I first met Dr. Pamela Rama, MD in 2015 when she invited me to speak about my advocacy work at one of her events with the American Heart Association. She uplifted me by being one of the first people to extend her hand and give me an opportunity to grow in public speaking, even though she barely knew me! Since then, we have watched each other grow over the years and have remained part of each other's "support team" - Talk about women uplifting women! I admire her a great deal, and have even included some throwback photos of us at events at the end of this Spotlight!
Dr. Rama is a leading non-invasive, preventive cardiologist who serves as Medical Director of the HeartWise prevention program, and Director of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Baptist Medical Center at Jacksonville Beaches. As a cardiologist, prevention of heart disease is the main focus; she has a special love for working with female patients and their specific heart needs. Dr. Rama is proud to be one of the doctors that formed the Women in Medicine group, which is a support group for women doctors to encourage more female physicians to go into leadership positions at Baptist Health and in the community. She is also a trustee of the Baptist Foundation, on the Board of Directors for the American Heart Association- Greater Southeast Affiliate, former President of the First Coast Metro American Heart Association, and currently sits on the Board of Directors for the American College of Cardiology, Florida Chapter.
Read more about how Dr. Rama is uplifting women through her leadership in this Spotlight!
1. Rarely is someone's journey linear. Can you explain what you wanted to be when you grew up , and how your career landed where you are right now?
I am one of those girls who knew what she wanted to be at the age of 8. I grew up in the Philippines where there is a lot of poverty and the fear of starvation is real. If you needed medical care, there was no medical insurance and no help from the government, so often times, people will pay with food, or anything that they can grow on their farms or catch in the sea.
One day, I was at my friends home whose parents were both doctors and in their kitchen, I saw a big bushel of crabs. I asked her where it came from- since I love crabs- and she said it came from a patient of one of her parents. I love crabs and right there and then, like an epiphany, I decided to be a doctor! I knew I would never starve if I were a doctor! My daughters beg me never to share this story. But as a child, my first instinct was to choose survival, and a profession that would provide for my family.
As I grew older, I realized that being a doctor is a noble profession, there truly is nothing more rewarding than easing someone's pain or helping someone feel better. I was very focused. I studied medicine in Manila and met my husband while I was in Medical school. He was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida and I eventually moved to the US with him and our 2 children. After finishing my Cardiology Fellowship at Brown University, we decided to move to Florida.
2. Which single word do you most identify with?
3. What moment/experience in your life was the most formative in your development as a woman in the field of medicine?
I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but I did not decide on a specialty until after my second year as an internal medicine resident. The heart and cardiovascular system just made so much sense to me and I felt called to be a cardiologist. When I looked into Cardiology as a specialty, I realized that not many women chose to go into this field.
At that time less than 10% of Cardiology fellows were females. Women, especially young women with families or who wanted to raise a family, would never consider going into this field because it was intense and difficult. It was very much still a male dominated field. I saw this as a challenge. I wanted somehow to prove that a young mother can be successful in cardiology and that it was possible to balance family and career. I was able to accomplish this because I had a supportive and understanding partner in my husband. And I was right. I'm proud to say Women Cardiologists are very much in demand now. It was because of a Woman Cardiologist that the American Heart Association's GO RED for WOMEN movement started with the goal to raise awareness among women about heart disease being their #1 health risk, and this has saved lives!
4. Go-to ice cream?!
Mint Chocolate Chip cookies!
5. You have counseled and educated women of all ages on female heart health. What is something you have noticed that most women struggle with? How can we overcome that?
Although more women are aware that heart disease is their #1 health risk, only 13% of women personalize it. So many women tend to think that it will not happen to them. Heart disease is very preventable and you can reduce your lifetime risk for heart events by implementing a heart healthy lifestyle early on. The earlier you start, the better. But women in their 20's and 30's are not concerned about heart disease. They go to their OB gynecologist for women's health care, and a majority of them are not even aware of their coronary risk factors. They don't know their cholesterol and blood pressure numbers, and have no concept about blood glucose levels. A lot of young women still smoke, which almost guarantees that they will develop heart disease in the future. This can only be remedied through education and awareness, and what motivates me to get involved in the community-to make a difference in the small part of the world I am lucky to call home.
6. As one of the Doctors that formed the Women in Medicine group, why do you feel it is important for more female physicians to aspire to leadership positions in both the healthcare field and within the community?
When I became the Chief of Staff of Baptist Medical Center Beaches, I was only the 2nd woman to hold that position. The last female Chief of Staff was Dr. Doris Carson, and that was 20 years ago. Now why is that? In an organization where almost half of the medical staff are women, there were no women in leadership positions? I felt we needed more women leaders! So I spoke to Audrey Moran, who is a friend and a wonderful mentor. What we realized is that women waited, wanting to be asked to be in a leadership position, whereas men would consistently volunteer for it, therefore women were never asked.
I remember recently being in a leadership meeting and we were discussing the future of medical leadership. An excellent young female doctor with great potential was mentioned. I remember that one of the males in the room, agreed she was an excellent candidate however, stated that he ASSUMED she may not want to do it because she had small children and may not have time to do it. He did not say this out of malice, and he was being considerate about her situation. So I said, wait a minute, shouldn't she make that decision and not us? Sure enough, when she was asked- she accepted- and she will be great! This is why we formed Women in Medicine; to support women physicians and make them aware that it is important to be at the table, giving a different perspective because our ideas matter.
7. What is your "mantra" or personal "motto" that keeps you motivated and focused?
I can make a difference.
8. What is the biggest barrier you experienced as a woman in your career?
Myself. I think women have tendencies to doubt themselves. Can I do this? Can I make the sacrifice? Will they listen to me? Doubting yourself and feeling that what you have to say is not important is something I think a lot of women struggle through during phases in their lives.
9. What advice would you go back in time and give your younger self?
I would tell myself, "You will be okay. You will make the right choices and you will make a difference."
10. Who is your female icon?
My Mother, Paz Rama. In the Philippines, my father was a Congressman, starting a family. We were comfortable and my mother was the homemaker. When Martial Law was declared by the Marcos regime, my father, being part of the opposition party, was one of the first to be incarcerated as a political prisoner. My mother all of a sudden became our breadwinner and had to raise 5 children on her own. She was an avid antique collector, so she decided to sell her collection, which supported us through those hard times. We were young children at the time. I never saw her cry, she kept her composure, fed us, provided for us, kept us in the same catholic school and paid the mortgage. We were never scared. I realize now how hard it must have been for her and how scared she must have been. But she did this with grace and composure and love. She is my hero!