Women in Medicine Month Spotlight: Dr. Lisa Tannock

Lisa Tannock, MD, is senior associate dean for faculty affairs and development at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, as well as a professor of medicine. September is Women in Medicine Month. In this Q&A, Dr. Tannock shares the highlights of her career and the advice she has for the next generation of female physician-scientists.

Q: What are your current roles at the College of Medicine, and what do you do?

A: I am an endocrinologist and see patients at the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center at Turfland and also at the VA. My research aims to determine why and how diabetes and obesity cause heart and vascular diseases. My specific focus is on atherosclerosis and abdominal aortic aneurysms.

I am also an administrator. I have been the chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism since 2007, and I am very excited that we have recruited a new chief, Dr. Simon Fisher, who will start in October.

I also serve the College of Medicine in my role as senior associate dean for faculty affairs and development. In this role my responsibilities include a wide range of activities related to the faculty of our college. I manage executive searches (chairs and center directors), assist with all other faculty recruitment, provide oversight of faculty compensation plans and individual compensation concerns, faculty assignment of effort (DOE forms), annual faculty evaluations, faculty development and leadership training, the faculty appointment, promotion and tenure process, and I serve as a resource to faculty, chiefs, and chairs to address various ideas, opportunities, or concerns that arise on a wide range of topics.

Q: What is your favorite part about working in medicine?

A: I love the mix of clinical care and research, and thus academic medicine has always been my home. I love being able to help patients improve their health and training students, residents, and fellows in clinical endocrinology. But I also love the ability to use my research lab to try to address questions that arise from patient encounters, with my main focus on trying to understand why patients with obesity and diabetes have so much heart and vascular disease. My ultimate goal is to try to identify new treatments to decrease this health burden.

Q: As a woman in medicine, what obstacles have you overcome through the course of your career?

A: I look to the women who blazed a trail for the growth of women in medicine ahead of me, and I am so deeply appreciative of the struggles they faced to achieve equity. The climate during my career has had more subtle challenges than what those women endured, yet there are still challenges. For example, there are still numerous microaggressions women experience daily. I think there is a glass ceiling, though perhaps not as thick as it once was. It is still unfortunately common for me to be in a meeting and look around and realize I am the only woman there. However, I have found the climate at UK to be very equitable and supportive of women, and I have had many (both male and female) mentors and sponsors who have helped me in my career, and now I am trying to do the same for others.

Q: What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?

A: There are so many! When I came to UK we did not have an endocrinology fellowship, and that was one of the first things our division addressed when I came. It is a two-year fellowship, and we have two per year. I am so proud of all these graduates and so impressed by their achievements. Similarly, I have had the opportunity to work with many graduate students seeking their PhDs, and I am so proud of their accomplishments in the research world and so excited to see what they will achieve. Now, working with faculty as they progress through the academic ranks is a highlight of my role as senior associate dean for faculty affairs and development. Watching these talented faculty progress through the academic ranks is so incredible and rewarding. From the personal side I will say that the high of getting my first R01 grant is a memory that will live with me forever. All subsequent grants are rewarding, but that first one is such a pivotal moment in a researcher’s life.

Q: How are you preparing the next generation of women in medicine to succeed in the medical field?

A: The pipeline of women in medicine is 50 percent for medical students and close to that in many fields for graduate students. I personally benefited so much from mentorship and sponsorship from my senior colleagues, and my goal is to ensure that all our new graduates get that support. I think visibility of women in leadership roles and positions and specialties where women have been traditionally underrepresented is also important – the new graduates need to see women in these positions as the norm, not the exception.

Q: What advice do you have for women entering the medical field?

A: My advice for all new graduates is pace yourself and pay for all the help you can afford! My mother always told me, “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all right now.” That has guided my career. I married my husband when I was in my resident years (he’s not a doctor, but has his own career), and we have 3 children. At times it seemed my colleagues were progressing faster than I was, and when that progress was associated with higher pay, it was hard to wait. However, with a young family I knew that I had to make some tradeoffs; one was waiting a bit until my family was in a situation where I could alter how I spent my time such as seeking promotion or alternative assignments that could allow my career to excel. Regarding the second point, “pay for all the help you can afford,” I see so many people burning the candle at both ends, trying to excel at work and keep things in their personal life to high standards at the cost of their sleep, exercise, or personal time. From a societal perspective, scientists and physicians are well paid. Yes, we also tend to have high educational debt, but decisions such as choosing a lower cost car and using those savings to pay for house cleaning, yard management, home updating or renovations, babysitting, etc. may be well worth it. Plus, by this you are supporting the economy and employing others who need that work. So stop feeling guilty and pay for all the help you can afford!