As she walked out of her last shift at Kings County Hospital, many of her colleagues and trainees had no idea she was leaving. Even fewer knew the incredible journey she had been on over the last few years, which culminated with her new job. As she put it, “I’m not a big goodbye person.”
Dr. Romney started her career as a medical student in New Jersey at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She soon landed in New York City, where she completed her Emergency Medicine Residency at NYU/Bellevue, followed by an Ultrasound Fellowship at Kings County/SUNY Downstate. After graduation, she became the Associate Director of Ultrasound at New York Presbyterian Queens. Always looking for a new challenge, Dr. Romney returned to County a few years later, when her former program director, and then chief of the department, recruited her to take on an administrative role within the ED.
Kings County was a special place for Dr. Romney. As someone of Haitian descent, the patient population reflected her family and was rewarding to work with. She also had the opportunity to explore the administrative side of medicine, allowing her to impact an entire population, as opposed to a single patient. Emergency physicians bring a unique perspective to health care leadership, garnered from our constant negotiation with patients and consultants, as well as our broad scope of practice, which provides a glimpse into all parts of the hospital. The more she delved into projects and interacted with hospital leadership, the more she realized she had a lot more to learn. An eagerness to master administrative proficiency, to become more skillful at using her leadership both within and outside the clinical arena, prompted her decision to pursue an MBA.
While working full-time and raising two kids, Dr. Romney managed to study for the GMAT and start working on applications. Two weeks prior to submitting her first application, she found out she was pregnant and her due date would be soon after classes started. As an underrepresented minority woman in medicine, the expectations were higher and the judgement harsher. She knew if she dropped out, fell behind, or gave up on her ambitions, she would be perceived as another statistic. Despite her initial hesitation, she submitted her application and started at Wharton well into her third trimester.
How did she do it? “Very little sleep.” Reflecting on an analogy she heard at ACEP, work life balance is about juggling and knowing which balls you can afford to drop. Luckily, her husband and her mother helped her keep them all in the air. She delivered on a Tuesday while studying for an accounting exam and jumped back in the classroom the following weekend. Her mother moved to Brooklyn to help with the kids, and her husband’s support was integral in getting her through this journey. It’s unfortunate that women get asked much more often about how they balance family and career responsibilities, and Dr. Romney says men are the ones who can change that culture.
Wharton opened her eyes to the potential for change and disruption within healthcare. She met leaders from different industries and studied cases about unique innovations transforming other sectors. She saw her vision and goals reflected in Dr. Angela Mills, then Vice Chair of Operations at The University of Pennsylvania and now Inaugural Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Columbia University. Inspired by the opportunity to work closely with Dr. Mills, Dr. Romney recently took on the role of Vice Chair of Quality and Patient Safety at Columbia University. The MBA showed her how to integrate clinical anecdotes and objective data. Now tasked with applying all she’s learned to develop and grow the quality program at three emergency departments and a telehealth program, Dr. Romney is excited to be starting this next chapter in her career. She sees a bright future for healthcare, with great potential to improve patient safety and quality, by leveraging both technological advances and access to big data.
We are so inspired by Dr. Romney’s quest to advance her administrative career and the challenges she overcame to get her MBA. While the path was arduous, she now has the power to take on new and exciting projects that will modernize healthcare delivery and improve the lives of entire populations. She believes the key to advancing minorities and women in health care leadership is networking and advocates – both men and women – who will pull you into leadership roles. To anyone who faces hurdles to pursuing a career dream or wants to follow a path like hers, she says, “Go for it!”
The authors would like to thank Dr. Marie Romney for the interview and Dr. Teresa Smith for her support.