do. That was a humbling experience that had an impact on me, and a reminder of the privilege I am given to care for these patients. Even if I have done a procedure 50 times or 500 times, it’s always a family’s first time to bring their child to me. I never take that for granted.

What lessons from Notre Dame have you taken with you through your career?

When you’re young and in school, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. You are not completely sure what to expect for yourself in the future. I played tennis at Notre Dame for four years. Freshman year was tough academically, and I had lots of pressure from teammates. I had to learn how important it is to conduct yourself with dignity and respect for other people. I learned that succeeding was not so much about winning and losing, but more about how we conducted ourselves.

What advice would you give to students considering a career in medicine?

While the “flavor” and culture of medicine continues to change, it is still a tremendously rewarding field. To interact with people of all backgrounds is something you’ll always be exposed to, so expose yourself to different experiences and different people now. As a physician I see patients from all walks of life, and it is a blessing and a privilege to take care of everyone, regardless of their background. Always stay open and appreciative.