Women in (Michigan) Family Medicine

Srikala Yedavally-Yellayi, DO, MEd

by Dana Lawrence, MAFP Director of Communications

This is the first in a series of Women's History Month articles celebrating the contributions of female Family Physicians in Michigan.

Women have contributed significantly to the practice of medicine throughout our country’s history, dating back 170 years to when Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female to receive a medical degree from a U.S. medical school. Inspired by a dying friend who said her ordeal would have been better if she had a female physician, Dr. Blackwell later opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children to provide access to primary and preventive care for the underserved. This also paved the way for generations of women in medicine.

Today, nearly half of Family Physicians practicing in the U.S. are women and, as of 2017, more women (50.7%) than men (49.3%) are enrolled in U.S. medical schools.

This month, Women’s History Month, we pause to reflect on the achievements of female Family Physicians who are making patients, families, communities, and Michigan healthy through their dedication to providing compassionate, whole-person, patient-centered care—among them is Srikala Yedavally-Yellayi, DO, MEd (Sterling Heights).  

Called to Practice

A minority female physician who has been in academic Family Medicine practice for 20 years, Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi entered the U.S. healthcare workforce as a medical technologist. Working in a cellular immunology lab before HIV was identified as the causative agent of AIDS, she had the opportunity to meet the patients whose blood samples she was testing.

“I was more curious about the people to whom the blood samples belonged than their disease—what were their stories and how were they impacted by HIV and AIDS?” she wondered.

It was during this time that Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi applied and was accepted to Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. With plans to become an infectious disease specialist and continue caring for HIV patients, she matched into Internal Medicine residency at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

As oftentimes happens, however, life events led her down a different path. Following the birth of her first child (now a Family Medicine resident in Chicago) and a move to San Diego that left her and her husband without child care for their daughter, Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi put her training on hold.

Eventually she obtained a medical license in California and worked in urgent care centers and as medical director for a methadone clinic. These experiences, she said, allowed her to care for a wide range of patients with a variety of physical and psychological issues.

“I began to recognize how complete the care is when you care for a person, not a disease, and when you get to know the entire family and are able to see the impact of family dynamics on a person’s health,” she said.

That’s when Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi knew the specialty of Family Medicine was for her.

Called to Teach

Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi said over the past two decades has had the privilege of not only practicing Family Medicine but also mentoring, guiding, and teaching Family Physicians of tomorrow. She is currently Family Medicine clerkship director at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and faculty at Beaumont Health Troy Family Medicine Residency.

“I am so fortunate to be in education. Interacting with budding physicians invigorates me, and listening to their plans, dreams, and hopes reminds me of why I became a physician.”

That’s not to say Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi hasn’t experienced her share of challenges and frustrations throughout her career. Among them is the lack of understanding of the scope of practice and skill set she, as a Family Physician, possesses. This, she said, often comes from other specialists and is manifested ten-fold for female doctors.

“The underestimation of a woman’s abilities is not unique to Family Medicine, but it can really contribute to the imposter syndrome many female physicians endure. This, combined with the eternal quest for work-life balance, can chip away at a woman’s resilience and confidence.”

Achieving balance, Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi has learned, is a dynamic process that changes with the different stages of our lives.

“When my children were young, balance came from working flexible hours that allowed me to be present for them. As the kids grew, I found balance came from exploring aspects of medicine that I now had time for, such as global health and palliative care.”

Having served on the Palliative Care Team at Beaumont Health Troy, Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi experienced first-hand how the long-standing relationships that Family Physicians tend to have with patients and their families uniquely position them to manage chronic diseases and end-of-life issues.

It is these relationships that Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi said, without a doubt, yield the tremendous rewards that come from being a Family Physician.

“The trust and faith [patients] have in me is humbling. Over the years, I have received notes and letters from patients expressing their gratitude for me just doing my job. Perhaps I should have responded with my gratitude to them for fulfilling my life,” she said.

Called to Serve

Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi also finds fulfillment through volunteerism. Now that her children are grown and she is in the middle years of her professional development, she has more time to give to causes she is passionate about like tutoring elementary school students in Detroit and advocating for her specialty.

“With the changing landscape in medicine, I feel it is more important now than ever to take an active role in advocating for our profession. We [Family Physicians] have accomplished a great deal yet still have so much more potential for impacting the direction of healthcare in America,” she said, emphasizing the importance of reaching students early in their medical school training to not only inspire them to choose Family Medicine, but also teach them advocacy and leadership skills.

To that end, Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi serves on Family Medicine Foundation of Michigan’s Professional Development Committee, which plans CME events for practicing physicians and education opportunities for students and residents to advance the specialty in Michigan—a goal that Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi believes can be achieved by:

  • All medical schools providing longitudinal experiences in Family Medicine so that students understand early on in their training the value of the doctor-patient relationship and its impact on patients’ health
  • Residents from other specialties working side-by-side with Family Physicians so they can learn about the broad scope of Family Medicine
  • Healthcare systems demonstrating their recognition of the value of Family Medicine by developing and advertising primary care centers of excellence as the foundation for high-quality care

Dr. Yedavally-Yellayi will share this vision for the future of Family Medicine when she serves as MAFP’s Minority Delegate at the AAFP National Conference of Constituency Leaders, April 25-27, in Kansas City, MO.

“We have the unique ability to care for populations undifferentiated by gender, age, or disease process. It is every Family Physician’s responsibility to educate the public and our other specialty colleagues that value-based care can only be achieved in a healthcare system centered around Family Medicine. This is my sincere belief and passion and something I try to impart in some way to every learner, patient, and colleague I encounter,” she said

Related Articles:

Family Physicians: The Backbone of the Healthcare System: Tina Tanner MD, FAAFP

A Career in Family Medicine Makes Work-Life Balance Achievable: Anne Kittendorf, MD, FAAFP