Three Professionals Share Their Insights
People often forget that medicine is indeed a business. And yet the profession is filled by caring, giving individuals who spend years of their lives in school, in training, in internships, all to cure us and care for us. Balancing care and the bottom line is indeed a challenge. But the multi-faceted medical community in San Antonio is filled with dynamic women making an impact patient by patient, day by day. To gain a glimpse into San Antonio’s medical community, we sat down with three women working in very different fields in medicine. Yet there’s more in common about what they face every day, than not.
Karen M. Carcamo, MD, MPH, is a Diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who has practiced with Institute for Women’s Health for 20 years. “We wear a lot more hats than being a doctor. I think you need to have a lot more business skills to make it as a physician. That’s what’s changed for doctors who want to stay in private practice,” she explains, but notes, “You always have to have that emphasis on quality, no matter what you do, because you’ve got to take care of everybody like they’re someone in your family, or you shouldn’t be in business.”
That connection to patients and the importance of patient care fuels Dr. Carcamo. “I think it’s so amazing that we [OB-GYN] get to participate in some really monumental parts of people’s lives, very personal parts of people’s lives that they probably don’t even talk with their families about. Having a child is really a miracle. I think if you forget that, then you’ve lost your mission.”
Barbara Saatkamp Taylor, MD, MS Epidemiology, Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and Assistant Dean for the MD/MPH Program at UT Health San Antonio, is also passionate about patient relationships. Dr. Taylor is a primary care physician, providing treatment for patients living with infectious diseases in San Antonio. “I love that I get to know people. One of the great things about being a primary care doctor is you get to see people grow up or go through life and get married or have grandkids. It really is a privilege to being that close to people.”
It’s little surprise that Tommye Austin, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive at University Health System, sees patient care as the center of everything they do. “You might be taking care of a prince or you might taking care of a homeless person from Haven for Hope. Unless you have that empathy or compassion to help people, no matter what their walk of life, then you won’t be successful at University [Health System] or any hospital. You have to have empathy toward making sure that people are taken care of.”
Austin looks at it through the eyes of a patient: “That vulnerable person has to know that you’re looking out for their good. A patient lying in the bed has to be able to trust the person taking care of them, that they really have their best interests at heart and that they’re focused on their well being.”
Finding individuals who will excel at that is part of Austin’s job. And something she’s seen change over her 30 years in the field. “A lot of people go into nursing are not going into for the emotional component of wanting to help people, but rather for a paycheck. That concerns me. So we’re focused on hiring for heart, looking at it from an emotional intelligence perspective.”
“I’m looking for those selfless people, who knows that person in that bed is vulnerable and they’re going to do everything in their power to make sure they’re taking care of them.”
All three women stress how difficult it can be to find the right fit, even for themselves. Medicine is a demanding career and is often seen as a difficult balance for women.
“Medicine is a career that can be all consuming,” explains Dr. Taylor. She notes that some medical environments have less of a life balance than others. “I think figuring out how to navigate that and how to be the best mom I can be, and simultaneously be the best doctor I can be, is challenging.”
And yet that same juggle makes her feel as if she’s a better doctor because she’s managing that. “I think being a mom makes me understand a little bit about the different stages of human condition — and what it feels to be completely sleep deprived or pulled in 50 different ways at once. I think that makes me a better provider.”
Dr. Carcamo agrees that being a woman helps her connect with patients. “I think sometimes you understand what somebody is going through because you’ve gone through it yourself,” she explains. “To recognize when someone is overwhelmed, because you’ve been there yourself, especially as a new mom. I sit down with patients and tell them it’s okay if you want to cry when the baby cries. You haven’t slept in three days. That doesn’t mean you’re crazy.”
She also believes that women in medicine need to work to keep their lives in perspective, especially when trying to balance their professional and personal lives. “This is not a dress rehearsal. Every day of your life counts. There are times when it was really hard. You have to go and put your mom hat on. You have to be a mom and a wife. I try my best like we all do.
“But on the other hand, maybe that’s what makes us good at what we do: we understand other people going through these struggles. Whether you’re male or female, keeping that work life balance going is difficult.”
Dr. Taylor stressed that finding role models in her field was a challenge. “There are plenty of women physicians, but in terms of academia and research — where I work — it’s not the same. As a young junior faculty member, or as someone looking for a research career, trying to find other women who had negotiated careers in research and medicine and family, those are hard to find. If you look at leadership positions in medical schools, most of them are men. But we’re working to change that. There’s a lot more leadership training for women in medicine, which is exciting to see.
“I think there’s a role for women to mentor other women. One of the things I love about my job is that I get to mentor medical students and undergrads. When you’re feeling burned out or wondering how you’ll get through the stack of insurance paperwork, it really is fulfilling to mentor people who are coming up the path. Women need to have other women, see other women, in that way.”
Mentoring, and helping others up, is a passion for Austin. “I think that when we’re in these roles, senior vice presidents, executives in hospitals, our roles are to help people grow and develop. My responsibility at University Health System is not just to oversee nursing practice, but it’s also to help people achieve their goals and dreams. When I see talent, I pull that individual to the side and help elevate and motivate them,” she notes. “You have to help people when you’re at this level, you have to reach back and pull people up.”
Each of them shared advice that they feel has helped them in their careers. “Figure out what you want and ask for it,” offered Dr. Taylor, a piece of advice she received when she was starting out.
Austin stressed, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If I don’t know something, I don’t have a problem asking colleagues to help me learn. Have the courage to make those relationships and ask them to help you. You’ll be surprised as how many people will mentor you.”
“It’s important to educate yourself in ways you didn’t get in school,” stressed Dr. Carcamo, who believes everyone in the field would benefit from basic business knowledge. “I think regardless of what you do, you can’t stop growing and learning. The challenge is not always going to be the same. There will be new challenges on the horizon and we’re going to rise up to meet those challenges.”
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by David Teran