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Dr. Kathleen Kearns: Turlock's first female Chief of Medical Staff

Dr. Kathleen Kearns: Turlock's first female Chief of Medical Staff

Dr. Kathleen Kearns reviews a patient's chart at her Turlock office on Thursday. Kearns was Emanuel Medical Center's first female Chief of Medical Staff in 2012.


POSTED January 28, 2013 12:07 p.m.

Emanuel Medical Center saw a lot of changes in 2012, one of them being the appointment of the hospital's first ever female Chief of Medical Staff in Dr. Kathleen Kearns.

As Chief of Staff, Dr. Kearns was responsible for presiding over Emanuel’s medical staff meetings, directing the medical staff executive committee, serving as liaison between physicians and hospital administrators and interpreting hospital policies to the medical staff.

Kearns said she was happy to take on the administrative role, despite her already full schedule as a family medicine physician in Turlock and director of the Valley Family Medicine Residency Program in Modesto.

"It was kind of a big deal to me," she said of being the first female chief. "I was the first woman and the other dynamic was I was younger than most and newer to Emanuel."

Kearns graduated from Yale in 1990 with a degree in anthropology, then attended medical school at UC San Francisco. She completed her family medicine residency training at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas and established her full-scope family medicine practice in Turlock in 2002.

While serving as Chief of Medical Staff, Kearns said she found her colleagues and the hospital administration to be very supportive, which made her job easier; despite having to take on completing an update of the staff executive committee's bylaws under her tenure.

While presiding over one committee meeting after another, Kearns, like most healthcare professionals, was also preparing for the changes underway in the industry.

"Full-spectrum care may be dying," Kearns said. "There are no more Jane-of-all-trades, instead physicians are choosing between an in-patient or out-patient model of care for whatever reasons."

Kearns herself has scaled back her full-spectrum practice over the past few years to focus more on out-patient care.

"Primary care is the foundation of what our healthcare will look like in the future," she said. "If you believe in the ideal of being a family doctor and treating the total picture, the footprint doctors have will change."

Even though Kearns wanted to be a doctor since she was young when her father, who is a retired surgeon, used to take her around the hospital, finding a balance between career and home life has been a challenge, she said.

"Medicine isn't the type of career that you can fit into a shift," she said. "It's a tug-of-war between patients and family, and women can have a service mentality where they try to please everyone at once."

Kearns, who is married and has three step-sons, tries to do most of the household shopping while keeping up with her professional responsibilities — but it's hard.

"You just really don't 'punch out,'" she said. "You're never really not responsible for your patients."

Despite the challenges, Kearns encourages young women — and men — to get into the healthcare field, if they have the right motivation.

"It's good to do it if you really have a heart for it. It's not what you go into to make money anymore. It's a tough field, but really rewarding."

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