#MiFamMed Member of the Month

November 2021

Holly Ross, MD

Which practice settings/types have you experienced throughout your career?

I currently practice at a Federally Qualified Health Center in Ann Arbor. I have also been employed and practiced in a rural community and in military operational medicine.

What led you to this career, and was your path inspired by anyone?

My career has had twists and turns that I would not change for anything. Each twist and turn has been inspired by different forces, events, or individuals along the way. As a kid, maybe age 8 or so, there was a program in school that taught the dangers of smoking. Both my parents were smokers at the time, and I came home determined to get them to quit and worried about their health. I ended up finding and breaking every cigarette in the house and throwing them away in that effort. Surprisingly, my parents did not get angry, but gave me a talk about appropriate ways to influence change. They did quit, though, together and cold turkey. That was life changing.   

Later, my mother went back to school to become a registered nurse. My father had served in the U.S. Navy, and he encouraged me to look to the Navy Health Professions Scholarship as a way to both combine my interests in healthcare and service to the United States and pay for medical school. That led to some of my favorite adventures. Some were growth experiences I would not have volunteered for (i.e., deployment into a combat zone) but I became a better person as a result. There are the truest of leaders in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps (both in Navy medicine and in non-medical leaders), from whom I was fortunate to learn so much. If I tried to name them all, I am certain I would leave out someone important, so I'll just say that as a group, I have the highest respect for both the Navy and Marine Corps leadership.  

After the military, I have had the privilege to work with other inspirational family physicians and leaders, from northern rural Vermont, to family medicine residency at University of Michigan, to my current position at Packard Health. Packard Health is a Federally Qualified Health Center which has grown substantially during the decade I have been there. Here, I have found great satisfaction in offering quality healthcare to everyone regardless of their ability to pay or afford health insurance.

What has been the most unique aspect/experience of your practice of medicine or training thus far?

The most unique aspect would have to be training as a U.S. Navy flight surgeon (a Navy term for a flight physician). The Navy trains its flight surgeons in all the expected aviation and operational medicine topics that would be pertinent (heavy emphasis on ENT, for example, and psychological factors - things that might impact flight mishaps), but also more. The training includes how to conduct mishap investigations, and perhaps coolest of all, how to fly and a requirement to pass all the physical survival training a pilot must pass. That gives Navy flight surgeons a first-hand understanding of the physical requirements of the job, allowing us to make better decisions about when a pilot is fit for flying duties. In addition to being excellent training, it was one of the best adventures in my career. While most of my flying was done in helicopters (flying Hueys with a Search and Rescue squadron out of Yuma, Arizona), that and a flight for a practice “dog-fight” with an instructor against the F-18 hornets are highlights of that chapter of my career.

What advice would you give to your student or resident self?

To my student self, I would advise to not be so intimidated by everything. After deploying to Iraq in a combat zone with the Marines, I came back so much more grounded. I knew that it was not the end of the world if an attending asked me a question and I got the answer wrong. That perspective made me much more effective functioning as a family physician and as a learner. One of the best gifts deployment gave me was the realization that if someone is not shooting at me, it's a pretty good day. That perspective is invaluable.

What is one professional skill you're currently working on?

I am working on bringing back Tar Wars [in Michigan] at the moment. While cigarette use has declined, vaping is wildly popular in high schools, sadly. I am passionate about preventing tobacco addiction, and before the age of 12 is the critical time for kids to learn about the dangers. The American Academy of Family Physicians runs Tar Wars, which was created over 30 years ago and is still relevant today. It has evolved to provide the tobacco avoidance and advertising education for which it started, to now include education on the risks of vaping and hookahs as well. The last presentations in Michigan were in 2018, just prior to COVID-19, at a time when cigarette use had been declining steadily, but vaping was starting to rise among adolescents especially.  

I will be offering schools in the Ann Arbor area the updated Tar Wars presentations (with more content on vaping in particular) for fourth and fifth grade students, hoping to expand as time goes on to reach more of the state. Each presentation is given by physician volunteers, sometimes with nurses or medical students, and lasts about an hour long. Ideally each group has fewer than 30 students. The presentation for each class includes a slide show, some student activities, demonstrations, and a poster contest at the end (optional, but pretty popular in past years). This is one area I feel family physicians can make a huge impact - curbing the vaping epidemic by arming kids with knowledge before the ads get to them.

Why is it important for you to be a member of Michigan Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Family Physicians?

I have been a member of the AAFP since I decided to become a family physician my last year of medical school, and a member of the MAFP since I moved to Michigan. My membership helps me track CME and stay current, advocates for family physicians and for our patients, and gives us a voice and a setting in which we are able to interact with others facing similar challenges around the country. I feel this is an organization that truly represents me professionally.

How do you achieve work-life balance and maintain your own wellness?

I work part-time, 3 days a week (with a few weekend clinics on call from time-to-time), which allows me to spend time with my family, being a mom as well.  My family is young, so that is important (being a physician delays starting a family, but being a physician and serving in the armed forces, and deploying to a combat zone REALLY delays it!). But I also have developed habits of documenting as I see patients to minimize after-hours work, and I do not let the sun set on incomplete charts. That way, time at home is compartmentalized and I can really focus on the family. That's what keeps me from burning out, I think.

What book/podcast/Netflix series are you currently enjoying?

Currently, I am reading the second book in a series my 9-year old is eager for me to read: The Eragon series, also known as the Inheritance Cycle. It is kind of like Harry Potter with dragons. While I do not have as much time as I would like to read, it is a great escape! He's gratified to know that I am enjoying one of his favorite book series, as he is a voracious reader. I like that it allows us to further connect as he is embarking on the tween years, and soon will turn from a cuddly puppy-like child to a moody cat-like adolescent!

If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?

The power to read minds, but with the ability to turn it off!  Sometimes knowing too much is harmful. But I think if we understood each other better, there would be so much less conflict. Seeing behind someone's anger to the fear that it hides would allow one to speak to that fear instead of responding with more anger. And it might result in seeing more of what we have in common than what divides us.

Is there anything else you would like everyone to know about you?

I am typically not one to talk about myself much, but when I started inquiring about bringing back Tar Wars, I was also asked about sharing here. I did not think of myself as being interesting, but as I reflect on my career path, I realize it is an interesting journey! Now that I have a little more routine in my life, I look forward to being part of an outreach and preventive effort such as Tar Wars. Maybe readers will also like the idea of revitalizing Tar Wars, and if so, I welcome the involvement! You can reach out to MAFP's Director of Communications & Member Services, Dana Lawrence ([email protected]), to connect with me.