Personal pursuits

June 1, 2005

Looking at her now as the first female chair of the Permanente Medical Group board of directors, it's difficult to imagine that Anabel Anderson Imbert, MD, physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente's Hayward Medical Center, arrived in the United States penniless and unable to speak English. But it was trials such as these that helped mold her into the dynamic figure she is today.

When Dr. Anderson Imbert was just a young girl, her family was forced to exile from their home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when Dictator Juan Perón came into power. The family laid new roots in Ann Arbor, Mich. "My parents were anti-Perónistas," Dr. Anderson Imbert says. "I was in the first grade and didn't speak a word of English, and for six months I was absolutely mute. One day at school, a little girl began talking to me and suddenly-for the first time-I understood everything she said."

Today, Dr. Anderson Imbert focuses on quality issues, and she has served in a number of appointed positions within the state of California, focusing on that subject area. She served as both vice president and president of the state's Division of Medical Quality between 1995 and 1999, as well as holding two positions within the Medical Board of California.

"The experience of coming to a country and not knowing the language has made me a different person than I might have been," Dr. Anderson Imbert continues. "I have this incredible understanding of how important it is to communicate in a manner that is easy to understand. The role of the physician is really that of educator-we need to educate patients because they might be hearing words and experiencing conditions that they haven't in the past, and they can be frightened."

Q. Are women achieving equal status to men in the field of medicine? In science? In healthcare in general?

A. I was discouraged by all of my school advisers to pursue a medical degree. At the time it was considered inappropriate, and I was told I would be unhappy and that it would be very taxing. The University of Michigan Medical School admitted 10 women in 1964, and I was one of them. I see a number of opportunities for women today-particularly compared with the era when I entered medical school. Women are rapidly achieving equality in medical school and in the healthcare field. Today, nearly 50% of medical students are women. There are many career paths and executive positions available in the healthcare arena that are filled by women, including hospital administration, nursing and other skilled specialties.

Q. What do you consider your most significant contribution to the field of medicine/healthcare?