What a Wise
Woman Would Do
words by Maryann Brinley / photograph by Pete Byron
inda Boyd, DO, could write the textbook on how to manage a multi-faceted medical career and zigzag your way to becoming a dean. “I love the teaching part, the curriculum development and the networking.” Yet, there’s more. This associate professor and former acting Associate Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Development at NJMS calls her background “rather eclectic.” And mining her professional story for nuggets of wisdom — from her UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine graduation in 1984 to October 2007 when she became the Associate Dean for Regional Campus Coordination at the Medical College of Georgia — is a cinch. The gold is everywhere:
- “Build your career in a thoughtful manner.” Not everyone can take a straight trajectory to the top but “make it a priority to grow your CV every year with publications, presentations or a little something.”
- “Know what you want and ask for it.” With the flexibility in medicine today, it is entirely possible to create the job and scenario that suits you. But first you’ve got to advocate for what is going to work for you and your family, says this single mother of two sons, ages 17 and 20. She’s engaged to be married.
- Money does matter. “Philosophically, I don’t believe in taking pay cuts.”
Her career pointers could go on for miles. Boyd started her life in medicine with the fourth graduating class of SOM, a group that spent two years in classes in Piscataway with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (then Rutgers Medical School) allopathic students before going south for two osteopathic clinical years in Stratford. Married at the time, she was committed geographically to north Jersey where her husband was working. “My dream had always been to go west, out to Wyoming, to be a family practitioner in a rural area,” she explains just before recounting her memory of a summer preceptorship in South Dakota. After the first year of med school, Boyd encountered the realities of rural life up close in Sturgis, SD. “This was before SUVs were popular but there, everyone had these big cars stocked with survival kits for good reasons.” This was a place where summer could mean two weeks of 110 degree weather, winter brought 50 below, and incredible storms were known to strand drivers quickly on the road. Though she was invited back to practice medicine after graduation, Boyd laughs, “It was just a little too rural for me.”
Osteopathic physicians, at the time, were required to complete a one year rotating internship before specializing. “I had decided on family practice but there were no two year programs available up north.” So she completed her first osteopathic internship at Union Hospital in Union, and then an allopathic family medicine residency in Paterson at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center. As chief resident there at St. Joe’s, she was treated like a junior faculty member. “I enjoyed learning about curriculum, planning and evaluation. Most residents don’t know what it takes behind the scenes to create a program.” Next, she was offered a job on the faculty. One day she was a peer in the residency program, the next day, she was in charge and advising the same set of residents. Promotions came quickly thereafter as she climbed to associate director of the residency program while practicing medicine in Clifton…all before age 30. “I loved that job and would have stayed if it weren’t for the fact that my second child was born and I wanted to work less than full time.”
This is where her atypical career takes interesting turns. To create the situation which would allow her more time for parenting, Boyd obtained a part-time medical director position with U.S. Healthcare, now Aetna. Headquartered in Bluebell, PA, the corporation had a dynamic business model. For instance, Boyd loved the fact that everyone, from the CEO on down, was asked to use first names only. “There were no meetings allowed between the hours of 9 and 5, no memos — if you needed to communicate with someone, you got up and did it face to face — and the time from idea to implementation could take as little as two weeks. Even very big initiatives got done.”
Meanwhile, she moonlighted in a clinical office on other days and found time to complete two management courses with the American College of Physician Executives. “I was thinking about getting my MBA.” Her kids were about 6 and 3.
The corporate stint sent her into doctors’ offices all over New Jersey to recertify physicians and check credentials. “We called it managed care detailing,” she explains. The “cool part” about this experience is that she learned to “size up a doctor” within minutes of standing in a waiting room. Certain factors were dead giveaways: if the receptionist didn’t look up when meeting her, if patients were treated rudely in other ways or left to wait for long stretches of time, Boyd’s impressions were cast immediately. “That office is the doctor’s face to the public.”
The second faculty member to be hired for the new NJMS Department of Family Practice, Boyd explains that her financial needs changed after a divorce in 1994. Though her boys were still first in her mind, she needed a bigger income and steady working hours, the 8 to 6 kind. Her advice for others: always look for opportunities to work less than full time but still make as much money. “Almost all other professions, except medicine, are locked into work loads and timelines. I always tell my students, your time is pretty flexible.” For Boyd, however, maintaining that balance has always been tricky. Her work ethic gets in the way.
Initially, she had warned her NJMS chair Mark Johnson, MD, MPH, that her interest in research was nil. “I told him that I’d teach, see patients, and do just about anything but that. But Mark wanted to build research as a priority. We were having weekly research faculty meetings with outside speakers and consultants.” She looked at her schedule and thought, “I’ve got to be productive.” On her first venture into the area of research funding, she disobeyed the consultant’s advice to start small with a foundation grant, wrote night after night when her kids were asleep, sometimes until 2 am, and ended up landing a National Institutes of Health award for three quarters of a million dollars to train residents and family practitioners on how to perform clinical breast exams. “Here I was this junior faculty member working with 10 senior co-investigators around the university.” The project included a CD-Rom, the first one funded by the NIH.
“I’ve always been interested in literacy in medicine,” she explains and suspects that her understanding of the written word helped her craft the kind of grant application that stands out from the rest of the pack. “You don’t need to wow readers with big words and fancy sentences. So instead of being superfluous, I just tried to be really simple. I was also lucky because it was the right project for the right time.”
It’s easy to see how this physician found the strength to embrace all 360 first year medical students (remembering all their names), shepherding them through the very first Physician’s Core course on doctoring from the middle of August 2004 to the end of June 2005. This was the key piece of a brand new NJMS Jubilee curriculum. As one of its creators and the administrator, it nearly killed her. “That course was a lot bigger than we thought it would be. I worked 80 hours a week with no time off even on weekends. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to find balance because I’m always motivated to do the best I possibly can.” Inducted into the Stuart D. Cook, MD, Master Educators’ Guild in 2001, she has taught many different courses and electives including the Art of Medicine, Clerkship in Family Medicine, History and Physical, Introduction to Clinical Sciences, Human Sexuality and Alternative Medicine.
Though she’s never been “title driven,” Boyd moved from the director of Pre-Clerkship Clinical Education to the NJMS associate dean’s position last spring. Her predecessor, Alex Stagnaro-Green, MD, who saw patients and taught classes, had offered her his model for leadership. “Prior deans here had been only administrators,” she explains.
The opportunity in Georgia was too good for this educational innovator to pass up. “The university, which has a great reputation for medical education, is expanding and setting up regional campuses to increase the number of physicians they graduate. It’s my job, a new position, to do this.” At the only medical school in the state, the main campus of her university is in Augusta but she’ll be opening new locations in Savannah and Albany. “They pronounce that ‘Albinney’ and it’s in rural southwest Georgia.”
On vacation last year, Boyd made it to Wyoming again. Hiking in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone for 10 days with her fiancé and oldest son, she laughs about the shock of returning to Newark Airport and getting honked at in traffic. She had been here working in north Jersey for 23 years. “It had been so peaceful. In Wyoming, you could sit through three traffic lights without a beep from behind. Someone would probably get out of the car to make sure you were okay rather than honk.”
One thing’s certain about her new position: it doesn’t go to 50 below in winter when she’s on the road in the state of Georgia.