Jun 13, 2023
Q&A with TRK
Professor of Medicine
Undergraduate: California State University, BA Chemistry, 1984
MD: Cornell University College of Medicine (now Weill College of Medicine at Cornell), 1988
Residency: University Hospitals of Cleveland, Internal Medicine, 1991
Why did you want to become a doctor?
I did not realize that medicine was for me until my junior year of college. As a first-generation college student, just getting into college was the plan. I was involved in a program through AHEC (Area Health Education Center) in high school that exposed me to healthcare. At the time, I only considered the nursing home training as I thought it would help pay my way in college as it was a job that I could work nights and weekends. What it did was to expose me to healthcare as a potential career. I entered college thinking about theater, law, and nursing. I worked at McDonald’s initially to pay my way and realized that to get into nursing I needed to volunteer in some capacity but because I needed to work, I looked for some position that would allow me to do both, and I found a position at a local hospital as an admitting clerk. Eventually I moved to the emergency department. It was in the ED that one of the nurses took me under his wing and encouraged me to consider medical school. He would point out physicians to me and tell me things like, “You are as smart as he is, don’t limit yourself. Go to medical school!” The opportunity to be able to figure out problems, diseases, work with people to have healthier lives, and combine it with the science I enjoyed…it was a perfect match.
Tell us about your years in practice.
Realizing early on that teaching and program development was an integral part of my love of medicine, I have mostly been a clinician educator since completing residency. When practicing general internal medicine, one goes into the exam room with their brain and their stethoscope and just has to figure it out! I love that. My clinical time was both inpatient and outpatient and included adolescent medicine so I could see patients starting at the age of 12. In 2007 when I joined the faculty in Indiana, there was a need to have an internist work with adults with eating disorders, so for many years that was 40% of my clinical time. Along the way, I served as an associate program director of the internal medicine residency program, chief physician executive for outpatient programs, and practice lead for the clinical faculty practice.
Why did you get into teaching medicine?
Having fabulous mentors helped me to realize how impactful teaching can be. Discussing my future with one of my mentors, I realized that while I love treating patients and educating them, there is such satisfaction that comes from working with students and residents as they then go on to work with patients and families. The impact in that setting is even greater. Watching a student or a resident go through a case, considering different options, coming to conclusions….it is such a joy!
A lot of your focus is on gender and inequality in medicine. Why do these topics mean so much to you?
We all contribute to this world, though we have not all had the same opportunities. When we recognize our own uniqueness, we realize how they influence our interactions. As we come to a better understanding of ourselves, we begin to see the special aspects of others and take their own experiences into account. As physicians, we have to keep an open mind so that we can make appropriate decisions on clinical care.
My parents were influential in my life. They encouraged us to “leave a place better than when you arrived”, and we always looked for ways to give to others. Even though we did not have much, we knew that we were blessed, and others could be in need. I appreciate the values my parents and family instilled in us. By lifting up others, we all rise!
And why should these topics be important to others as well?
Ensuring equity for others does not mean we get less. It is not a pie! When others have opportunities to succeed, we all benefit. I recognize that I was fortunate to go to college in a state that valued higher education. My state school was tuition free. It meant I could pay for it while working in fast food and that two more years of college, did not create significant debt.
We should all want to be the one that helped others to succeed. In medicine, being open about possible problems and diagnoses means that we won’t miss an opportunity to make a difference. We want to be that physician who listens, who is careful in our patient exams, who takes the time to understand where the patient is coming from. We won’t always do it right, but we will put forth our best, every time.
You have served as AMWA president twice (2015-2016 and 2022-2023). What did you accomplish when serving as AMWA president?
AMWA is one of the oldest medical organizations, and the focus has grown over time. As more women join the physician workforce, there are so many areas to be involved in. We have put forth leadership programs for physicians and graduated our 2nd class this year along with the Ignite student coaching program.
Reproductive health became a very urgent issue during my term, and AMWA worked with Doctors for American to create a Reproductive Health Coalition which includes over 150 million healthcare professionals across the country.
AMWA engages with the White House Office of Engagement for Nutrition, Women’s Health, and Workforce committees. Representing AMWA at the White House and being an active participant in the discussions has expanded the understanding of the importance of women in each of these areas.
You recently joined the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative with ACOG. What will this entail?
Women’s health includes the whole person and takes into consideration how social and environmental issues contribute to one’s health. On behalf of the American Medical Association, I represent the AMA to ACOG and plan to continue to advocate for all aspects of women’s health. Keeping our communities healthy and preventing disease and injury is a goal of mine.
You are a busy person! Are you part of any other boards and organizations?
I try to be of use wherever I can! Currently, I remain very active in AMWA and serve as the Advocacy Pillar Lead. I am on the governing council for the Minority Affairs Section of the American Medical Association, and on the board of the College of American Pathologists Foundation.
With our campus, I am active with the Group on Women in Medicine and Science and serve as a faculty advisor for any of the student groups that ask!
What are some of your most recent awards and accomplishments?
One of my favorites was being named Educator of the Year by the Class of 2025 last year! I take great pride in working with our students and residents creating abstracts, posters, and presentations. Having Josh Siar win 1st place last year at the SGIM and Shadman Ibnamasud who won the MAA essay contest last year, plus all of those who were able to create projects, abstracts, articles, posters….these are the accomplishments that I treasure the most!
What advice would you give to someone pursuing medicine?
A career in medicine is a choice not to be taken lightly. It is hard. You give up a lot early on, and it is one of the hardest things to do, but the rewards are amazing! With an MD after your name, the potential is unlimited. You have a responsibility and ability to have such an impact on the individual patient, their family, and the community. With your degree, you can pivot and follow your passion as it leads you to areas you never dreamed of. My kids call me the “doctor pusher” because I am always trying to encourage a career in medicine.