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Lessons Learned: Stories from Women Physician Leaders

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Edited by Deborah M. Shlian, MD, MBA

Women physicians now comprise 50 percent or more of most U.S. medical school classes. Yet relatively few fill the most senior management positions within the healthcare system. At a time when most agree that the U.S. healthcare delivery system needs fundamental change, this book makes the case for talented women physician executives, articulate in the language of healthcare policy and business, to be among those leading the way.

In Lessons Learned: Stories from Women Physician Leaders, editor and author Deborah M. Shlian, MD, MBA, profiles 33 exceptional women physicians who have defied the odds. They share their personal and compelling stories — including obstacles and challenges faced in balancing work, family, and personal life — as their career paths take them from clinical medicine to leadership within government, academia, hospitals, provider groups, managed care, pharma, consulting, and entrepreneurial venture. The lessons they learned are relevant not only to women and do not apply just to healthcare—they are universal.

The stories (which are actually “case studies”) illustrate the trailblazing and creativity of a group of professional women who understand how to use processes and procedures to manage the complexities of large organizations and how to exercise leadership to motivate and lead others through change and uncertainty.

This anthology of the experiences and achievements of women physician leaders is a highly diverse, always inspiring, and content-rich resource that’s valuable whether a physician is just starting out or at a turning point in life and career.

Lessons Learned is a distinctive resource, addressing such topics as:

  • Career 0ptions after medical training.
  • Leadership opportunities beyond a traditional clinical setting.
  • Challenges for women in the workplace, discrimination, salary discrepancies, and different expectations.
  • Role models, mentorships, and sponsorships at the leadership level.
  • Work-life balance.

Readers of Lessons Learned will gain insight into real-life career journeys. By sharing their personal experiences—the challenges and the triumphs—these remarkable women empower each other and other women like them who are forging their own paths as physician leaders. There is a collective pride in what they have accomplished.

The diversity of career paths and personal circumstances offer a wide variety of experiences and dimensions of relatability difficult to find elsewhere. These women come from all walks of life, have faced and overcome many challenges, and demonstrated creativity in their career choices. As readers consider and reflect on each physician’s path, they are inspired to reflect on and explore their own.

These physician leaders are making a difference and inspiring other physicians to achieve higher levels of leadership, including positions with wide-ranging responsibilities.

Bonus #1:  Many chapters include a vignette about leadership and how to navigate the complex environment of an often male-dominated upper echelon work environment. It provides an opportunity to know there is a support system in a physician’s career journey. 

Bonus #2:  Virtually all the women in this book are willing to mentor and share advice. They can provide a valuable resource for young physicians looking for support. Contacts are available through the editor Dr. Deborah Shlian.

From the Foreword by Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, FACP, FAMWA, president of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA),

“From these women, we can all learn that that if there is not a path, we can create one. If the path is not well trodden, we must walk it and make it passable for the next generation. If the path is narrow, we must walk with others as we widen it. None of us is on this journey alone. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, beside those who are with us, and for those who come after us.”

About the Editor

Deborah M. Shlian, MD, MBA, is a board-certified Family Practitioner with more than three decades of clinical and management experience. Dr. Shlian has been able to balance work life with writing, producing several nonfiction articles, chapters, and books on medical management issues. She also writes fiction. All have won literary awards, including the Florida Book Award’s Gold Medal.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword: Physicians in Leadership
    Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, FACP, FAMWA
  • Chapter One
    An Overview
    By Deborah M. Shlian, MD, MBA


  • Chapter Two
    Sex and Science Drove My Life
    By Florence Haseltine, MD, PhD 
  • Chapter Three
    By Margaret (Maggi) Cary, MD, MBA, MPH
  • Chapter Four
    Trying to Make the World a Better Place
    By Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, MD 
  • Chapter Five
    Learning to Lead
    By Donna Parker, MD
  • Chapter Six
    Clinician to Environmental Activist
    By Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH
  • Chapter Seven
    Life Is Not a Straight Line
    By Kathleen Yaremchuk, MD, MSA 
  • Chapter Eight
    Life Is a Series of Useful Lessons
    By Patricia A. Gabow, MD
  • Chapter Nine
    Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken
    By Jayne McCormick, BSN, MD, MBA
  • Chapter Ten
    Finding the Right Niche
    By Elaine E. Batchlor, MD, MPH
  • Chapter Eleven
    Medical Manager: Was It Worth It?
    By Selma Harrison Calmes, MD
  • Chapter Twelve
    Every Physician Is a Leader
    By Asha Padmanabhan, MD
  • Chapter Thirteen
    A Journey with Passion and Purpose
    By Eneida O. Roldan, MD, MPH, MBA
  • Chapter Fourteen
    Having Fun While Trying to Have It All
    By Josephine Young, MD, MPH, MBA, FAAP
  • Chapter Fifteen
    Pearls Are a Woman’s Necktie
    By Grace Terrell, MD
  • Chapter Sixteen
    A Continuing Search for Challenge
    By Christine A. Petersen, MD, MBA
  • Chapter Seventeen
    A Managed Care Journey: Learning from Yourself and Others
    By Susan Elizabeth Ford, MD, MBA
  • Chapter Eighteen
    The “Other” Side
    By Deborah E. Hammond, MD
  • Chapter Nineteen
    From Great Mentorship to Finding My True Purpose — The Greatest Lesson of All
    By Traci Thompson MD, MBA, CPE
  • Chapter Twenty
    Medicine and Leadership: An Unplanned Journey
    By Eugenie Komives, MD
  • Chapter Twenty-One
    Enduring Leadership
    By Barbara Le Tourneau, MD, MBA
  • Chapter Twenty-Two
    Doing Well by Doing Good
    By Ellen Strahlman, MD, MHSc
  • Chapter Twenty-Three
    Led by Passion
    By Elizabeth Garner, MD, MPH
  • Chapter Twenty-Four
    Cardiothoracic Surgeon to Entrepreneur
    By Kathy E. Magliato, MD, MBA, FACS
  • Chapter Twenty-Five
    Creating Your Own Version of Success
    By Kelly Z. Sennholz, MD
  • Chapter Twenty-Six
    A Road Less Traveled
    by Deborah M. Shlian, MD, MBA
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven
    Six Lessons I Wish I Had Learned Earlier
    By Kathleen Goonan, MD
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight
    Persistence, Passion, and Resilience and How to Create Your Own Path
    By Laura Esserman, MD, MBA
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine
    Empowering Ourselves and Others
    By Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH
  • Chapter Thirty
    When the Detour Becomes the New Road
    By Eliza Chin, MD, MPH
  • Chapter Thirty-One
    You Are Worthy of Your Dreams
    by Ana Pujols-McKee, MD
  • Chapter Thirty-Two
    Life Has Taught Me to Strive for Purpose and Service
    By Daniela Sosa, MD
  • Chapter Thirty-Three
    Learning to Embrace Imposter Syndrome
    By Janelis Gonzalez, MD
  • Chapter Thirty-Four
    Coaching – What’s in It for You?
    By Margaret Cary, MD, MBA, MPH, PCC
  • Chapter Thirty-Five
    Final Words
    By Deborah M. Shlian, MD, MBA
  • Chapter Thirty-Six
    Related Reading


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