2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Patricia Turner, University of Maryland (Smith)

Patricia L. Turner, MD, FACS

University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

“A passionate leader advocating for patients and an evidence-based approach to healthcare strategy development.”

Age: 51

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Family: Children Jessica (college junior) and Morgan (8th grade)

Fun fact about yourself:  I was a firefighter prior to starting medical school.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA, Biology, University of Pennsylvania, and MD, Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest University.

Where are you currently working? American College of Surgeons, in Chicago, as Director of the Division of Member Services, and Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago School of Medicine.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Board member, Council on Medical Specialty Societies; Chair, American College of Surgeons’ Delegation to the AMA House of Delegates; past Chair, American Medical Association’s Council on Medical Education; past Chair, Surgical Section of the National Medical Association; past President, Society of Black Academic Surgeons; and past Board member, Auditorium Theatre of Chicago.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of being chosen by my cohort to represent them as commencement speaker. Being selected by my highly accomplished classmates from various fields was deeply humbling and appreciated.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?  The year-over-year increase in the number of new surgeons joining the American College of Surgeons. My division is responsible for the recruitment and retention for this – the world’s largest – professional association for surgeons of all specialties. So, this continuous increase of new Fellows is especially significant on a personal level.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program?  The “Lead Fearlessly” tagline drew my attention. It resonated with me. In the medical profession, one must be “fearless” and disciplined to make patient care decisions, advance an agenda, and solve problems through innovation. In medicine, as in business, we must be prepared to make the best choices in tough times, and sometimes with an incomplete dataset.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general?  The time spent interacting with the cohort was incredibly meaningful. I interacted with smart and accomplished classmates – extraordinary professionals I would never otherwise have had an opportunity to know at the level I experienced. The opportunity to forge these relationships and gain insights from entrepreneurs, bankers, military professionals, cybersecurity experts, lawyers, and more… to hear a diverse array of perspectives on any given topic of discussion has been invaluable.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I have always had confidence in my innate leadership skills but having the academic underpinnings and knowledge to support and enhance those feelings has been empowering and confidence building. Confidence comes from comprehensive knowledge and understanding. The program has provided a framework to explain concepts more clearly and has provided additional perspective when tackling tough work problems.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education?  Candidly, there isn’t one story to tell. I work in Chicago, live in D.C., and attended my EMBA program in College Park. I’ve “juggled” homework, my day job, parenting, and the responsibilities connected to my professional societies… It is definitely “juggling” and not “balancing.” There’s much too much to balance. We must keep all the balls in the air and try not to drop any. Establishing a timeframe for meeting deadlines required organization in order to successfully meet all the deadlines in the order they’re due, and to not let anything fall through the cracks was my highest priority.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?  Make sure your current employer is supportive, otherwise it could be very difficult. This is because the MBA program will most likely disrupt the existing timeframe of demands associated with your day job. For example, you’re away every other Friday to attend the MBA program and you may, perhaps, have a critical work event that conflicts with your class sessions. So, it is essential to know that your employer is engaged and indeed enthusiastic about the program. Second, look to be collaborative with your classmates. This will enrich your experience greatly. In effect, your learning is enhanced by using both professors and colleagues to strengthen your capacity for decision-making and problem-solving.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I think the biggest myth is that every classmate will have been steeped in the business world and have a wealth of business coursework under their belt prior to beginning the program. I view this from the perspective of a student with a non-business academic background. While there were certainly many who were business majors as undergraduates, our professionally-diverse cohort (including pharmacists, lawyers, other physicians and media professionals along with CPAs, entrepreneurs, bankers and retailers) easily dispelled this myth for me.

What was your biggest regret in business school?  I would have loved to have had more time to spend with my professors to have free-ranging conversations, and to cover more of the “optional readings.” As undergraduates or in other professional academic settings, there may be more time, but here the division between school and work meant that additional time was rare.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire?  Andy Kim – a banker. He has described his work with small business clients trying to stay afloat – to avoid laying off their employees in this Covid-19 pandemic – through the Payment Protection Program. He shared how he’s prioritized processing all the applications of clients, especially those in most need – instead of prioritizing larger clients which would be more lucrative for his bank. Given the recent media attention to small firms struggling and waiting for PPP relief (due to the latter), it’s been positively reaffirming to know first-hand that there are people like Andy in the financial sector who are looking out for and helping those who are truly in need of help in this crisis.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I considered it several times a year for a couple of years. Any thought that is that tenacious is worthy of serious consideration.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have the privilege of holding a position in which I am able to impact our 83,000 surgeon members and the millions of patients to whom they provide care. My long-term professional goal is to positively impact healthcare quality, access, and safety for every patient.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope my peers will remember me as a thoughtful contributor to our discussions, an effective communicator, a trusted confidante, and as a strategic leader.

What is the top item on your bucket list?   To visit every country in the world

What made Patricia Turner such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020? Patricia holds herself and all of us to a higher standard – and then helps us all get there. I met her the first week she was in our Executive MBA program, after I’d just wrapped up what I thought was a pretty great session on ethical leadership. She approached me and gently pointed out to me that the hockey stick in U.S. GDP in the mid-1800s, which I had attributed to the industrial revolution, also coincided with the growth of slavery in the U.S.  She said she’d been working on speaking her values, and so she felt she had to bring this to my attention.  When I demurred, she looked me in the eye and calmly recommended a book, White Fragility. Through this one quiet interaction, she set me on a path of learning, of questioning what I knew of history, and of greater understanding of not just ethics but of the founding of our nation and the challenges we as a nation and me as a person still face. Patricia is an executive of courage, values, and fortitude.  Having her in the classroom raised the quality and honesty of the conversation for us all.”  

Judy Frels
Senior Fellow for Executive Development Programs and Clinical Professor of Marketing


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