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WISDM conference speaker’s message to female health professionals: Discover your purpose

Sheryl Garland, vice president for health policy and community relations at VCU Health, addresses the audience at the 26th annual Women in Science, Dentistry, and Medicine conference. (Photos by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)
Sheryl Garland, vice president for health policy and community relations at VCU Health, addresses the audience at the 26th annual Women in Science, Dentistry, and Medicine conference. (Photos by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Sheryl Garland, vice president for health policy and community relations at VCU Health, left her presentation slides at home.

“I’m not going to put any pictures up, it’s just me,” Garland said as she began her keynote speech at Virginia Commonwealth University’s 26th annual Women in Science, Dentistry, and Medicine conference on April 27. WISDM is a VCU faculty organization that focuses on the professional development, growth and achievement of female health professionals. This year’s conference theme was “Models of Leadership: Where Do You Fit?”

“In this day and time, there is a lot of emphasis on success,” Garland said. “It seems there's an obsession about it, about beating the competition. You’ve got to have a higher ranking; you’ve got to have more recognition. And organizations where there's that mindset, sometimes it transcends through to our team members, and often it’s not healthy. It made me step back and think about well, what do we mean when we say success?”

WISDM is a VCU faculty organization that focuses on the professional development, growth, and achievement of female health professionals.
WISDM is a VCU faculty organization that focuses on the professional development, growth, and achievement of female health professionals.

Garland recounted her history with VCU Health and told a story about her father’s childhood. He would pack a lunch before spending all day waiting on a list to be seen at the hospital. She went on to recall her choice to accept an administrative residency at the medical center and the series of unexpected events that led her to a director position in ambulatory care.

She spoke of a moment at her first staff meeting during which she asked her team, “What does the appointment schedule system look like for our clients?” They told her people arrive in the morning, put their name on a list and wait. It was the same experience her father had gone through in the 1940s. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Garland said. She pushed to implement an appointment scheduling system “that respected the time, and the humanity of the people that we served regardless of who they were, where they live and how they could pay. “It represented for me that there was a purpose I needed to fill,” Garland said. “And though it was small, it was something that I needed to do.”

Sinem Esra Sahingur, D.D.S, Ph.D., associate professor of periodontics at the VCU School of Dentistry, accepts the WISDM Professional Achievement Award from School of Dentistry Dean David Sarrett, D.M.D.
Sinem Esra Sahingur, D.D.S, Ph.D., associate professor of periodontics at the VCU School of Dentistry, accepts the WISDM Professional Achievement Award from School of Dentistry Dean David Sarrett, D.M.D.

Her message to the audience of female physicians, dentists and scientists? Discover your purpose, rather than trying to fit external constructs of success. Her father would tell her: “You can stand on the outside of an organization where you see something is not quite going right and you can yell, you can scream and protest and hope that somebody listens to you and things will change. Or you can look for opportunities to go inside of the organization and make real sustainable change.”

Two such change-makers were honored with a WISDM Professional Achievement Award at Friday’s conference.

Huiping Zhou, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology in the VCU School of Medicine, studies drug-induced liver injury and inflammation. She is known by her students for her adventurous spirit and her dedication to mentoring and development.

Sinem Esra Sahingur, D.D.S, Ph.D., associate professor of periodontics in the VCU School of Dentistry, also was recognized for her achievements. Sahingur oversees pre- and post-doctoral clinics, mentors faculty and students, and serves as a core member of the Scientific Review Committee within VCU’s Center for Clinical and Translational Research.

Garland closed her speech by encouraging attendees to ask themselves a series of self-reflective questions.

“It doesn't matter how the world defines success, because it's fleeting,” she said. “It’s going to change. What does matter is what you leave behind, what you do. That's how you define success.”

Following Garland's presentation, event attendees participated in the following workshops:

  • "Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? Creating a More Mindful Leadership Presence," led by Jean Gasen, Ph.D., director of leadership and coaching at the VCU School of Business
  • "Community-Engaged Scholarship," led by Catherine W. Howard, Ph.D., vice provost, VCU Division of Community Engagement, and Lynn Pelco, Ph.D., associate vice provost, VCU Division of Community Engagement
  • "Burnout in Health Care: Old Problem, New Solutions," led by Linda Hancock, Ph.D., director of the VCU Wellness Resource Center
  • "Conflict Management: Promoting Civility in the Workplace," led by William E. King, university ombudsperson at the VCU Office of the Provost
  • "Becoming All You Are: Building Your Authentic Leadership in Times of Chaos," led by Jean Gasen, Ph.D., director of leadership and coaching at the VCU School of Business
School of Medicine Dean Peter F. Buckley, M.D. with Phillip Hylemon, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology. Hylemon accepted the WISDM Professional Achievement Award on behalf of Huiping Zhou, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at the VCU School of Medicine.
School of Medicine Dean Peter F. Buckley, M.D. with Phillip Hylemon, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology. Hylemon accepted the WISDM Professional Achievement Award on behalf of Huiping Zhou, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at the VCU School of Medicine.