In recognition of the many major accomplishments by women in anesthesia, CSA will be highlighting a variety of women leaders who practice throughout the state, bringing their diverse backgrounds and life perspectives into their work, taking purposeful steps to create pathways for mentorship and sponsorship, and helping support the clinical and research work that is being driven by an increasingly diverse field of anesthesiologists.
Below is one of the series profiles on women making great things happen in anesthesia:
Phebe Ko, MD
- Anesthesia Care Associates Medical Group in San Francisco
What was your pathway into medicine?
I attended college at Duke University, got my MD at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, did my residency at UCSF, and followed that up with a cardiac anesthesia fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. I knew early on that I was interested in the pre-med track, so even in high school I did internships and job shadowing to get exposure to what that world was like. While I was in college, I stayed focused on my goals - both academic and athletic. I attended Duke on a full track and cross country scholarship, and I learned early in my college years how to balance my time with running and my studies. My coach was strict with my team about avoiding distractions, staying healthy, and being disciplined with our academics. It was a really positive atmosphere to be in, and one that helped me learn time management and stay motivated. I have continued to train and race post-collegiately, with some of my most memorable achievements being racing in the 2008, 2012, and 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials all while balancing medical school, residency, and being a practicing anesthesiologist.
What led you to private practice medicine instead of an academic position?
I loved the academic setting for residency and fellowship, but I always knew that private practice would be the right career fit for me. In the academic setting, your responsibilities are extended to include teaching, research, and writing papers. I enjoy being able to focus on patient care, and then come home and be able to have more free time to spend on my hobbies. Anesthesia is such a rewarding specialty; I am challenged by my work, and yet I have the bandwidth to still pursue other aspects of my life that fulfill me. I think that the academic setting is right for certain people, and not for others. My experience at Johns Hopkins was very research-oriented so I got to see what that path looks like, and I am glad that I had the knowledge to make the right choice for me and pursue the private practice route instead.
Has your career experience matched your expectations so far?
It takes time to learn about career management even after you’re done with residency and fellowship – the type of lessons that are not about patient care but instead about how to navigate your path in a private practice setting, manage the group dynamics, and find your role. I learned it is better to fly under the radar for a while and figure out the subtleties in the group. I think I came out of the gate a bit too naive and wish I had been told to take a little more time to figure things out and blend in for a bit. My advice to newly practicing anesthesiologists who are entering the group setting is to view their role as a “bench player” at first – prove you’re safe, steady, and reliable (a “team player”) – then eventually you’ll become a “starting player.” Once you get into a good rhythm with your group, it’s really satisfying. It’s totally doable to be a doctor and to have many passions in your free time too. One other thing - private practice physicians should try to get more involved in medical societies, committees, and associations like CSA and ASA. I think there’s more emphasis on these societies among academic physicians, but that leaves out the private practice voice – and our careers and lifestyles are very much impacted by the legislative, regulatory, and administrative issues that these associations discuss and try to tackle. So I would definitely encourage more private practice anesthesiologists to pay attention and get involved where they can.