Can I Really Be A Powerful Leader In Medicine?
The face of medicine has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Women now make up 30 percent of physicians, half of medical students, and a majority of advanced providers. However, their unique experiences, challenges, and perspectives are not always heard or understood.
That's why over the next few months, Perspectives will be bringing you the Women in Medicine series. These posts share the stories of trailblazing female providers from many specialties and backgrounds — all in their own words.
Today’s story comes from Barbara Victor, MD. She joined the Vituity Partnership in 1999 as an emergency medicine physician and has held Medical Directorships at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Medical Center, Garden Grove Hospital, and California Hospital. She's also served as a Vituity Regional Director.
Unlike many of her colleagues, Barbara didn't always dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, she came to medicine by way of a very different discipline. Here's her story.
My road to medicine wasn't a straight path. Unlike many of my physician peers, I didn't always dream of being a doctor.
In fact, many people are surprised to hear that I started my career as a full-time waitress. (Which is better preparation for medicine than most people realize!) From there, I worked to become a nurse, a doctor, and eventually a leader within my practice.
In today’s post, I’ll share how I’ve transformed my insecurity and curiosity into power and opportunity.
Starting with Nursing
When I finished high school, I told my mother, "I’m done with school."
It took me a year of waiting tables to realize I wanted to do something else with my life. High school had been so boring for me, but I'd excelled in science. I enrolled at Harbor Community College in Los Angeles, which had a great nursing program.
Nursing school taught me that I liked direct contact with patients, a variety of cases, and a fast-paced environment. A mentor who was an EMT encouraged me to pursue emergency nursing, and I began to learn everything I could about that specialty. It really did seem like an excellent fit.
But after graduating and becoming an RN, I discovered firsthand that emergency medicine is challenging to break into! When I had no luck landing a position in the ED, I took a job in orthopedics at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. But I definitely made sure to get to know all the ED nurses.
I like to think I hit it off with some of my ED nursing colleagues, but maybe they just got tired of my questions. They could see I was endlessly curious about emergency medicine. So when an ED nursing position opened, they invited me to apply. I ended up working as an ED nurse for nearly a decade.
Throughout that time, I never stopped learning. I took classes that interested me, learned new procedures, and even taught many of the medical interns.
My life was great, and I loved my job. But I wanted a new challenge.
Let’s Give This Doctor Thing a Go
When I was nearly 30 years old, I took a summer off to study for the MCAT. I thought, I’ll study, do my best, and see how I score.
There were times when I doubted myself. At the time, women were still a significant minority in medicine. Everyone around me was telling me, "You’re a nurse. You've got a great job. Stick with that."
I thought, Can I really do this?
My confidence ballooned when I did really well on the MCAT — way better than expected. I hadn't been a 4.0 student, but with my nursing background, I knew I had a lot to offer. I decided to go to Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, where the admissions committee was enthusiastic about the contributions I could make as slightly older med student.
Once I was accepted at Tufts, my husband and I had to figure out how we were going to move from Los Angeles to Boston. We even considered taking our relationship long distance so I could start school right away. We had a dog we had to find a new home for and a house to sell. And, my husband had to find a new job in Boston.
I kid you not: all in one day, a friend agreed to take our dog, our house sold, and my husband got a job. It was a sign that we were on the right track!
Finding My Way in Medicine
I loved Boston, but as med school wound down, I wanted to get back to my California roots. So after graduation, I accepted an emergency medicine residency at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, in Southern California, where I did half of my rotations at a ED.
One of my mentors was a Vituity Partner who I'd worked with back in my nursing days. I trusted his judgment, so when he encouraged me to join Vituity, I knew it was good advice.
I accepted my first Vituity job at the Inland Valley Medical Center ED. And, a year into my role, I was already craving more responsibility. With all of my leadership experience in nursing, I let my Regional Director know I was ready to advance.
Shortly after, I was offered a Medical Director role at Vituity's newest ED at Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center. I was curious and wanted to learn, so I said yes. It felt good to know I was really pushing myself and taking on a lot.
One of my most challenging times as a physician leader was when I was tasked with implementing Rapid Medical Evaluation® (RME). I was working at a small, standalone ED that had a constant flood of patients in the waiting room. We needed a process that would allow us to quickly speed patients to the right level of care.
RME involves redesigning front end ED processes so that less acute patients can be quickly identified and treated in a designated area. This keeps rooms and beds available for more acute patients. This video explains a little about the process:
About six months into RME, we lost some staff members. Because we didn't have enough manpower for RME, we had to temporarily revert to our previous process. A bit to my surprise, everyone became upset. They’d learned to appreciate RME and were frustrated when it was taken away.
I received a ton of criticism the next day. Some people probably expected to find me crying in my office. But instead, I did a happy dance. I realized I had done sometime positive for our hospital, staff, and patients, and that RME was here to stay. After that, there was no more talk of the old way being the better way.
What I’ve Learned as a Physician Leader
One of the most joyful parts of medical leadership has been the opportunity to mentor newer providers. Some of the advice I share with them:
- Doing what’s best for the patient is what matters. That perspective has helped me in challenging times.
- As a leader, I’ve learned that if things fail, it’s my fault. If they succeed, it’s a success for everyone involved.
- It's OK to have insecurities. We all feel self-doubt. Even if you're not confident in your abilities, go for it anyway. Failure is sometimes our best teacher.
- In my career, I’ve rarely gone wrong by following my passion and curiosity. Enjoy your work in the present moment, but always have an ear out for the next opportunity.
- I surround myself with smart people who are excited about learning and focused always on helping the patient.
I’ve given a lot to Vituity, but I’ve also gotten a lot back. That’s how Vituity works. If you’re curious, show enthusiasm, and say yes to opportunities, you'll gain a lot. Say yes. It’s worth it!