As a molecular physiology and biophysics doctoral student at Vanderbilt, Dr. Constance Mobley never had designs on practicing medicine. Her passions were in the lab. The young scholar was infinitely more interested in clinical research.
“I wanted to discover how to cure everything in the world,” she says. “I was always interested in science, and I wanted to win a Nobel Prize.”
But Mobley’s endless curiosity and yen for research ultimately were limiting: “At some point you want to know, How does this help people? That’s the part that was missing, and that’s why I became interested in medicine.”
Today, Mobley, an acute-care surgeon and organ transplant specialist, is one of just 14 female abdominal transplant surgeons (liver, kidneys, pancreas and small bowels) of color in the United States. She specializes in liver transplants, having performed 500 procedures since joining Houston Methodist Hospital in 2014. The hospital’s transplant program is ranked No. 6 in the country and first in its region. In January, Mobley was promoted to director of the hospital’s surgical and liver intensive care unit.
Her work, especially with the liver, has turned out to be particularly gratifying.
“When it comes down to it, what I do is really about helping people,” Mobley says. “That’s part of the reason I was drawn to transplant in particular. You can have people who, in liver failure, can be very sick in the ICU and nearing death, and with one operation it can turn their lives around.”
“You can have people who, in liver failure, can be very sick in the ICU and nearing death, and with one operation it can turn their lives around.”
Along with Velma Scantlebury, the country’s first black female transplant surgeon, Mobley started a Facebook page that serves as a virtual gathering place for the other dozen African American surgeons. Mobley says she hopes she can be a role model for women of color who want to follow in her footsteps.
Meanwhile, she is conducting trials that are attempting to lengthen the time that a patient’s liver can be used before requiring a transplant. “Possibly improving the condition of the organ makes a successful transplant more likely,” Mobley says.
During medical school Mobley was particularly influenced by Dr. John Tarpley, BA’66, MD’70, professor of surgery, emeritus. On the science side, she gives plaudits to Roger Chalkley, senior associate dean for biomedical research, education and training, and Linda Sealy, associate professor of molecular physiology and biophysics.
“They supported me and encouraged me,” Mobley says. “Dr. Tarpley never gave me any indication that I couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do.”
Mobley makes annual gifts to Vanderbilt, and she is a member of the chancellor’s ’Dores of Distinction Alumni Advisory Board, whose members engage with the university’s leadership to consider the future of Vanderbilt. She recently was a member of the search committee for Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion.
She is bullish on her alma mater.
“Vanderbilt is the foundation for everything that I’ve done,” Mobley says. “Without the education and the opportunities that I got there, there’s just no way I would be where I am today. Vanderbilt keeps getting better and better every year. It’s truly amazing to watch.”