Female medical alumni share wisdom, wit with students, faculty, staff & fellow alums

From left, Dr. Sarah Bouck, Dr. Marlisha Edwards and Dr. Zita Magloire listen as Dr. Alma Littles, interim dean of the FSU College of Medicine, asks the panel a question.

Four physicians and one physician assistant (PA), all graduates of the Florida State University College of Medicine and all practicing in the Tallahassee area, participated in a Women in Medicine panel discussion March 13, 2024, part of the college’s continuing celebration of March as Women’s History Month.

Sponsored by the FSU chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association and the college’s Office of Alumni Relations, the panel discussion focused on the successes and challenges of being a female health-care practitioner. Panelists were Sarah Bouck, M.D. (Class of 2017); Marlisha Edwards, M.D. (2011); Zita Magloire, M.D. (2011); Casey Rust, M.D. (2016); and Millie Nowak, PA-C (2020).

Edwards and Magloire both practice family medicine, Edwards at Southern Medical Group in Tallahassee and Magloire at Cairo Medical Care in Cairo, Ga. The other three, however, have different specialties. Bouck is a pediatrician at Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville, Ga.; Millie Nowak is a dermatology PA at Dermatology Associates in Tallahassee; Rust practices geriatrics at FSU SeniorHealth and is on the faculty at the college.

Moderator Alma Littles, M.D., interim dean and part of the college's leadership team since it was created, kicked off the discussion by asking panelists to talk about their paths to careers in medicine.

“We would love to hear about your journey, starting with the decision to pursue medicine, selecting a medical school and eventually a residency program and specialty,” she said.

Each journey was different. Edwards shared that when she was a child of 8 or 9, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer; mom Melody Parker was 31. But doctors had not taken her seriously when she first told them about her symptoms, including pain. At the time, most breast cancers occurred in menopausal women. Doctors offered alternative, less serious explanations for her symptoms and essentially dismissed her concerns. She had to advocate for herself.

“I remember hearing her say, ‘Look, you better see me today or we’re going to have a problem,’"  Edwards said, using the same insistent tone her mother had. “It shouldn’t have taken so long for her to get someone to listen.”

Parker remains in remission and is doing well, Edwards said. Seeing what her mother endured influenced Edwards to become a physician, the kind that really listens and treats patients with respect. And while that’s a good thing in most ways, it does have its downside.

“Patients will share a lot more information with a female provider, so you spend more time with them,” she said. “You’re not going to pull the numbers (of patient interactions) your male counterparts do.”

And those numbers affect a physician’s income.

Magloire also shared a story about female physician compensation, a cautionary tale based on her own lack of business experience. After two years as an employee at the Cairo clinic, she bought into the practice and has been a partner for the past eight years. When she took maternity leave a few years ago, she no longer had employee benefits, such as maternity leave. Once she became a partner, she was an owner and considered self-employed.

In that scenario, she said, "if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.”

One of Magloire’s goals is to help self-employed women in medicine become more financially secure.

In response to later questions about challenges they had faced and what advice they’d give to their younger selves, more than one talked about demanding respect. Female physicians are more likely to be mistaken for a nurse or technician than male physicians. The solution: Introduce yourself as “Doctor” and ask how you can help them.

Some patients think it’s OK to call a woman doctor by her first name, while they would never do so with a male doctor. The solution: Set the record straight by saying it’s a professional relationship and not a social setting, and you prefer to be called “Doctor” and you will continue to reciprocate the respect by calling the patient “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or “Ms.”

Rust talked about how hard it was to select a specialty.

“My third year (of medical school) was overwhelming; I loved everything!” she said. “Toward the end of that year, I got into family medicine, and it just clicked.”

While completing her family medicine residency in Charlotte, N.C., Rust learned about “urban underserved populations,” which aligns nicely with the College of Medicine mission. She had always had an interest in caring for older patients, so after a fellowship in geriatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she set her sights on a position serving the underserved older population back in Tallahassee.

But first, she had to get over what is now known as “imposter syndrome.”

“I didn’t think anybody would be interested in what I had to teach,” Rust said.

The other panelists echoed the experience. Bouck told the audience, “It is OK to advocate for yourself.” Nowak, who is a member of the College of Medicine's second PA class, advised students to think about their goals and develop a plan to achieve them.

“We think a lot about what we want our careers to be like. We don’t think about what we want our lives to be like,” she said. “Push yourself to do things you might think you’re not ready for yet.”

Nowak had studied nutrition and was a clinical dietitian when she decided to change careers. After two years as a cardiology PA at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, she decided to switch to dermatology so she could continue to treat patients while having more opportunities with procedures, another area of interest.

“I’m very procedures-oriented,” she said.

Magliore urged the medical students in the audience to attend the National Academy of Family Physicians’ annual conference in July, to add to the network of mentors and colleagues they are building.

“I highly recommend this,” she said. “Family medicine is really the cornerstone of primary care.”

Littles also urged the students to build their support systems, to spend their first and second years of medical school “finding your people. That is so important.”

During the question-and-answer session near the end, Kimberly Toone, M.D., a U.S. Navy captain who completed the Program in Medical Sciences at FSU in 1993 and then earned her medical degree at the University of Florida, thanked the panelists for sharing why they got into medicine. Now stationed in Pensacola, she had a question for them: “Why do you stay?”

It’s a question she has fielded herself for years, as she joined the Navy to pay for medical school and has stayed for almost three decades. “It’s not for everyone,” she acknowledged afterward, “but it works for my husband and me.”

In response to Toone's question, panelists acknowledged the rewards outweigh the challenges, and how it’s a privilege to take care of people. Bouck broke into a huge smile and explained she’s building relationships with children she’s cared for since they were born and their mothers.

“There’s nothing like seeing one of your babies.”

-- Contact Audrey Post at audrey.post@med.fsu.edu

Photo captions:

Spotlight photo on Home page: College of Medicine alumni, from left, Sarah Bouck, M.D.; Marlisha Edwards, M.D.; Zita Magloire, M.D.; Casey Rust, M.D; and Millie Nowak, PA-C, shared insights at a Women in Medicine panel discussion March 14, 2024.

Photo at top right: Sarah Bouck, left; Marlisha Edwards, center; and Zita Magloire, right, three physicians who graduated from the Florida State University College of Medicine, listen as Interim Dean Alma Littles, M.D., asks a question.

Photos by Mark Bauer, Ed.D., FSU College of Medicine.