Influential Physicians: Women Doctors who are making a difference

Over the years women have influenced and enhanced the practice of medicine, though there was a time when women doctors were a rarity. Today half of the students enrolled in medical schools are women. As the number of women physicians continues to grow, so does their level of influence in the communities in which they live and work.

In the early years of medicine, doctors were in the role of primary caregiver and decision maker for their patients. The progress of time finds women doctors making positive changes in today’s health care system. These changes have included an increased focus on making the profession more family friendly, coupled with better patient communication skills. The new partnership between patients and their doctors can be attributed in part to women in the profession.

The women profiled here provide an intriguing glimpse into the lives of some of the doctors who are making a difference. Every experience is unique, yet they do have some shared aspects in their chosen profession.

Dr. Dacia Napier
-Diagnostic Radiologist

Growing up in Corpus Christi, Dacia Napier was constantly exposed to the world of medicine. Her physician father would bring home slides of surgeries he’d performed to share with the family. The exposure to medicine and blood never fazed her but created a profound appreciation for the health care profession. As with most young people, she wasn’t sure what field she would embark upon for a career. Intrigued with the science of art and the medical field, Napier decided to obtain a double major in chemistry and art history at Rice University. While there, she met and married her husband. In 1997, she entered medical school at the University of Texas at Houston. She went on to complete her residency and fellowship at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. After serving on staff at UTHSCSA, she went into private practice.

In her field of diagnostic radiology, Dr. Napier reads X-rays, CAT scans, MRIs and anything to do with imaging. She even performs nonsurgical biopsies of suspicious areas through ultrasound and CT. Her day typically begins around 7 a.m. at North Central Baptist Hospital, where she serves as the medical director of the radiology department. Her daily rounds extend to multiple Vanguard* Imaging Centers and other local hospitals — including Downtown Baptist, Southeast Baptist, Northeast Baptist and North Central Baptist. (*Vanguard is the parent company of the Baptist Health System.) Throughout the day she interprets hundreds of imaging films from the emergency room and the in- and outpatient population. With today’s technology the films are mainly computerized, enabling physicians to present faster, more efficient diagnoses. Unfortunately, several of the images she reads during the day indicate that the patients may not live very long or have a positive quality of life. While she really enjoys patient contact, Dr. Napier finds sharing difficult news to be consistently challenging.

Happier interactions occur when she’s conducting a study or real-time procedures, such as X-rays or biopsies, on patients. As a diagnostic radiologist, she doesn’t get to see many patients, so she is genuinely happy to meet them — so much so that they often comment about the warm welcome they receive. Her goal is to be home by 6 p.m. each day so she can see her children before they go to bed. Then she spends time on the computer in her role as president of M&S Imaging/Radiology, San Antonio’s second-largest radiology practice. While Dr. Napier heavily relies on her visual acuity and attention to detail, she really feels communication has become the most important aspect of her job. “We have to get out of the dark room and discuss important life-changing issues with patients,” she says. “We’re a consulting service and rely on other physicians to request our service.” In past decades radiology has been dependent on the fact that physicians come to radiologists for their services. “Because it has become such a competitive field, we have to make sure both patients and physicians alike understand the consulting and radiology services we provide,” she says. Because she is a woman, Dr. Napier finds women patients gravitate toward her. Most women become very concerned when a breast biopsy is required. With the ability to provide immediate results, she has the power to assuage their feelings of anxiety. “If I’m giving bad news,” she reflects, “it is better to find out sooner than later.” When she is not at work, Dr. Napier can be found spending time with her children. Her 7-year-old son, Cade, and 4-year-old daughter, Avery, keep her grounded. Currently her son is teaching her how to play chess while she does a lot of role-playing with Avery — from playing a princess cowgirl to a Viking.

“My support network includes technologists, nurses, nannies and my husband,” Dr. Napier says. “I couldn’t keep all the balls in the air without my strong support system. If it were just me, the balls would all be on the ground.” When asked what she wants others to know about the medical profession, she says that over several decades the public’s perception has changed, with the media making health care a public enemy. But that is a misnomer, she says, as everyone she knows in medicine is committed to making patients’ lives better. As a society, we need not to lose sight that the basis for health care is to help people, she believes.

Dr. Celyna Delgado

Austin native Celyna Delgado’s first career was as a pharmacist. This field seemed like a natural path to follow since four other family members were pharmacists. As a graduate of the University of Texas College of Pharmacy in Austin, where her father taught for 42 years, she truly enjoyed dispensing pharmaceutical drugs. While still pursuing her pharmaceutical career, she worked at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston for several years. There her interest in primary care and internal medicine was solidified as she helped others learn about various medicines. Her passion was soon found in surgical specialties that allowed her to integrate surgery with primary care. Following this new direction, Dr. Delgado earned her medical degree from the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio in 1987. She then completed her residency at Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans.

She opened her first practice in Key West, Fla. While she found it a great place to be, the transitional and tourist climate made establishing long-term roots difficult. Three years later, she relocated to San Antonio to be near her Texas family. She joined the Institute for Women’s Health in 1994 and has been there ever since. Being part of the largest OB-GYN practice in the area, which treats patients ranging in age from 13 to 80, she finds no days to be routine. “I enjoy delivering babies and performing surgery,” says Dr. Delgado. “I also appreciate the opportunity to interact with the different people who come into the office each day. It’s interesting to see everyone react to situations and perceive similar situations differently.” Communication and problem-solving skills help her explain things so patients can easily understand. “The difficulty comes when patients want us to make decisions for them,” she explains. “By presenting them with choices, I try to guide patients’ decisions based upon my experience and expertise.” Sharing information with patients who have a new diagnosis of cancer or pregnancy difficulties can be challenging. Yet she has learned not to internalize. “The hardest lesson I’ve learned is that being a doctor is really just part of who I am,” she reflects. “Initially I took everything about my job and patients personally. But I realized that if I was going to stay in the profession for more than five years, I needed to learn to put my family first and enjoy life while strengthening my skills as a doctor.”

Dr. Delgado’s accomplishments and responsibilities are numerous. In addition to being partner at the Institute for Women’s Health, she is a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Texas Medical Association, the Bexar County Medical Society, the San Antonio OB/GYN Society and the Mexican-American Physicians Association. Most people don’t realize it, but this accomplished doctor, who is also a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has a passion for travel and art history. “If I won the lottery, I would love to go to school and take all the classes I never took before and travel the world while exploring museums,” she says. Yet a recent addition to her life might modify this dream even if she did have the opportunity to pursue it. Nine months ago she adopted her 4- year-old daughter after spending three weeks in China. Dr. Delgado’s free time is now spent with her daughter, walking their three Chihuahuas and playing in sprinklers or with puzzles. With this new passion, she is motivated to do the best she can as a doctor each day and get home so she can play with her daughter.

Dr. Dana Reiss
-Bariatric and general surgeon

At the age of 3, Dana Reiss told her mother she wanted to be a maid when she grew up. Two years later she determined becoming a doctor was the way to go. In elementary school Reiss developed a friendship with a veterinarian who was allowed to get her out of school to assist with interesting cases. This experience gave her a desire to become a vet. In high school, Reiss determined that most people are not always as responsible for their pet’s care as they are for their own. This realization solidified a desire to become a physician. After completing her undergraduate work at Emory University in Atlanta, she attended medical school at the Medical College of Georgia. Dr. Reiss went on to complete her residency at the University of South Alabama and a fellowship in minimally invasive surgery and laparoscopy at the University of Virginia. It was here that Dr. John Pilcher and Dr. Paul Selinkoff recruited her to San Antonio to join their practice, Surgical Associates of San Antonio. As a bariatric surgeon, she has witnessed miracles and participated in radical life changes. Several of her patients couldn’t conceive until after surgery as their weight kept them from procreating. “One patient has now brought three children into the world after recovering from bariatric surgery,” she comments happily. “It is so rewarding to watch my patients go on to live full and productive lives.”

Another rewarding experience was when Dr. Reiss performed bariatric surgery on an entire family. Collectively the mother, father and daughter lost 550 pounds. Now years later, the daughter has married and conceived her first child. And the father consistently speaks to bariatric patients at SAOSA’s educational seminars. While the results produce satisfaction, she finds daily patient interactions to be the most gratifying. “Patient communication is the key,” she says. “It is important to get to the bottom of what patients are really trying to say and make sure you understand where they are coming from so you can help them move forward.” Dr. Reiss confides that most people think bariatric medicine is a type of magic pill. Yet this potentially risky surgery really should be a last resort. “Those who approach bariatric surgery with the right mindset and are ready for it realize that it will be a useful tool to help them with the rest of their lives,” she says. “The surgery is only the beginning, as successful patients regularly attend support groups and visit us every year after the procedure.”

If she weren’t a physician or a vet, Dr. Reiss would be a horse trainer. Horses were a big part of her life before her residency. She began riding at age 7, when her father was stationed in Germany. Accomplished in dressage, she worked through college as a trainer and groom. Akin to her pursuits in the medical field, she enjoys the discipline found in the equestrian world, as both fields provide the opportunity to move forward personally while learning and improving techniques.

Dr. Amy Lang
-Medical Oncologist

As an English major at Duke University, Amy Lang wanted to write children’s books for a living. In fact, while science was easy for her to understand, she found it to be very dry until one summer when she worked with kids and followed around an oncologist. This experience helped her learn an appreciation for the field she would go on to pursue. After obtaining her medical degree at UT Health Science Center, she completed her residency at Baylor University, where she had phenomenal mentors who helped develop her love for medicine and oncology. And the writings of surgical oncologist Bernie Siegel helped her begin thinking about how complex patients’ lives can be. Embracing Dr. Siegel’s movement to integrate guided imagery as a cancer treatment, Dr. Lang was pulled into the field of oncology. Sixteen years later, she still can’t imagine another field that would be as rewarding. “Caring for people who have been diagnosed with cancer can be gratifying,” she says. “To help ease their fears and give hope while watching them heal, recover and smile again is a wonderful process to be involved in.”

During office visits, she sometimes has difficult conversations and spends a good deal of time discussing end-of-life issues or how to live with a disease. While Dr. Lang finds her practice generally consists of patients who will be cured, the reality is that some will not. Thus there is a fine balance between understanding science and art. To treat cancer well, one must understand data and know the history of the evolution of a treatment for particular diseases. This is where experience becomes invaluable as one learns to be intuitive about which treatments will work best. But Dr. Lang finds the most important part of being a doctor is not taught in med school – the art of practicing medicine. “One of the challenges of trying to be a good doctor is going beyond science and learning how to gain a patient’s trust,” she says. “We really have to learn how to stop talking and listen. It takes a lot more time, but patients will tell you what is wrong with them if you listen to them.”
When patients are diagnosed with cancer, they are understandably scared and don’t know what it means to them. She has learned that patients rely on their oncologist to tell them what to expect and what is coming. Dr. Lang realizes that sometimes patients need her to be their cheerleader and help push them through treatments that are good for them. “And sometimes, near the end of the road, they need you to tell them when it is time to stop,” she says.

One patient had widely advanced cancer when she finally came to see Dr. Lang. During their initial encounter, the patient said she wanted hospice to be called in, as she didn’t want to put her family through the trials of cancer treatment. Dr. Lang spent a great deal of time listening to the women and eventually helped her understand that she could take easy drugs that would give her a positive quality of life. Several months later, in November, her patient asked if Dr. Lang could help her live through the Christmas holidays. Then she asked Dr. Lang to help her live to see her granddaughter graduate from high school in March. The next milestone the patient wanted to survive was the birth of another grandchild. And so the story went for many years until she ultimately passed away. “This patient experienced a wonderful quality of life that she wouldn’t have had otherwise,” she reflects. This illustrates her grasp of the art of medicine. “I’ve learned not to take life for granted and to live everyday as if life is precious,” she reveals. “I try to approach each day as an opportunity to make that day mean something. My kids and husband are part of the equation that makes life worthwhile.” Dr. Lang finds her marriage to be a partnership that helps her successfully juggle many responsibilities. In addition to being a mother to 11-year-old Emily and 7-year-old Alli, she has embarked upon a joint venture to create an integrated cancer center.

This new 160,000-square-foot facility, created by the South Texas Oncology and Hematology group and slated to open in 2008, will treat the whole patient. The center will provide traditional cancer treatments as well as a wellness center for anyone in the area who has cancer. The building will also house one of the largest stage one cancer research teams in the world — radiation oncology, diagnostic radiology, guided imagery classes, psychology, nutritional counseling and massage therapy.
Through it all, Dr. Lang has experienced a lot of wonderful opportunities to make a difference in peoples’ lives. But a recent experience said it all. Her daughter Emily accompanied her to the hospital to discharge a patient, and afterwards she said, “Mom, I’m really proud of you.”

Dr. Martha A. Medrano
-Director of the Hispanic Center of Excellence

In 1981 Dr. Martha Medrano became the first member of her family to enter the field of medicine when she graduated from UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Originally a psychology major, she was strongly encouraged by an undergraduate advisor to go to medical school. “I took his advice, and looking back, I know it was the best advice I ever received,” she reflects. Her interest in medicine was galvanized while studying the histopathology of parasites in a work study program. By considering the reactions of animal models, she began to understand what treatments needed to be created for humans who might become exposed to particular parasites. After obtaining her medical degree, Dr. Medrano completed her residency in pediatrics and psychiatry at UTHSCSA. She went on to earn a master’s degree in public health from UTHSC, Houston, in 1996. Throughout her 26-year career, Dr. Medrano has become world renowned for her many accomplishments. Currently she is the associate dean of continuing medical education, the director of the Medical Hispanic Center of Excellence, co-director of the National Center of Excellence for Women’s Health and a professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and family and community medicine at UTHSC, San Antonio. While her positions mainly involve administration and teaching, she enjoys the opportunity to do creative problem solving. A typical 12-hour workday can include everything from writing curricula to mentoring faculty and students. She also does a significant amount of traveling with physicians as they go around the country to educate and build awareness about cultural disparities and innovative educational practices. Throughout her busy work life, Dr. Medrano relies heavily on building and maintaining relationships with people. This entails communicating, listening and respecting other points of view. “I seek out new opportunities to learn by listening and observing superiors and colleagues in leadership positions,” she explains. “I also take time for self-reflection and self-assessment regarding what I really do and do not know.”

When she’s not working her day job(s), she can be found fulfilling her role as vice president for Vito Enterprises, Inc. She and her husband have owned this company, which builds wine cellars and vaults for wine collectors, since 1984. Admittedly a workaholic, she also serves on the Head Start policy committee for the City of San Antonio and the KLRN Women’s Health Conference steering committee. “In my career, meeting people from diverse professions and building networks has been invaluable,” Dr. Medrano says. “I believe this is how my work and community service symbiotically work together.” One day she feels she will be involved in child psychology again. Early in her career she worked with Dr. Fernando Guerra, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, in the maternal substance abuse program. This program allowed her to address substance abuse with very young children and their parents. “My varied experiences have made being in the field of medicine extremely rewarding,” she says. “I’ve had so many opportunities. I have cared for individual patients, developed medical education programs, established a pipeline of students to pursue a career in medicine and assured that physicians have high-quality learning experiences via continuing medical education programs.” Obviously, the impact she has made on the field of medicine runs the gamut and will continue to grow for years to come.

Author: Joy Capps Powell

Photographer: Robert French

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