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Women Who Lead
Kanitta Charoensiri, DO ’93, MBA

Director, Schiffert Health Center, Virginia Tech
Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Blacksburg, Virginia

Headshot photograph of Kanitta Charoensiri, DO ’93, MBA“I was in private practice at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center when I was asked to fill an opening at the University Health Center, ‘on loan.’ ... I grew to love it. I took a 45 percent pay cut, but I’ve never regretted it. In private practice I worked all hours. My kids were young, and being able to spend time with them was worth a lot to me. I wanted to be certain they didn’t get shortchanged in the process of my medical career. ... I’ve been at Virginia Tech since 2004. There are about 30,000 students here; in 2017-18, we had over 22,000 unique visits. I’m responsible for daily operations, policies, strategic planning, and managing staff, and I’m the public health official for the university. I love my job—and life is too short to stay in it if I didn’t love it. ... It’s taken me a while to get to this point, where I know myself very well, and I know what I will and won’t put up with. My style of leadership has significance; I own my own voice. I am proud to be a woman in the medical profession. ... Nowhere in your job description is it required that you must like all your colleagues, but you must work well together and be professional. Whatever issues you have, leave them at the door. I expect staff—women and men—to meet me at that bar. I don’t lower it. ... I’m basically a happy person. I don’t think anybody else has responsibility for my happiness; that’s up to me. When you are younger, you want to please people. I was born in Thailand, where you don’t speak out and you don’t contradict your elders. When I came to the States at age 10, my parents tried to maintain their culture. I was the only Asian in my Catholic school. In high school, my parents didn’t let me go to parties, and if you keep saying no to invitations, people stop asking you. I was not comfortable in my own skin. At Pitt, I was still trying to fit in. ... When I went away to medical school at PCOM, I could say yes to things. The coursework was harder, but you still had some time to enjoy a social life. PCOM was a fabulous experience for me, collaborative and supportive. My class was large—about 200 students—and very diverse. I relished the diversity. ... This is what I tell my kids and what I’d say to anyone who’s going through medical school: Your dream job may not have been created yet. Start somewhere, and then carve it out. You may be told, ‘We don’t do it this way.’ Ask, ‘Well, why don’t you?’”