Q&A: Driven NSU-COM grad pulls back on workload, pushes up family life
With multiple degrees, awards and board certifications, Joanna L. Drowos, DO, MPH, understands her priorities and works hard to achieve her goals. Because she built up her credentials at the onset of her career, she had more options and bargaining power when seeking a position that would allow her more time with her two young children.
Through a dual-degree program at the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine (NSU-COM) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dr. Drowos earned her MPH degree in 2002 and her DO degree in 2004. Four years later, she received an MBA with a concentration in health care administration.
While going to business school, Dr. Drowos completed a preventive medicine residency through the Palm Beach (Fla.) County Health Department in 2006 and a family medicine residency at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale in 2008. She holds two AOA board certifications, in preventive medicine and family medicine. And she’s certified by the American Board of Medical Quality.
For nearly three years, Dr. Drowos worked for the Palm Beach County Health Department as the medical director of the Riviera Beach (Fla.) Health Center, a position she found professionally satisfying but too demanding to allow for work-family balance.
In July 2011, she joined the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine in Boca Raton part time as an assistant professor of clinical biomedical science. She also serves as the director of medical education for the dually accredited preventive medicine residency program she trained in.
An AOA health policy fellow, Dr. Drowos is active in the AOA and the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians and serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Osteopathic College of Occupational and Preventive Medicine.
Following is an edited interview with Dr. Drowos.
What made you decide to go into academia?
I have two children under the age of 2. Being a mom and a wife are the most important things I do. As much as I loved my role as the medical director of one of the Palm Beach County Health Department’s safety-net health centers, the work was very intense and I had a lot of responsibility. Because I spent so much time at work, I felt like I was missing out on my children being babies. Even when I came home at the end of the day, I couldn’t relax and enjoy my kids because I felt the pressure of having so many tasks that still needed to be taken care of. It was just too much.
“I couldn’t relax and enjoy my kids because I felt the pressure of having so many tasks that still needed to be taken care of.”
So I decided to leave that position when the chance came up to teach part time at the new medical school in our community. I’m lucky that I don’t have to be the breadwinner in my family. I work because I enjoy it.
For me, being able to join FAU’s medical school has been an amazing opportunity. Getting in on the ground floor means that I am helping to shape the curriculum and develop programs. And I also have been able to create my own job to some extent.
I work 30 hours per week, spending half the time in the classroom and half on administrative duties. I can do a lot of the administrative work at night after my children go to bed. As long as I get everything done that I need to each day, I’m able to have some flexibility so I can spend time with my kids when they are awake.
I love that I can get up with my kids in the morning and put them to bed every night. And I get to take breaks periodically during the week to do fun activities with them.
Because of my own pursuit of work-life balance, I relate to my students. When I look at the priorities of medical students today, I see a whole generation of future physicians for whom lifestyle will be incredibly important. These individuals want to have families and they want to have time for themselves.
Given your family commitments, why did you decide to resign from your medical director position but continue to serve as a DME?
The program is the only AOA-approved preventive medicine residency. Not a lot of DOs are board certified in preventive medicine, and there are very few of us in Florida. As an alumna of the program, I fell into the role of DME because I have the required certification.
I am committed to ensuring that the residency continues to succeed. The program, which is also accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, has been around since the 1950s. I’m honored to be involved with it. The program trains most of the public health leaders in our community and many around the country. The residency focuses on all of the preventive medicine competencies, which include epidemiology, biostatistics, health policy, health administration, clinical preventive medicine and occupational medicine.
You attended medical school and trained in Florida and then practiced and now teach in the state. Are you originally from Florida? What keeps you from seeking opportunities in other states?
I’m from Toronto, but I’ve lived in Florida since 1993, when I was in high school. My parents felt that there would be more opportunities for my brother and me in the U.S. My husband’s family lives in Florida as well.
Family being so important to us, my husband and I love that our children are growing up with their grandparents across the street and aunts, uncles and cousins right down the road. So I don’t see us leaving this area.
I’ve been fortunate that there are so many opportunities in this part of Florida. This is largely because of Nova Southeastern being here and opening so many doors for osteopathic physicians. I owe a lot of what I’ve achieved to NSU-COM. In addition to my DO and MPH degrees, my residencies in preventive medicine and family medicine were made possible because of Nova Southeastern’s support of those programs.
You did a pediatrics-tracked internship. Why didn’t you serve a pediatrics residency?
I went into that internship thinking that I would stay and finish the residency and become a pediatrician. To me, pediatrics is the greatest preventive specialty you can choose. But once I was in the program, I realized that I wanted to take care of adults as well as children. That’s why I transitioned to preventive medicine and ultimately to family medicine. Family medicine gives you the opportunity to take care of everybody.
When did you decide to become a physician and specifically a DO?
I had wanted to become a physician since I was a young child in Canada. My dad’s younger sister is an MD, and she was a role model for me. Canada still has very few U.S.-trained osteopathic physicians, so I didn’t know anything about osteopathic medicine when I was growing up.
When I was getting my undergraduate degree as a premed majoring in biology, chemistry and English, I interviewed for an accelerated MD program. I didn’t have the best experience during that interview. I felt the medical school was too focused on my coursework and grades.
I remember the interviewer asking me why I received an A- in physics instead of an A. I looked at him and said, “I guess I missed one more question on the exam.” I felt the school had no personal interest in me, that it was interested in training physicians just to be robots—to be highly intelligent but non-feeling.
When I went back to the premed adviser and gave her that feedback, she said to me, “Why don’t you look at osteopathic medical schools? Their philosophy is completely different.”
Because I didn’t know anything about DOs, I started doing research on the profession and felt that the philosophies that drive osteopathic medicine are very much in line with who I am as an individual. So osteopathic medicine was definitely the right choice for me.
Enrolling at Nova Southeastern, which allows DO students to earn an MPH degree at the same time for no extra charge, was pivotal for me professionally. When I began medical school, I assumed that I would just go into practice after training. But earning that MPH degree opened my eyes to a whole world beyond clinical medicine.
You obtained four board certifications after training. Are you planning to maintain all of them? And do you recommend that all DO graduates get as many board certifications as they can at the beginning of their careers to broaden their professional opportunities?
“If you have aspirations of leadership or teaching, then the more certifications and other credentials you have, the better. More doors will open for you.”
I have already given up my certification as an HIV specialist from the American Academy of HIV Medicine because I’m no longer actively practicing and seeing HIV patients. I’m not eligible to sit for the recertification examination you need to take every two years because HIV guidelines change so often. But I am maintaining my certifications in preventive medicine, family medicine and medical quality.
As to whether new DOs should get as many board certifications as they can, it depends on what they plan to do with their careers. For someone who is planning to go into private practice, I don’t know how helpful it would be, though the extra training may be beneficial from the standpoint of acquiring additional skills and keeping current with what is new in medicine. But for somebody who is interested in an administrative position, public health or an academic appointment, credentials become incredibly important.
If you have aspirations of leadership or teaching, then the more certifications and other credentials you have, the better. More doors will open for you.
The school where I’m teaching, for example, has a really impressive faculty. I put in my application wondering how I would stack up against all of these graduates of Ivy League schools. I think the reason FAU was interested in me is that I have all of this broad experience.
The school looked at my credentials and said, “This is a person we can use. She has the family medicine background, the public health and preventive medicine background, and medical quality experience.” Those are some of the subject areas I’ve been asked to teach and address in various administrative duties and faculty committee assignments.
If I had just gotten my DO degree and done a residency, I don’t think I would have been hired.
Do you think every DO would benefit from earning an MBA as you did?
Business education is definitely helpful if you are going to be running your own practice or plan to be in an administrative role. I don’t think you necessarily need an MBA, but it is beneficial to have coursework that helps you think in a different way. As physicians, we’re trained to think as scientists and as clinicians. But in the business world, professionals think very differently because their decisions are financially driven.
On top of your degrees and certifications, you’ve received more than a dozen awards. Where do you find the motivation to accomplish so much?
I have thought deeply about my priorities. Whether it’s a cause I believe in or a career opportunity, I try to get involved only in what is important to me, what I enjoy and what will provide value in the community.
But I’ve also had to be adaptable. I’ve sort of rolled with whatever I’ve needed to roll with to get where I wanted to be.
My advice to other young DOs is to decide what your priorities are and don’t compromise on them. And prepare yourself as best as you can so that if Plan A doesn’t work out, you have a Plan B.
I’m incredibly fortunate because I’m able to have a job that I love, that I am happy to get up and do every day. I also get plenty of time with my family, which is the most important thing to me.