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Aurelie Merlo, MD joined the UNC Surgery’s Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery as an Assistant Professor. Read more about her training – including Residency at UNC and why she chose to stay: “We have an amazing team”.

What brought you to the Department of Surgery at UNC?

I did my training here for residency. When I was offered a job it was a no brainer for me to stay. I love the people here. We have an amazing team.

What inspired you to become a doctor/surgeon? Or Why do you do what you do?

I wanted to have a job that helps people in a very direct and tangible way and that’s why I pursued medicine. During medical school I fell in love with the operating room and specifically the cardiac OR. I love how the heart works – I think it’s the most beautiful organ in the body. Getting to do heart surgery is such a privilege and it fills me with awe every day. It never gets old.

How did you decide to pursue your current specialty? Has it met your expectations?

I knew I wanted to be a surgeon my first day in the operating room. I had the opportunity to be exposed to cardiac surgery and I loved it right away, but I wanted to make sure it was definitely what I wanted to do, because it’s a difficult field to pursue. I did a lot of rotations at several institutions and at the end I was convinced being a cardiac surgeon is the coolest job in the world – it’s extremely rewarding and you can really make an impact on patients’ lives. I was hooked and I never looked back!

Do you have any pre-surgery ritual?

I visualize the case in detail the night before when I am going to sleep.

What are your contributions to your specialty?

I’m working on it. But the most important thing to me is making my patients and their families comfortable and cared for during their surgery and recovery period.

If you could pick the brain of someone alive or dead, who would it be?

I think Dolly Parton is such an interesting and inspiring person. She has a beautiful sense of humanity to her and I would love to just sit down with her and chat. I think I would learn a lot about life.

What profession did you want to be when you were a kid?

For a long time I wanted to involved in humanitarian aid or a diplomat.

What are some goals you would like to achieve during your time at UNC Surgery?

I want to start a minimally invasive LVAD program. I received the Erle Peacock Jr. MD Award (a generous grant from the Peacock family in honor of UNC’s Founder and first Chief of UNC Plastic Surgery) to get this program implemented. I also hope we can build our LVAD and thoracic transplant programs.

What is one thing you wish your patients or coworkers knew about you before they meet you?

I think a sense of humor is important in medicine and life! I you start making a joke, I’ll follow along.

What are the failures you most cherish? What did you learn from them?

I played sports my whole life (soccer and then rowing). I was never the star of the team and never really won anything big; in fact I was on a lot of teams that would lose over and over and over again. I think I learned a lot in those experiences – how to be dogged and scrappy and never give up; and to always take pride in what you do, even the little things. I also learned a lot about how important team culture can be to achieve good outcomes.

If you give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?

Networking is important, don’t be so shy!

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I have a twin sister. She is a teacher.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

I love trying new foods with my spouse. I also like *trying* to stay fit and soccer.

How would you describe yourself in one word?


Is there anything else you’d like colleagues, patients/loved ones, etc. to know?

I want my patients to know that I can’t promise an outcome, but I can promise that I will try my absolute hardest and care for them like family.

To learn more about Dr. Merlo, visit her UNC Surgery faculty profile.