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Status, The Oxford Comma, and Other Obsessions

Thank you to my mentors
By Juliet Ugarte Hopkins
Posted on 1/3/2021 9:09 PM

Starting my term as president for the American College of Physician Advisors is a somewhat surreal accomplishment.  It’s also had me feeling particularly sappy while thinking about those who have influenced or supported me along the way.  Success and achievements mean nothing if you can't help others grow into themselves.  While I begin to plan out all the ways I and the ACPA can support future healthcare leaders, I'd like to send thanks out to those who did just that for me.

 

  • Dennis Lynch was a social studies teacher, my varsity basketball coach at Rolling Meadows High School in Rolling Meadows, Illinois (GO MUSTANGS!), and a verifiable asshole.  He was abrasive, argumentative, rude, and stealthily taught me more than the sophomore U.S. History curriculum ever did.  While appearing to try and break my teammates and me, he succeeded in building our sense of conviction.  

     

    Denny took the chip he saw on my teenaged shoulder and pushed me to build it up into a fortress of belief in myself and my abilities.  By graduation, this “jerk” made it clear I could manage any challenging personality or nay-sayer who came my way.  One of the happiest coincidences in my life is that my mother, then an inpatient oncology nurse, found herself caring for him at the end of his life.  She asked if she could disclose his condition to me and he agreed.  It’s not often you get a second chance to tell someone how much they impacted your life.  And, as I understand it from his family, he had a huge grin on his face when I called him an asshole in my letter.  Thank you, Coach Lynch.  Thank you for encouraging me to keep my body strong and my convictions stronger in preparation for whatever life throws at me.

     

  • The summer before starting college at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I took a job with the Public Works Department in Des Plaines, Illinois.  The job would involve mowing soccer fields, painting baseball diamond lines, weeding flower beds, and unwittingly playing a part in what was likely the first exposure to sexual harassment avoidance my co-workers ever had.  

     

    It didn’t take too long to figure out I was the first female ever to join the team.  The next couple of weeks were filled with maneuvering through subtle resentment by a dozen men who were NOT pleased about taking down the soft porn posters decorating the shop.  Looking back, I can only imagine the heroic conversations and demonstrations of understanding and cajoling my supervisor – who’s name I unfortunately can no longer recall – had to accomplish.  He was patient and kind and in retrospect, I can see he was a champion for women’s rights as a whole.  Through his efforts behind the scenes which were unseen by me, he convinced a bunch of middle-aged men to accept and even get along with a GIRL in their workplace.  This experience is just one of many which shaped me and I have him to thank for it being something I learned from instead of something I ran from.

     

  • The best advice I ever heard about cultivating a career and family came from pathology professor Dr. Connie Vitale in my third year of medical school: “You just figure it out.  You do it.  That’s it.”  At first blush this statement might seem overly simplistic and callous.  But, during a time when existence felt like a perpetual exercise in second-guessing life decisions, this no-nonsense take on the future became my North Star.  

     

    Dr. Vitale and I didn’t have a close relationship and I don’t recall how this subject came up.  But, the manner in which she didn’t presume to have the answers and she didn’t provide a roadmap for success felt so satisfying in its vagueness that I never let it go.  Thank you, Dr. Vitale.  Thank you for being so simple with your message and impressing upon me that the idea of the future as a blank slate is nothing to be afraid of. 

     

  • My assigned mentor when I started patient care rotations as a medical student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine in Rockford was a young pediatric gastroenterologist with a smooth personality and incredible clinical skills.  Dr. Glendon Burress made patients and families comfortable talking about every manner of bodily function and he likely has molded hundreds of medical students into accomplishing the same.  

     

    With a degree in English and likely undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, I often felt behind compared to the students around me.  One day, when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, I visited Dr. Burress in his office to lament that I was never going to make it to graduation.  OK, there was more than lamenting…there was frank sobbing.  He reassured, “I’ve seen you calculate the dose of Tylenol for every patient.  Even if you know what the diagnosis is, you double check it in the Harriet Lane.  Your attention to detail is what will make you a terrific physician, trust me.”  Thank you, Glen.  The specificity of your comments stuck with me for years to come and supported me through a number of challenging periods in my career.  I’m sorry I never learned to write my progress notes using five lines or less but let’s be honest, I think I came out on the right side of history with that one.  😃

     

  • In late 2014, I was a pediatric hospitalist-turned-physician advisor for all of six months.  The majority of education about my new role stemmed from Google searches like, “what does a physician advisor do” and “how do I learn more about being a physician advisor.”  As I read, one name kept on popping up over and over again – Dr. Ronald Hirsch.  When I happened to see him in person at a conference, I figured what the hell.  “Hi, my name is Juliet Ugarte Hopkins and I’m brand new at this but I keep seeing your name everywhere so I figure you know what you’re talking about and I should introduce myself.”  

     

    Amazingly enough, this cringe-worthy greeting did not land me on Ron’s local police department’s watch list.  Instead, it led to the evolution of my strongest professional relationship in this field.  Ron’s brilliant intellect is something I hope to match one day, but his impact of mentorship is what I am truly determined to mirror in the years ahead.  Thank you, Ron.  Thank you for fanning this spark into flames and for not gloating about how easily you can out-ride me on any given day.  (Want to see a photo of Dr. Hirsch in lycra and a bike helmet?  Check out the original post on my LinkedIn page!)  😃

     

  • Elizabeth Lamkin and I share the same birthday 20 years apart.  We also share a passion to cultivate the ACPA into its strongest possible iteration.  We’ve been in each other’s presence on much fewer than a dozen occasions.  Despite this, she has persistently positioned herself directly in my corner. Over the last few years, Elizabeth has helped me understand the individualized values of knowledge, insight, and intuition in making decisions.  We’ve shared passionate and animated conversations about topics which I then witnessed her convey to larger groups in a measured and even manner resulting in consensus.  Her ability to command a room, conference call, or these days, Zoom meeting, is something I aspire to.  Thank you, Elizabeth.  Thank you for being a guiding light before I even recognized what you were guiding me toward.   
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