Tamara (Tammie) Chang, MD, is medical director of pediatric infusion, and a board-certified pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, and medical director of provider wellness for the MultiCare Health System, in Tacoma, Washington. Read her full bio.
Tell Us About Your Career Path
While growing up in Portland, Oregon, I wanted to be a pianist. It was not until I was a junior in high school and had the opportunity to do a summer research project with a pediatric cardiologist at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) that I fell in love with medicine.
I completed an eight-year medical program at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; and I stayed in love with pediatrics, focusing on pediatric oncology. I went on to complete a combined internal medicine/pediatrics (Med-Peds) residency at the University of Massachusetts in Worchester. I completed a pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, extending into my first year of attending as a solid tumor specialist
Then I returned home to the Pacific Northwest to be a community pediatric hematologist/oncologist. After a difficult period of burnout and personal struggle, I fell in love with professional coaching and pursued professional certification as a trainer. With my Brown medical school classmate, Luisa Duran, we co-founded Pink Coat MD to support the personal and professional success and wellbeing of all women physicians. I still remain active clinically and have risen to the medical director of pediatric infusion at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, and more recently, also as medical director of provider wellness for our healthcare system, and co-founder of our Women of Influence Network (WIN) at MultiCare Health System in Tacoma, Washington.
I am deeply passionate about guiding women physicians forward, especially our next generations of women practitioners. We should all get to attain our most authentic, joyful, and fulfilled lives. I want to help women in medicine step into their power and lead in any way and in whichever director calls to them.
Is There a Particular Instance or Individual who Has Influenced Your choices?
My early experiences during my premed and medical student years participating in the Brown Outdoor Leadership Training (BOLT) Program, becoming a leader and ultimately, leader trainer, deeply influenced me, and who I am as a woman physician, physician coach, and a leader.
During my first home visit with a hospice nurse in my third year of medical school, during the internal medicine rotation, was the moment when I knew that oncology and palliative care was my calling. This sense of purpose grew throughout my continuity clinic with Dr. Schiffman, an adult hematologist/oncologist who deeply influenced my interest in oncology. Then, as a fourth-year medical student working in pediatric neuro-oncology, I knew that pediatric oncology was what I had to do. Many other life experiences, including volunteering every summer at Roundup River Ranch—part of the SeriousFun Network, as a cancer camp doctor—remain among the greatest joys of my life to date.
My greatest ah-ha moment was when I hit rock bottom about five years into being a young attending physician. I suffered from severe burnout, contemplated suicide, and nearly quit medicine. Everything I do now, from my work with pediatric oncology families and patients to coaching young women physicians, to my effort to help AMWA create its first leadership development program for women physicians, to growing my Pink Coat, MD, coaching platform allows me to live authentically and fully. This vulnerability came out of moving through a very difficult life experience. Now, I have a fire, a purpose, and a drive to create a better, kinder, more loving medical culture for all of us as women in medicine. I know that surrounded by women like all of you in AMWA that we can create that better world together.
Are You Active in any AMWA Initiatives; If So, How Has this Helped Shape Your View of Medicine?
I founded and remain president of the AMWA-Washington Physician Branch. On the national level, I am volunteering to help create the AMWA Physician Leadership Certification Program. I am the director of AMWA ELEVATE, our leadership development course for women physicians. We are planning to pilot this very innovative program beginning in June so keep a lookout for updates about this incredible opportunity.
I am deeply committed to AMWA’s vision and mission since I believe that the more women physicians take on leading positions in medicine and healthcare, the better the outcomes for our patients, families, communities, and organizations. In return, we will bring about a better, kinder, more compassionate, and loving world.
At my core, I believe that leadership has to begin with a deep understanding of who each of us is. We get there by reflecting on our core values, and knowing what we stand for. “Leadership is influence,” according to John C. Maxwell, https://www.johnmaxwell.com/ one of the grandfathers of modern leadership. From this place of intrinsic alignment within ourselves, women in medicine are positioned to reach our true and fullest capability as leaders. From this place, each of us is able to have the greatest impact on others and assure that healthcare becomes the type of patient care that attracts women physicians to medicine in the first place. In effect, I want to see more women lead!
What Prompted You to Take on Such an Ambitious Project, Creating AMWA ELEVATE?
When presented with the opportunity, I leapt at the challenge of making a comprehensive leadership program for women physicians at every stage of their career a reality for AMWA because this is also my dream
Creating a Leadership Certification Program that meets AMWA members’ needs is part of helping to inspire future generations of women to lead in a new way, relying on our inner strength. I want to help women physicians to model the kind of compassion, insights, and vulnerability that we crave from any good leader. Most of all, I want to provide the space for all of our brilliant, talented young women physicians to find their own path to leadership and to define what success means for each and every one.
I also consider the power of professional coaching to be an essential element of leadership development. The experience of coaching transformed my own life and the lives of countless colleagues and friends. While professional coaching has existed in the business and finance worlds for several decades, it is only now gaining acceptance in the medical community. Coaching presents an invaluable resource for high performance, and to attain job and life fulfillment.
I want every single woman physician to have access to affordable coaching. One of the greatest benefits of our ELEVATE program is the opportunity to participate in ongoing small group coaching (in cohorts of 10 participants), with the added opportunity for one-on-one (private) coaching. Coaching in both settings allows for different levels of experiential learning and personal insights.
What Challenges Have You Faced in Your Medical Career?
I am very open now about my personal challenges, of my significant challenges with gender bias as a young woman physician attending, and in facing severe burnout and suicidal ideation. Women physicians do not talk openly about the real struggles we face professionally. I have come to see that our medical culture of suffering in silence must change.
With 40% of women either quitting medicine altogether or going part-time within six years of finishing their residency training (Paturel, AAMC 2019), the impact of burnout and emotional exhaustion is substantially higher than among male physicians (West et al, J Int Med, 2018). Furthermore, women are at a 400% higher risk of dying by suicide than women in the general population (Hampton, JAMA 2005). Combine those statistics with the fact that women comprise less than 20% of leaders in healthcare while representing 80% of the healthcare workforce (Mangurian et al, Harvard Business Review 2018). There are huge obstacles so we can either give up or do something to make real change. By providing the skills and opportunity to develop leadership capabilities, AMWA is positioning more women to be part of the change necessary to achieve quality, affordable healthcare for all.
I see us all as part of the “transition team.” Whereas 100 years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote, now we comprise 51% of the student body in medical schools. (AAMC 2020) These statistics may be sobering, but they are also part of the greater picture of the work– regardless of our sex — we all still have to do. When I think about the history of medicine, I’ve come to understand that medical care, as we know it was created by men for men. The culture of medicine, and indeed the basis of our modern workplace, has not adapted to the reality that women represent at least half of the students entering medical school now.
Women are poised to become CEOs of healthcare companies, presidents and deans of universities and medical schools, and doctors with dual degrees as lawyers or in business. We are where we are now because of the grit and dedication of the women leaders before us. I am constantly asking myself, what kind of world do we want to leave for our daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters? What kind of future do we want for them as women in medicine? What will be our legacy?
The answer begins with truly understanding who you – not who anyone else says or thinks you should be – but who you are at your core. You must connect with your Why? What is your purpose, your vision for your life, what moves you—today and in the years to come? You must begin to appreciate the impact you want to have on your family, your community and the world. Most essential is to recognize the need to care for yourself first. Only then can you be effective in caring for others. Medicine and medical training teach us to put everyone and everything else before our own needs. And this has to change.