Dr. Elaine Wallace: An Educational Stalwart of the Noble Profession.

The Most Extraordinary Women Shattering the Glass Ceiling in Education

Dr. Elaine Wallace, DO, MS, MS, MS, MS, always wanted to be a doctor, it was her childhood dream. No one in her family had been a doctor or had even graduated college. For her, the medical profession is not a career choice but a calling – a God-given mission. Currently, she is the dean of Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine (KPCOM). She firmly believes that success is doing what you are called to do, with service and grace. “Success is leaving this world a better place than it was before you arrived.”

Teaching Beckons

Elaine always had thoughts of what her career would look like. She held onto the desire to become a pediatrician for decades until her first rotation in Pediatrics in her third year of medical school. Here she discovered that she hated Pediatrics. It bothered her to see the children so sick. She also realized that this mission – of doctoring – was not hers to determine, but rather to follow. So, she began to pay attention to the opportunities that presented to her. When she was in private practice, her medical school reached out to her to teach. When the opportunity was right, she accepted the job. When the chairmanship of Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine was offered to her, she accepted the job. When she was offered the deans’ position, she did the same. She has been recruited for every job that she has held. She thinks that it is because she has tried to do every job fully and to the best of her abilities. She believes that hard, dedicated work is often noticed and rewarded.

Lessons From Sports

Elaine acknowledges that one of the greatest preparations that she had for her job was organized sports. She was both the captain and the goalie of her field hockey team. She has played on the team for the state of New Jersey. Being the captain taught her to run a team, optimize the strength of the group, spot weaknesses, and navigate personalities. But being a goalie taught her how to be a dean – you stand in that space all by yourself, with onslaughts from every direction, with the definitive knowledge, that if you go down, the team goes down. Being a goalie prepared her to protect her team and taught her that she was the last line of defense. Those insights from an unexpected arena were the lessons that have shaped her success as a dean.

An Excellent Student

In the 1970s there were few women in medicine. Elaine was fortunate to be admitted to the Kansas City College of Osteopathic Medicine, the only medical school that she applied to, and was one of 10 women in a class of 165 students. There were only two women doctors in the medical school. To say that she was not wanted there is an understatement. The things that were said, the drawings that were placed on the board, the ‘pranks’ that were played on the women students were enough to cause one woman to transfer out and another to drop out. In such a system of organized and systemic discrimination, she learned that one must make choices. Complaints, the demonstration of weakness, subjugation, or seeking out women doctors were not viable options. It was then that she decided that her only recourse in such a situation was to be excellent, the best would stand for itself.

She resolved to change the system from within – making her way into the doctors’ lounges and the classroom. She made a promise that if she ever rose to power in her future career, she would assure that all were treated fairly – all genders alike, all races alike. She states, “It is the challenges that test us, that make us set a course and that determine who we are in the future.”

Changing Landscape of Education

When Elaine started her pre-medical career in college, her parents spent $75.00, a large sum, for the purchase of a calculator. Until then, she utilized a slide rule for calculations. Last year, she approved the purchase of a platform that allows teaching on two campuses ‘in person’ education, with the transmission of a holographic image of the lecturer. “How far has education come?!”, she exclaims while describing the changes that have happened over the years in the education system.

Redefining Educational Eligibility

Throughout a long and wonderful career, Elaine has had the great pleasure of doing creative things and offering great services. To her surprise, one of her greatest accomplishments has just occurred recently, in an unexpected arena. When taking over as the dean of KPCOM, her charge was not only to direct the DO medical school program but also to oversee several master’s programs. Against this backdrop, the University President, George Hanbury, called for the development of new bachelor’s programs that vertically integrated education. This led to the development of four new bachelor’s programs within the past five years. Moreover, these programs are dual admit programs, meaning that a student who attains a high GPA and MCAT score secures an interview at the DO medical school program or KPCOM’s Master’s program. These dual admit programs are in the process of changing who becomes a doctor at KPCOM. They are also currently working with the Colleges of Psychology, Education, and Undergraduate Studies, to put into place two more dual admit programs, one in Neuroscience or Psychology, and one in Humanities. Elaine believes that the varied backgrounds and interests of students will be a force of change in how doctors in south Florida perceive and treat patients in the future. This has been one of her greatest achievements in her career.

Elaine assures integrity by being an example. She hires people with not only smarts but also good hearts and lets them do their jobs. They are a team, but they also care for one another. They work on the mantra, “We rise or we fall together, and we prefer to rise.”

Leadership Lessons

Throughout her career Elaine has learned many valuable lessons which helped her in the many leadership roles that she has held, she shares the most important lessons through these two proverbs –

“Be humble, for you are made of earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars”. -Serbian proverb

“At the end of the game, pawns and kings go back into the same box”. -Italian proverb

Proud Moment in the Education Industry

Elaine’s proudest moment in the education industry occurred in Guatemala. She has been involved in medical outreach programs throughout the entirety of her career since she believes it is the role of physicians to serve those in need. As is the case in most missions that Elaine attends, the mission is often set up in a community center or a church, not in the typical clinics as one would envision. The initial part of any mission is the sweeping of the floor, the chasing of the goats from the room, the coverage of windows with plastic bags to prevent onlookers, and the construction of doctors’ tables from old benches or two by fours and cement bricks. This particular mission was set up in a dirty, dusty community center in Guatemala. Elaine was running the manipulative medicine station, in charge of caring for people with musculoskeletal issues. She received at her station a young girl of age eight, Lupe, and her mother. It was obvious Lupe had issues; she had a large indentation in her forehead and another atop her cranium. Lupe’s mother related the story that at the age of three, while playing, Lupe was accidentally pushed down and hit her head on a cement step outside of the house. Since that day, Lupe had excruciating headaches that prevented her from schooling and socializing. She had to be confined to her house. Lupe’s mother had consulted the local nurse and the doctor in the surrounding community. She had even saved money to take Lupe to Guatemala City to see an orthopedic specialist. When none of those practitioners were able to help, Lupe’s mom sought out the help of the local priest and the regional shaman – all to no avail. Lupe had spent the last 5 years of her life in terrible pain and so did her mother. That day Elaine and her students spent two hours working on Lupe’s cranium. With determination and care, they were able to pop out the depression of the superior cranium and to minimize the indentation of the forehead. Lupe left exhausted and still in pain. The team left to visit other towns. After a week of missions around Guatemala, the team returned to the area of Lupe’s family and before they departed for the US, Elaine was compelled to see if she could find Lupe and see how she was doing. She set out into the jungle that day, in search of Lupe’s village. After a few hours, she came upon a tiny village. She walked down the long row of huts and as she approached the sixth hut, a little boy’s head popped out of the structure and then immediately popped back in. She then heard a commotion mounting from inside of the hut and within a minute, the boy reappeared, surrounded by three diminutive Guatemalan women and Lupe. This was Lupe’s family. They were crying and rushing towards Elaine and she was not sure if this was the reaction of something wrong or something right. But what happened next was the most humbling thing that Elaine ever experienced; the women all grasped her hands and began to kiss them crying, thanking her, blessing her. Lupe was markedly improved. In fact, she was well enough to join the community school for the first time. Now, years later,  Elaine likes to think of Lupe, likely in her early twenties, having a family of her own. And in the evenings, Lupe likely reads to her own children – imparting them with knowledge and dreams and the stories of an American doctor. This is Elaine’s proudest moment as a doctor; knowing that she has changed the cycle for one little girl, who has likely changed the cycle for her little girls and for generations to come. This is why Elaine loves being an educator.

Teaching and Managing

Elaine knows that her success is the success of all of the people who surround her and work with her day-to-day.

Her days are busy with meetings – with the academic administrative team, the administrative team, Health Professions Division Deans, NSU deans and vice presidents, FOMA, political groups, faculty and students.

During meetings, she makes it a point to discuss all issues and make all decisions by consensus. She knows that this is unusual, but it makes them a team, makes it harder for decisions to go wrong and gives a much broader perspective to decisions. She is responsible for 5 Bachelor’s programs, 6 Master’s programs, a post-baccalaureate program, and two doctoral programs and the largest medical school in the state of Florida, situated on two campuses. She continues to teach in Osteopathic Principles and Practice, Human Sexuality, and Clinical Medicine. She is board certified in Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine, Family Medicine, and Sports Medicine. She also runs ‘Chair and Director Didactics’, a program in its 13th year in which all chair and program directors learn about professionalism and personal development and she also facilitates ‘administrator journal club’. She continues to serve as the Residency Director in the Sports Medicine Fellowship at NSU, a program that she has developed and implemented.

Elaine has three small children – twin boys of nine years and a daughter of 13 years. They keep her in balance. They constantly remind her of the fact that life is both at work and home. She devotes her evenings to spend time with them. Nothing makes her happier than traveling with her children and her partner and showing them different parts of the world; nothing makes her happier than raising global citizens. It gives her great hope for the future.

A Student, Always!

Even though Elaine is a Dean at KPCOM, she is enrolled in an Educational Specialist degree. She will complete that next year. She draws her motivation from Michelangelo’s last words, “I am still learning”. She states that “The work is not done until I am done.”

She strives to pay attention and follow the passion that she sees demonstrated within her colleagues. “This will be the light that leads us to the greatest success.”