Women in Medicine month: Leading with purpose

Each September, the American Medical Association’s honors providers who have offered their support to advance women with careers in medicine.

From left to right: Karen Brust, MD; Nicole Del Castillo, MD, MPH; and Maria Lofgren, DNP, ARNP, NNP-BC, CPNP, FAANP

To acknowledge this tradition, several University of Iowa Health Care leaders share reflections on their own career development and offer advice to young professionals.

“Starting out, I did not see myself pursuing a leadership position,” says Karen Brust, MD, hospital epidemiologist. “Maybe because I was too busy trying to master my craft and hold a two-baby household together.”

Brust came to Iowa in May from Baylor Scott & White Health (BSWH) in Texas where she was an infectious disease clinician and served as BSWH Temple’s director of infection prevention and control. She now leads the UI Program of Hospital Epidemiology in ongoing efforts to decrease the risk for health care associated infections, other adverse events, and our COVID-19 response.

Her advice to young professionals looking to step into leadership roles: be patient.

“Life affords you opportunities in a timely fashion,” she says. “If this is not the right time, that’s okay. Continue to bolster your CV and participate in professional development and networking opportunities.”

Nicole Del Castillo, MD, MPH, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Carver College of Medicine, also did not anticipate holding an institutional leadership position at this point in her career.

“During medical school, the Office of DEI was a main support for me and I always thought it would be nice to have a position like that in the future where I could help mentor and support students,” she says. “However, as a medical student, I never thought that my career would lead me in this path of medical school administration.”

Additional training and education—Del Castillo earned a Master of Public Health degree in 2016 and completed the Fellowship in Minority Health Policy at Harvard—helped her gain leadership competencies that she now utilizes in her current role.

Her advice to other women in medicine: advocate for yourself and be persistent.

“It never hurts to ask,” she says. “However, also find mentors and allies that will advocate with you. Mentors can also share with you their career path as well as their successes and failures which you can learn from and use this advice to help advance your own career.”

Maria Lofgren, DNP, ARNP, NNP-BC, CPNP, FAANP, director of advanced practice providers with UI Health Care, started her career as a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit. Her passion for providing the best care for some of the most vulnerable patients was the driving force behind pursuing additional education—she initially became a neonatal and pediatric nurse practitioner and eventually obtained a doctorate degree.

“I pursued a profession in health care because I wanted to take care of and fell in love with a patient population. I stayed in my chosen profession because I fell in love with the purpose of supporting the Advanced Practice Provider (APP) profession by watching my colleagues and wanting to help support them,” she says.

She encourages other providers working on advancing their careers to cultivate strong relationships with mentors and to learn everything possible about the organizational blueprint and culture to better understand the impact of how decisions affect the overall operations of the organization.

“I probably learned the best leadership skills from watching those who demonstrated exceptional leadership skills themselves,” she says. “Leaders who can professionally navigate the multifactorial barriers that prevent organizations in being able to provide the best care for patients are strategic thinkers, are able to build relationships to positively influence change, they manage up, and work cooperatively at every level.”

She adds that sustaining a career in health care also requires a good dose of self-care.


  1. Thank you all for your hard work! Maria, I have loved watching you grow into your career, you are so dedicated!

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