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AMWA Member Spotlight — Melynda Barnes, MD

Melynda Barnes

Melynda Barnes, MD Otolaryngology/Facial Plastic Surgery

Tell us about your work

I am board-certified in both facial plastic and reconstructive surgery and in otolaryngology. As a long-tim women’s health advocate, I am currently the associate clinical director at Ro, a digital health company that powers three health verticals: Roman (men’s health), Rory (women’s health) and Zero (a smoking cessation platform).

My interest in women’s health began when I noticed that most of my patients, who were women between the ages of 35–65, were experiencing similar skin issues, such as hormonal acne, increased facial hair, skin dryness and wrinkles. I developed strong relationships with my patients and they started to open up about issues that were not related to Facial Plastics but to women’s health in general as well as the challenges and joys uniquely related to women in midlife. Recognizing an unmet need, I joined Ro’s clinical team to help lead Rory. Rory is an end-to-end service for women’s health with an initial focus in perimenopause and menopause that provides education, support and science-backed treatments for conditions such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness and more. In addition to providing a new healthcare delivery system for patients, Ro, provides an alternative practice opportunity for the physicians that treat and evaluate Ro members. Many of the physicians who are affiliated with Ro and our brands are female physicians who are able to stay in the workforce as they raise children and/or use the supplemental income to pay off student loans and other debts accumulated over years of training.

What Would You Say Has Led to Your  Professional Success?

Family, Faith, Networking. My husband was incredibly supportive when I told him that I wanted to leave full-time clinical medicine to join a healthcare technology start-up. A career change meant a lot of things- a decrease in salary, an unknown career trajectory but it also provided me with the career that I had always wanted: working to improve healthcare on a large scale. As one can imagine, a career change requires a huge leap of faith. I had this very strong feeling that a career outside of traditional medicine was my calling but it was still difficult to actually submit my letter of resignation and make the change. I definitely spent many hours praying for guidance and discernment as I made my decision. To be honest, I did not know where to begin when I finally made up my mind that I wanted to leave full-time clinical medicine. That’s where networking comes in. As physicians we have a larger network: college, medical school, residency and fellowship have all connected us with different people who are doing different things. I started my going through my LinkedIn connections and messaging people who were working in different sectors within healthcare. I then joined a ton of health-related meet-ups and the Society for Physician Entrepreneurs. I signed up for different job boards that focused on physicians and scientists who were looking for non-traditional career opportunities and that is how I found Ro.

Have there been any interests that you have continued to pursue outside of medicine? Have you been able to combine these with your medical career?

A few  interests that I continue to pursue outside of medicine are yoga, traveling and learning languages. I earned my yoga teacher certification in 2016 and have worked to incorporate mindfulness techniques into my everyday life and practice. I’d love to put together a yoga retreat for female physicians to help them de-stress and learn techniques that they can incorporate into their daily lives. As for traveling, I’ve been able to incorporate that into my medical career by participating in medical humanitarian trips. My first trip was to Peru and for the last 4 years I’ve been fortunate to participate in a trip to South Africa. I’ve participated in 3 medical trips in Spanish-speaking countries and currently I am in a weekly Spanish conversational club and am learning French. When I was practicing medicine full-time, I spoke Spanish everyday with my patients. The next language that I’d like to learn is Portuguese and do a medical humanitarian trip to Brazil.

What advice do you have for students?

Get involved. It’s very possible that tech startups could be working on problems that don’t actually benefit patients, physicians or the delivery of healthcare because medical professionals are not involved. As a physician we are not taught how our skills are translatable outside of the hospital or operating room, but I’d like to challenge any physician reading this to think about the number of non-medical skills their job requires.

We are excellent at translating complex ideas, words, concepts and topics into easy to understand language. We are experts in risk evaluation and mitigation as we work to first do no harm to our patients. We are experts in time management, prioritization of resources, team work, managing and leading teams, working under pressure, assessing time critical situations with limited information (hello ER docs!) and we should be good at strong listening and effective communication.

All of those skills are translatable to the healthcare technology industry and pretty much every other industry. My biggest piece of advice is to listen to your gut, put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when it comes to your career. If you want something you’ve never had, you’re going to have to do something that you’ve never done.

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