Editor's Note: I have always been completely inspired by people who decide to do a complete career change midway through their existing career. I think it takes major "chutzpah", particularly when you've decided to throw yourself into debt to pursue additional education. Vanessa clearly excelled at many things in life, but this jump from Hollywood Executive to pursuing medicine was scary and admirable. It's certainly a decision I know she'll never regret, but can you imagine? Vanessa is kick-ass and for so many reasons-- her zest for life, laugh that fills up a room and empathetic heart...but her passionate spirit takes the cake.
Like many careers, Vanessa’s first exposure into medicine came at a personal expense.
At age 15, Vanessa underwent serious back surgery to correct her scoliosis, which in medical jargon is described as an abnormal curvature of the spine. Most people don’t need surgery unless the curvature is fairly advanced and could cause health risks-- decreased lung space, weakness of the bones and chronic pain to name a few.
For Vanessa, a titanium-aluminum rod with a few bolts and hooks was the only option to straighten her spine and prevent these problems from plaguing her down the road. This invasive procedure provided her a very intimate, firsthand look into the field of medicine.
She was hooked.
Fast forward to her first year at Harvard University, Vanessa and her classmates were starting the process of “shopping” for classes to help determine their majors. Amidst a sea of equally driven, successful students, Vanessa figured she’d give the Pre-Med curriculum a try.
A natural-born traveler and self-proclaimed people lover, Vanessa took this advice and shifted gears, deciding instead to major in something entirely different than Pre-Med; Social Anthropology and Documentary Film.
She studied “art and film” for four years and when she graduated, went straight to Hollywood.
With richly deserved credentials at her back, Vanessa was swooped up by a production company, where 15 hour long days (oftentimes longer, she says, than her shifts as a doctor) became the norm. In just two years, Vanessa was promoted from assistant to creative executive.
Vanessa calls it a “crisis of conscience.” She knew in her gut she’d always regret it if she didn’t give medicine a try, but walking away from a job where she was a rising star, to starting from scratch, was unnerving at best.
The first step she took was to call the surgeon who had performed her spinal surgery 10 years earlier. She worked with him and his team for about a month at Children’s Hospital, LA and through his support and encouragement, decided to apply to Columbia University’s post-baccalaureate program. Here, she’d tackle the Pre-Med courses she didn’t fulfill the first time around in undergrad.
Consider this for a second. Imagine going back to what was essentially undergrad again, but this time being several years out of school. Vanessa was taking a huge risk—there were no guarantees that even after completing this program at Columbia she’d get accepted into med school. But still, she was willing to try, saying she just knew this was something she had to do.
After two years of studying at Columbia, Vanessa had completed the requirements needed to apply to med school. She was accepted to her first choice school at the age of 28. By comparison, most med students that start right out of school are 22. Not a huge difference by any stretch, but for a med student that’s just starting out, this age-gap can linger.
Now in her final year of residency, Vanessa has chosen the specialty of pediatrics and has recently married the “man of her dreams”, also a fellow doctor.
How did you end up settling on the specialty of pediatrics?
How do you emotionally handle caring for children who are battling life altering or life threatening diseases?
Where there ever dark moments where you felt like throwing in the towel?
Who inspires you?
Tell me about the clinic you started in Africa?
Do you think there is a way, as a woman, to feel fully satisfied in your personal life and your professional life at the same time?
What does the future hold for you?
What's the best advice you've ever received?
***Note: Children and Patients featured in photographs have signed releases for photographs featured***
Up Next on DRIVEN for Women, Liz Miele, Stand-Up Comic Extraordinaire
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