Q & A with Belinda Vail, M.D.
We had the chance to ask Belinda Vail, M.D. a few questions about her new role at the School of Medicine and her plans for the department.
In early 2018, Belinda Vail, M.D., was named the chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Vail grew up in a small town in southeast Kansas. She earned a master's degree in environmental biology and taught junior college biology before deciding to study medicine. She attended the KU School of Medicine, completed her family medicine residency at KU, and was recruited to stay on as teaching faculty.
We had the chance to ask Vail a few questions about her new role at the School of Medicine and her plans for the department.
First of all, congratulations on being named chair of the KU School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine. What does this mean to you?
I am very humbled and honored to be asked to lead such a talented team of physicians and health care providers. It’s an exciting time for family medicine and for our department. Our team is addressing health care inequities, providing care to the underserved, participating in cutting-edge research from Wyandotte County to Malawi, Africa, and training the next generation of family medicine physicians to provide a new model of care. How could I not be excited about this opportunity?
What are some of the key issues facing the department and the practice of family medicine in general?
I really believe the issues facing family medicine are the same health care issues our country is facing. We need a highly trained workforce of primary care physicians who can care for 85 percent of the patients and deal with 85 percent of the problems. Educating our students and encouraging them to enter primary care fields is crucial to meeting this goal. It is really exciting that, this year, 50 of our graduating medical students are entering family medicine, demonstrating yet again that KU really is one of the top medical schools in the country when it comes to training family medicine physicians.
What are your goals for the Department of Family Medicine?
My immediate goals are to improve our medical student clerkship and residency programs. Most of my faculty are here because they want to teach, and I want them to be able to do that to the best of their ability. Giving students an excellent experience in family medicine not only keeps them interested in family medicine and primary care, but also prepares them to be better specialists.
We are also one of the leading research departments in family medicine in the country, but I would like to have our researchers and clinicians working more closely together so everyone is thinking about how to study what they are doing and how we could do what we are doing better and/or more efficiently. We are intimately involved in our community both locally and globally and my long-term goal is to work with my colleagues in all of the other departments to make community our culture.
You have been an active member of the Women in Medicine and Science (WIMS) chapter at KU Medical Center. What are some of the issues facing women physicians and researchers in 2018?
Unfortunately, they are the same issues we have been facing since I started in medicine. It’s hard to be a physician, but it’s even more difficult if you are a woman. As a group, we still bear more of the responsibility for cooking, cleaning, and raising children. It’s difficult to do all of that and get promoted at the same speed as our male counterparts. There are fewer of us who are professors, chairs, and deans, and we make less money for the same jobs. It is getting better, the gap is smaller, but it is still there.
As evidenced by the #MeToo movement, we also have to put up with more mistreatment on our journey. We have fewer role models and mentors. That is the beauty of an organization like WIMS. Women physicians are better and stronger when we support each other and actively work for what we need to be on the same playing field.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love spending time with my family, sports, and travel. We try to do as many things as possible together, from traveling to Alaska, to skiing, to running the half marathon (ok the last was more like enduring together!) I love reading, learning, riding horses, and seeing the world. I think I need more spare time!