How to Find Professional Success and Personal Joy 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 Tiffany Hackett, MD. Tiffany has 17 years of experience as an emergency medicine physician and 10 years of experience with Vituity. She serves as Vituity’s Director of Leadership and Development, founded Vituity Women in Medicine (CWIM), and is a former Medical Director. She’s also a wife and mother of two. Talk about doing it all!
We asked Tiffany to share how she’s balanced the challenges of personal and professional life and how Vituity's helped her earn leadership success. Here's her story.
What do I want to be when I grow up?
I didn’t always think I wanted to be a doctor. No one in my family is in healthcare.
When I was a little girl, I thought I wanted to be an actress. But looking back, I realize I really had no idea what I wanted to be. I'm the daughter of a teacher-turned-lawyer and an antique dealer. So I had teaching, advocacy, and business in my blood.
As a kid, I’d always loved science. So when I went to college, I sort of fell into being premed.
For me, medicine is applied science. You use your science brain and background to figure things out. But there’s also that human element where you're able to help people. It’s not a combination I went out looking for. But the more I experienced it, the more it drew me in.
In undergrad, I took the MCAT and applied for medical schools like my premed peers. And, what do you know, I was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania.
At that time, I was really excited but also felt really burnt out. I needed a break from school, so I decided to take a year off.
Taking a Step Back
For my gap year, I got a job teaching in Venezuela. (You'll see as this story goes on that I keep coming back to teaching. I guess education is in my blood.)
Anyway, just two weeks before school was scheduled to start, the head science teacher quit. So I (with my science degree and minimal teaching experience) was offered the job. In addition to leading our department, I taught biology, chemistry, physical science, and life science to 7th through 10th graders.
Was it all a bit much? Definitely! But it was also a lot of fun. Thankfully, we had a good community of teachers who supported me through it all. I felt like I was really able to enjoy that year and take it all in, because my next step — medical school back in the States – was already settled.
The Business of Medicine
When I started medical school a year later, I decided to take advantage of Penn Med's five-year combined MBA-MD program. I realized if I wanted to have an influence, I had to understand how medicine and business worked together. And Penn's Wharton School of Business is one of the best.
Combining degrees was definitely a challenge but a lot of fun too. We had a really tight group of medical school friends who studied together but also enjoyed travelling, skiing, and going out. I was elected social chair of the business school and was in charge of event planning. Wharton had 1,600 students, so that kept me busy!
But after five years on the East Coast, I was sick of the cold winters. So I started looking at residency programs in my home state of California.
Then, in my last year of school, I met the man who is now my husband. He was studying business at Wharton. And he was still a year from graduating.
Early on, he asked me to stay in Philadelphia for one more year while he finished school. I'll admit I was really torn. I thought, I can’t change my whole life for a boy, right?
I knew California was where I wanted to be, so I applied exclusively to emergency medicine residencies there. And that's when fate intervened. I matched with my first choice program, which covered post-graduate years 2–4 (PGY 2-4).
This meant I had to complete a one-year medical internship before residency. And the good news was that I could do it anywhere in the country! I wouldn't have to choose between my dream residency and my new-but-promising relationship.
My boyfriend was traveling when I got the news. I called his hotel in Mexico, but he'd gone out. So I had the clerk write down my message to give to him. And to this day, he still carries that crumpled up piece of paper around in his wallet.
For internship, I chose a community-based program in Philadelphia that focused on health education. It turned out to be a fantastic experience that really sharpened my teaching and clinical skills. I'd never have had that experience if I'd gone back to California and straight into emergency medicine residency. So sticking around Philadelphia paid off in more ways than one!
Reflections on Leadership Success
It’s been a challenging and exciting journey to get where I am today. Fortunately, I landed one of my first jobs post-residency with Vituity. The position was at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose. I was thrilled to be working as an emergency physician in my hometown. (Believe it or not, I was actually born at Good Samaritan.)
With Vituity, I’ve been able to take on many leadership opportunities relatively early. Founding the CWIM Forum and working on the CME Committee have both been really rewarding. I enjoy helping other women in medicine learn how to improve their practice and achieve their career goals. I think it definitely feeds the teacher in me.
I love my job, but I don’t want it to be my whole life. And as an organization, Vituity really gets that. There are so many of us in leadership roles that have balance and are able to be there for our families. Just today, I’m helping out in my fifth grader’s science class. (Teaching again!)
I’m happy and grateful that Vituity lets me have time for myself and my family. At the same time, as a woman in medicine, Vituity's given me the resources to get where I want professionally. The Partnership encourages early and continuous growth as a leader, which is still not easy to find as a woman in medicine.
The more encouragement women leaders get, the more women leaders there will be. And Vituity is leading the charge.