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An Ob-Gyn Reinvents Herself

Delivering pups put her on professional trajectory
By Scott Warner

Ask Maria Teresa Tam, MD, what propelled her to become an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN), and she recalls the time when she was a teenager in the Philippines and her family’s dog gave birth. Teresa was still in school and when she arrived home, she saw each of the pups still inside their water bags, suffocated and scattered around the living room. “I was heartbroken,” she said. One could also say that Teresa was “dogged” by the problem, and so, she did some research. It turns out the mother dog lacked the canine maternal instinct to pop the pups’ water bags. So the next time her pet gave birth, Teresa did the job for her, and the entire litter of six puppies survived. A future OB-GYN had emerged.

Fast forward to today. Dr. Tam is outgoing president of the Chicago Gynecological Society, assistant program director at Rush Medical College, and director of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at Presence Saint Francis Hospital. In 2012, she made a quantum professional leap, leaving her role as associate program director of the OB-GYN residency program at Saint Joseph Hospital, and undertaking a fellowship in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at Penn State University, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. In moving from Chicago to Pennsylvania, she had to temporarily leave her husband Rick Hicaro, and her family, but they all supported her decision to pursue her dream. She completed the fellowship and returned to Chicago in 2013, as a solo practitioner, or, as she puts it, “a member of a dying breed.” She had yearned to be her own boss, and set her hours so she could spend as much time as needed with her patients. But she was scared.

“I thought—how would patients find me? Will other physicians refer patients to me?” Her reputation must have preceded her, for her office was fully booked on opening day, and her practice, All For Women Healthcare, has been thriving ever since. While Dr. Tam initially took on every OB-GYN case, this past April she moved exclusively to gynecology, focusing on minimally invasive procedures like robotic and laparoscopic hysterectomies; removing fibroids, ovarian cysts, and endometriosis. She also counsels patients on alternatives to surgery, like medical therapy. And she couldn’t be happier. “I’ve been able to do what I’m passionate about,” she says. Dr. Tam also says she’s blessed to have wonderful office staff, with some who have followed her from previous positions. “I love them, they’re my extended family.”

She also enjoyed serving as president of the Chicago Gynecological Society, one of the oldest medical specialty societies in the city, founded in 1878. Dr. Tam speaks of the record number of attendees at society functions this year; the world-renowned guest speakers they hosted; and the fellow and resident research competition they sponsored. “To me it’s about bringing together all our OB-GYN attending physicians and residents in the Chicagoland area—and creating a sense of community.”

Medical missions and marathon running have kept her energized. She has volunteered in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador, providing no-cost services to women, some of whom had waited over a year to see a doctor.

Dr. Tam also draws inspiration from her teaching in residency programs at Rush University Medical Center and Presence Saint Francis Hospital. As she puts it, “I always tell my residents that it’s important for them to enjoy what they are doing. If you have the passion, then it’s not work.”

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