Written by: Jennifer Costa
Dr. Susan Miller was born in San Francisco, California in 1950 at UCSF Children’s hospital, delivered by a Chinese female obstetrician. The eldest of five children, Dr. Miller was encouraged from a young age to follow her dreams. Although there were no physicians in her family, she had set her mind and heart on a career in medicine by the age of twelve. While Dr. Miller’s parents were fully supportive of her goals, she was not met with encouragement from all sides. Her sixth grade teacher told her that she would never become a physician and that she would simply get married and have children. Dr. Miller recalls being so upset that she threw a sponge at her teacher. Ten years later, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from UC Santa Cruz, Dr. Miller would write a letter to her teacher informing him of her acceptance to the School of Medicine at UCLA.
As a member of the Class of 1977, Dr. Miller was one of twenty-four women–an unprecedented seventeen percent of the class, with the school’s senior class a mere four percent female. Dr. Miller soon became known as the the type of woman to make waves. In her first year she conducted a Kinsey-esque survey of sexual practices amongst her classmates. She began the school’s first women’s support group to promote the interests of female students. Such endeavors contributed to her reputation as an individual who stayed true to her values and strove for equality in all arenas.
Dr. Miller completed her residency in Family Medicine at the new program at U Conn and Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. She was drawn to Family Medicine, a relatively new specialty, as she was a self-described “variety junkie” and wanted to care for patients throughout the span of their lives. Dr. Miller started practice at the Ossining Open Door Clinic in New York, where she worked part-time while caring for two young children. Dr. Miller and her family later relocated to Virginia as her husband developed a research career at Virginia Commonwealth University. She went into private practice for 20 years and soon founded Village Green Family Medicine–an innovative practice of all-female physicians that was the first of its kind in Richmond and which would grow to serve ten thousand patients.
After twenty successful years at Village Green, Dr. Miller moved to California for a year as her husband took a sabbatical at Stanford University. During this time, Dr. Miller taught physical exam skills to Stanford medical students and explored alternative careers for physicians. Upon her return to Virginia, Dr. Miller took a faculty position at VCUHS as a physician for employees of the institution. She assumed a number of new roles during this period of her career, completing a fellowship in Patient Safety at VCU in 2006 as well as a medical informatics course at Oregon Health & Science University. She cites the electronic medical record as the “most transformative change in [her] career.”
Dr. Miller now lives with her husband in Richmond in a solar house with LEED designation. She is the proud mother of one daughter and two sons–a successful artist, Emergency Medicine physician, and high school History teacher, respectively. Dr. Miller currently serves as the Medical Director of Ambulatory Performance Improvement at VCUHS and is the first individual to hold this position. She advises young student-doctors to follow their passion and find a specialty that excites them. When asked whether she would choose a career in medicine over again, Dr. Miller responds with an emphatic “absolutely.”