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Posted February 14, 2023 by Cheryl Johnson, MD, FACOG and Jacqueline Tulodzieski-Ahlstrom, DPM
Listen to this episode of the Healthy Vitals Podcast.
In this episode, we are celebrating women physicians. Dr. Cheryl Johnson and Dr. Jacqueline Tulodzieski-Ahlstrom lead an interactive discussion focusing on what brought them to their careers in medicine, and what they love about working at Summa Health.
Cheryl Johnson, MD, FACOG
Dr. Cheryl Johnson is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. Race and infant mortality is her obstetric special interest. Gynecologic areas of interest are hysteroscopy and laparoscopic surgery.
Jacqueline Tulodzieski-Ahlstrom, DPM
Dr. Tulodzieski-Ahlstrom, is a native of the Akron area, attended Green High School and The University of Akron, earning a degree in Secondary Education with a focus on history before realizing her passion was medicine. Dr. Tulodzieski-Ahlstrom attended the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine (now known as Kent State University College of Medicine) and graduated in 2011. Her first year of residency took place at the former Summa Health Western Reserve hospital. She then transferred to Inova Fairfax Hospital, a level 1 trauma center in Falls Church, Virginia. As Chief of the Limb Salvage program at Georgetown University Hospital, Tulodzieski-Ahlstrom continued to refine her expertise in podiatry. Since graduating from residency in 2014, she has been practicing in Northeast Ohio before joining the Summa Orthopedic Group in 2020. Dr. Tulodzieski-Ahlstrom and her husband reside in Green with their four children, enjoying the outdoors and all Ohio sports!
Scott Webb: Women's Physician Day is celebrated every February, and I'm joined today by two of Summa Health's female physicians. I'm joined by doctors Cheryl Johnson and Jacqueline Tolodzieski -Ahlstrom, and they're here today to share their stories and words of encouragement for women considering a career in medicine. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. So I want to thank you both for joining me today. This is kind of awesome and fun. We're celebrating Women's Physician Day and I have two women physicians with me today. So I've got a bunch of questions for you. Start with you. Dr. Johnson. Just like to have you introduce yourself. What's your role at Summa? How long have you been there? And so on.
Dr. Cheryl Johnson: I'm Dr. Cheryl Johnson. I'm a obstetrician gynecologist here at Summa Health System. I have been at Suma for the past 18 years. I did my residency there and then stayed on, as staff. Currently I serve as a hospitalist, which means I spend the bulk of my time on labor and delivery. The other hat I wear is I am the clerkship director, which means that I oversee the education of our medical students that spend their five week clerkships on our OBGYN rotation.
Scott Webb: Yeah, so you wear a couple of hats there and hopefully you feel like you look good in hats. You know, not everybody does. I have an abnormally large head, so hats are difficult for me, but hopefully they look better on you and Dr. Tolodzieski same question for you basically introduce yourself. What do you do? How do you do it? How long have you been there? And so on.
Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom: I'm Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom. I've been with Summa for almost three years now. I am the podiatrist with the orthopedic department, so a lot of my roles are kind of different. I see people in the office and I also get to do surgery, which I love to do. I also see some inpatients as well, so kind of many hats, just like Dr. Johnson and I work with the orthopedic residents.
Scott Webb: Nice. Yeah, it always comes back to the hats. And I do find in medicine that, you, healthcare heroes on the frontline, doctors, nurses, you do tend to wear lots of hats. And, we appreciate that of course, as patients, although doctors and nurses are patients too. I'll stay with you, Dr. Tolodzieski. Tell me about your career in medicine, more specifically, your specialty and how you got here?
Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom: I didn't take the traditional route into medicine, but I feel like I always had a love for science. My parents were both in the medical field. My mom was the cytogeneticist and always looked at microscopes, which I always felt was fascinating. So I didn't do that right out of school , but I did think I think medicine is calling me, so I took the doctor route and. The specialty itself, I really didn't know much about podiatry, so I shadowed different types of doctors and I met a podiatrist once and he just kind of told me, great lifestyle, you get to do surgeries.
And I just kept on thinking, I'm so hands on. I think I would really love that. So, Podiatry has been a really fantastic fit for me. gives me a lot of opportunities to see and meet patients and their families, but also do surgery and procedures, which I really enjoy.
Scott Webb: Yeah, that does seem to be a common thread. A common theme when I speak with doc and nurses is usually there's something in the background. Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, is sort of seems to have sparked something at an early age, and there's just kind of a family history to it. Dr. Johnson, what about you? Tell me about your career, your path, your specialty, how'd you get here?
Dr. Cheryl Johnson: So much like Dr. Tolodzieski, I would say it started with my parents. They were both educators, but specifically my mom was a biology teacher. . So we often did her dissections ahead of time, after dinner at the dining room table. And I think that sparked my love of science. So I went on to be a biology major in undergrad. And then I went to the Ohio State University for medical school, after which I matched at Akron City Hospital for OB gyn residency. And like I mentioned before, I've been there ever since. Specifically in regards to a career in obstetrics and gynecology, much like Dr. Tolodzieski said, I love surgery, so being in a field where I get to do procedures with my hands, was something that I was really passionate about. And I feel like the discipline of obstetrics and gynecology provides, that procedure base that I'm seeking. But also it gives continuity of care, where I'm able to see women throughout the continuum of their life,
Scott Webb: Yeah. That's awesome. And my grandpa went to the Ohio State University as well, so I appreciate you saying that the proper way, the Ohio State University Summa being in Ohio and all, and all that that implies Dr. Tolodzieski, what's something you learned early on? What's something somebody told you early on that you've sort of carried with you through this journey?
Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom: I'm not sure if it's something someone said, but I would say more of something that I learned early on is you have to be okay with making your own path. I felt motivated. So a little bit about my educational journey was I actually went to school to be a high school history teacher and I loved history and I just thought this is what we do. And by the third year in undergrad I was like, this is not me. Like, I don't enjoy teaching. I'm seeing all these other teachers, God bless our teachers, they're really amazing. I just didn't have that calling and that's what actually made me change. So I almost had my first midlife crisis at 21 realizing I don't want to do this for the rest of my life.
And that's when medicine called me. So the one thing that I feel like stands out was that I, you have to be okay with changing the outcome of your future. So I decided then I wanted to go into medicine. And then clearly I had a lot of support doing that. And then another time that I had to be okay with that change was, I did my first year of residency here in Ohio, but I didn't feel like I was getting the best training. So I had to do the uncomfortable move of moving to another residency program, which is almost unheard of. But I had to make my education better.
And it ended up working out really well. I went to Inova out in Virginia and for two years, learned so much in residency that I was able to bring that back. So you really have to be okay to forge your own path and be motivated to take your education on your own.
Scott Webb: Yeah, you really do. And you have to be able to make bold decisions and take those big steps and be okay with that no matter how it turns out. And obviously for you, it's turned out well and hopefully it does for other doctors and nurses. And Dr. Johnson, what's something that stands out for you in your path? Something you experienced or something somebody said, and it's just like always there, sort of in the back of your mind as you're working with patients and helping them and delivering babies and so on?
Dr. Cheryl Johnson: So I would say a seasoned physician in the practice that I joined told me that what you do on the first day of private practice will be. Always do. So sit down and listen to the patient. Take time, be thorough and don't cut corners. And I find that to be true, and I feel like that's the best advice that I got early on in my career.
Scott Webb: Yeah. And again, as patients, we appreciate that. Please don't cut corners, we don't, we don't get very long with our doctors, you know? And so you want to feel like for that 15 minutes that the doctor's really listening to you, that you're their only thing they're thinking about in that moment. And we all really appreciate that. And Dr. Johnson, what do you love most about being a physician? I'm sure there's many things, but you, if you had to think about the thing that gets you up in the morning and gets you motivated, what's that?
Dr. Cheryl Johnson: That thing is helping women usher in new. I don't think that I've found anything more amazing than delivering a baby, and so I'm thankful and blessed that that's something I get to do on a daily basis. But specifically what I love most about being a physician at Summa is the culture.
Scott Webb: Yeah, I've heard that before and I'm sure Dr. Tolodzieski, you could probably echo that,, that people who work at Summa, the folks who work at Summa, seem to really love it. They love working there. They love working with each other. They love serving their respective communities. When you think about things that you love or something you love the most, whatever's on that list, and I'm sure it's, you know, Summa, of course, but from your perspective, what do you love most about being a physician?
Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom: Yeah, there's a lot of things that I love about it. Like I said, surgery, but it's more about, you know, just like Dr. Johnson, she's bringing new life into the world and really helping those patients with those small steps. And sometimes I'm seeing people on the worst day of their lives. Sometimes I'm seeing them meeting them in the hospital, they're very sick and I have to try to comfort them and their families because you have to realize it's as common as surgery is for us surgeons. It is so abnormal for these patients. So I really try to spend extra time with making them feel comfortable knowing the plan going forward and that I'm comfortable and confident that I'm gonna help them through this journey.
It's not new life and sometimes it is end of life and it's very hard and scary and it's not easy for us as physicians either. But it is very rewarding that I feel like I do hopefully get to people and their families and make them feel a little bit more calm on such a bad day for them. And I totally agree with Dr. Johnson. Summa has been such a blessing for me and my family. It's provided a wonderful home for us, for my work. And this is now my third job since residency, and I've had all great jobs, but this one is just a different culture, like she said.
Everybody's very warm, inviting, welcoming, and really a team approach to many things. I would have no problem reaching out to another physician about any problems, and I've had no pushback. So it's just a wonderful environment for myself as a physician, but also for my patients.
Scott Webb: Yeah, it seems so. And along the lines of patients and communities, maybe you can talk a little bit about your view to healthcare approach to care. Just in general. What are your thoughts about physicians, healthcare professionals, and really putting their communities first, serving their communities first? I know you have a lot of things that probably everybody wants this to be first on your list, but when you think about serving communities, what are your thoughts? What's your approach?
Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom: Yeah, there's a lot of things you have to take into account when you're dealing with one patient versus another, whether it's family issues, social issues, what can patients offer to themselves. So you even have to know their insurance to know what's available for them. So knowing what's available in the community to help with patients during their healing process or going forward for their maintenance process just to prevent problems in the future is really important. So I love that we have so many services available, including rehab hospitals. Even just places that can provide medical equipment, you have to kind of know those locations and how can we get those services available to the patient?
Cause they might have the means or the resources to physically go out and get them. How can we get them those things to their house? So it's really important to be involved in the community and know all those things that really benefits the patients at the end of the day.
Scott Webb: Yeah, I'm sure, and I'm sure Dr. Johnson, you'd agree, but want to hear from you, what are your thoughts or your views on healthcare professionals like yourself and how you really can help and serve the communities around the respective hospitals where folks work? In this case, Summa, of course.
Dr. Cheryl Johnson: So I think the first step in helping the community is being available but always promoting good health and then being up to date on current regimens so that we can educate on prevention. I would say that much of my work is tailored towards helping the black community specifically those communities surrounding Summa that are high risk for infant mortality. So we've designed programming, specifically centering to help address African American. And I feel like in developing that work, we had to hear from the community. So we had to hear what their needs were and what it was that they wanted for us. So I think it's important to paint as you go.
We as providers might have a template or a structure on how we think things should go, but then when you hear from the community I think it's important to be willing to pivot and meet them where they are and give them what it is that they need. I think the last part to working in community is to make sure that you're partnering with Grassroot community organizations. I think there's great synergy when we as a health system can do that. And I think that it really compliments the programming that we can bring to the community.
Scott Webb: Yeah, that all sounds right and I've kind of heard that before in, in hosting these Summa podcasts is, you know, the importance of the respective Summa communities and really listening to them and being willing to improvise, to pivot, as you say. You might have a plan, but sometimes you throw the plan out and you veer off in other directions, and Suma seems really willing to do that. Everybody at Summa does, and I sort of prefaced things today, Dr. Johnson by saying We're celebrating Women's Physician Day. So wondering what advice you have for any women considering a career as a physician or just a medical professional.
Dr. Cheryl Johnson: So I would say be strong. If this is something per you're pursuing, then you were made for this. The statistics or you go on American Medical Association website, there's so many things that they're saying that women face that are challenges, as they navigate healthcare. Such as the biases we face or lack of mentorship or work-life balance, challenges that can lead to burnout. And I would say that, I've had to navigate all of those things and be strong. It's a very fulfilling and rewarding specialty. So, find a mentor early and always have a plan.
Scott Webb: Yeah, a plan helps for sure. But as you said, be open to change, be open to pivoting along the way, as I'm sure most doctors and nurses are, and Dr. Tolodzieski when you think about you and your perspective. What advice would you give someone after now? You know, being at Suma for so long and knowing your journey to get there, what advice would you give a woman who was considering being a physician or a nurse, or any kind of medical professional?
Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom: Yeah, I, my advice is very similar to Dr. Johnson's is you have to be strong. It's not meant for everyone to make sure it's something that you really love. Really whether it's a physician or any profession, make sure it's something that you do love. But the one advice I would recommend too is, you know, have a good support system. Because You do face many challenges, you're gonna have those biases or the work-life balance is very difficult. So have a good support system that's available. And for somebody that's just starting out as a physician or even just thinking about becoming a physician.
Go shadow, go find different people that can become mentors and make sure that this is the right field for you. There's so many different specialties now. It just is mind boggling that I firmly believe that at 18 years old, you don't really know what you wanna do. And those are very lucky people that do. So coming right outta high school, you don't have to know exactly what you wanna do. So give yourself time to shadow and get experience. And if you think you. have a calling for medicine, then go to a hospital and try to shadow different people, whether it's a nurse or a doctor or a physical therapist. So it's a very rewarding career. It's a wonderful field and you always have the good challenges that kind of keep you going and just enjoying what you love.
Scott Webb: Definitely. And I was gonna ask you both a very serious sort of question here at the end, but I think I'm gonna scrap that and do something fun. So, Dr. Tolodzieski, what do you do for fun? Like when you are not being a doctor and helping people potentially on the worst day of their lives, what do you do for fun? How do you un wind?
Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom: Well, we have four children, so we don't unwind much, but I do love spending time with them. It's just such a joy and a blessing and I'm just so excited to come home every day. So we do love to travel, so just getting out more that the kids are getting a little bit older, we can do those things. . So I love to travel, see new experiences, try different foods and on a regular basis just trying to get good exercise. I try to run when I can, which is not often. But I think, you know, have healthy mind, healthy body is all really important. So I do try to stay active and trying to run a little bit more.
Scott Webb: That's awesome. Yeah, I only have two kids and I know how hard it was for me to keep my head above water. So four. Boy, that's a lot. Hopefully you and your partner are great, have a great partnership, and that's awesome. So, Dr. Johnson last word to you, what do you do for fun when you're not being this awesome physician?
Dr. Cheryl Johnson: So same as both of you. I value spending time with my family. I have two kids, a son and a daughter. And we enjoy family night. So the four of play games, or they'll coerce me into making a TikTok with them as long as it's on their private story. So yeah, just being silly and having a good time with those I love is what I value.
Scott Webb: Yeah. That's awesome. Well, this has been so fun today. I love that Summa takes time. You know, we do a lot of medical podcasts. Tell me about knee replacement surgery or whatever it might be. But I love when we get to just be people and talk to physicians and nurses about their lives and their approach to care and what they love about Summa and what they do in their free time. So this has been so great today. Hope you both enjoyed it, and you both stay well.
Dr. Jacqueline Tolodzieski-Ahlstrom: Thank you so much.
Dr. Cheryl Johnson: You do the same. Thank you.
Scott Webb: And to learn more about opportunities at Summa Health, visit summahealth.org/careers. And if you found this podcast to be helpful and informative, please share it on your social channels and be sure to check out the full podcast library for additional topics of interest. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well, and we'll talk again next time.