2021 Gold-Headed Cane Award Recipient Susan Rudd Bailey, MD
by Allison Howard
This article was originally published in the September/October issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.
When Dr. Susan Rudd Bailey reflects on her years of leadership in organized medicine, she says there has been a consistent truth.
“Every organization, whether it’s Tarrant County Medical Society, whether it’s TMA, AMA—they always seem to have the right person in office at the right time.”
When the allergist and immunologist began her term as AMA president in June of 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic, she wondered why she was the right person for that moment. The self-proclaimed extravert has a leadership style that emphasizes relationship building and the importance of community, and she was facing a year of virtually leading the United States’ largest medical association at a critical moment for medicine. It was a daunting situation at best.
Despite that, Dr. Bailey had the perfect set of experiences to prepare her for that moment.
“Having been the Speaker at TMA and AMA—I spent basically 16 years doing that—and having a lot of media experience, along with immunology credentials, working with the media and the public was a relatively easy transition,” she says. “I was able to do a lot more and reach a lot more people because I wasn’t traveling. Traveling is a real time waster. Instead of doing two or three events a week, I could do two or three events a day.”
Thinking about the past year, the culmination of over 40 years of advocacy on the behalf of doctors and patients, Dr. Bailey is humbled and honored by the opportunities that she has been awarded. “What a privilege,” she says, as she smiles and shakes her head. “What a privilege.”
Dr. Bailey has practiced in Fort Worth her entire career, but it took her a while to get here. Though her family has lived in Tarrant County for generations, she was raised in Houston—“in the shadow of the Texas Medical Center,” she says, remembering a childhood where many of her friends’ parents were physicians.
That coupled with the influence of Dr. Bailey’s allergist, who treated her severe allergies and asthma with compassion and excellent care throughout her adolescence, propelled her toward her future.
“The quality of care we give our patients doesn’t just happen in the examining room. It happens in Austin, it happens in Washington, D.C.”
“I have been so blessed to know what I wanted to do very early on in my life,” Dr. Bailey says. “I mean, I put on my college scholarship applications that I wanted to be an allergist; not just a physician, but an allergist.”
She was in the charter class of the A&M College of Medicine and loved every moment of her medical training. At times, it was an adventure to participate in the then-new program; the first two years of classes were housed in the basement of the computer sciences building. The small class of 32 students built strong bonds that turned into lifelong friendships.
She graduated in 1981 and began her residency at the Mayo Clinic. It was a complete shift from her tight-knit medical school; this program is one of the largest in the country and housed over a thousand residents at the time. Despite the completely different setting, Dr. Bailey says that this is an experience she has valued throughout her career.
Dr. Bailey completed her residencies in pediatrics and allergy and immunology by 1987 and joined Fort Worth Allergy and Asthma Associates (FWAAA) in 1988. By then, she was a mother of two young children, trying to find a balance between her career and her family. She wanted to work part time but was concerned about finding a position that fit her needs.
Dr. Bob Lanier, who hired her, and the rest of the partners at FWAAA were supportive of her position, so she joined the group and has stayed there her entire career. The unique setup of their clinic, which is an expense sharing partnership, gives her the flexibility Dr. Bailey needed to focus on her family and be involved in groups like TCMS, TMA, and AMA.
Her longtime partner at FWAAA, Dr. Robert Rogers, feels she is an integral part of their clinic. “Her patients thrive under her care,” he says. “Sue has an unwavering sense of fairness, which has created a perfect environment for the business side of our practice. I have been fortunate to share so much of my life with this excellent physician and close friend.”
She anticipated she would find a good fit with the Tarrant County medical community, and that hope was confirmed before she even got here. In February of 1988, just a few short months before the move to Texas, she went to the AMA’s Winter Conference, an event that executives and presidents from state and county societies around the country would attend. She brought her youngest son with her, who was only two months old at the time.
“The two people at that meeting from TCMS were the late Leo Benavides, who was the executive director then and just such a wonderful man, and the president of the society at that time, who was Dr. John Smith,” Dr. Bailey says. “I had my son, Stephen, in his stroller, and at one point in time he got kind of fussy. So John picked him up and started soothing him and then kind of started dancing with him as we were listening to the music, and I thought to myself, oh yes, these are the people I want to be with. I had found my family.”
Dr. Bailey has a recommendation for doctors and medical students everywhere: get involved in organized medicine and learn to say “yes.”
“There are opportunities available – the county medical society needs good people, the TMA needs good people, your specialty society needs good people,” she says, sharing the passion from her own career. “For me, it was the importance of physicians being involved in advocacy, and in helping other physicians practice medicine in a better environment. The quality of care we give our patients doesn’t just happen in the examining room. It happens in Austin, it happens in Washington, D.C.”
This is something Dr. Bailey has practiced her whole career. She joined TMA and AMA during her years of medical school and began to attend meetings. As a resident, she was elected to chair the AMA’s advisory panel on women in medicine. As her career progressed, she served as speaker of the house for both TMA and AMA, and as president for TCMS, TMA, and now, AMA. She has been involved in countless committees and groups, assisting with policy, advocacy, and education.
She has brought many physicians to join her along the way. Dr. Melissa Garretson, who has referred some of her most challenging allergy patients to Dr. Bailey, has often been inspired by her. “Sue Bailey is a phenomenal allergist,” she says. “But her greatest gifts are as a mentor and friend. Sue has guided many of us on our journey of service to organized medicine.”
Leading and participating in groups has always fascinated Dr. Bailey, but her commitment goes beyond her affinity for working in a team.
“I think of being involved in organized medicine as a professional obligation. I really do,” Dr. Bailey says. “Things don’t happen organically. We have to be intentional about making sure that everyone is represented, that everyone’s voice is heard.”
One area she has seen this in is the development of sections dedicated to female physicians. Though she was happy to be able to participate when she joined AMA’s advisory panel on women in medicine so early in her career, Dr. Bailey was concerned she was being pushed to the side to worry about women’s issues while other doctors worried about the “real” problems.
“My feeling about women in medicine groups has done a complete 180 from where I was when I finished my residency; now I think it’s incredibly important,” Dr. Bailey says. “Thirty-six percent of the physicians in the U.S. are female, but we still face significant pay inequities, and only 18 percent of medical school deans and 25 percent of tenured faculty are women. There is obviously still work that needs to be done.”
Looking back at what has been done, and the many things that still need to be accomplished, Dr. Bailey says that she has learned two important lessons about leadership. Good leaders sometimes step back to give someone else a golden opportunity, and good leaders always support their team. She had the chance to practice this when she first planned to run for TMA president.
“The late, wonderful Ladon Homer called me and took me to lunch,” Dr. Bailey says, remembering that day with a smile. “He had said all along that he didn’t want to be TMA president, that he would be happy to be chair of the board and then he would be done, but I always felt that he needed to be TMA president. So he took me to lunch and asked me if I would mind if he went ahead and ran for TMA president in the year that I was going to run.
“It was a no-brainer for me. I said, ‘Yes! Do it. We need you.’ Some people asked me later if I was resentful of that. No! I’m so glad, because Ladon was an amazing TMA president. He was the right person at the right time for us.”
Dr. Bailey had her opportunity to serve as TMA president from 2010 to 2011, and with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, she grew greatly as a leader as she navigated the different opinions and positions of the organizations and people she worked with.
“Leadership means that you will not always be advocating for your personal cause,” says Dr. Bailey. “There are times you have to take one for the team. A team, whether it’s a small group in an operating room or it’s thousands of physicians working together.
“You can have your arguments, you can have your disagreements and grind out policy, but when the decision is made, you all work together and leave your differences behind you. In the end, the credibility of the team far outlasts individual policy implications. If you lose your team, it doesn’t matter if you win.”
Dr. Bailey says so much of what she has done has been possible through the support of her loving husband, Doug; her two sons, Michael and Stephen Wynn; her daughter-in-law, Hannah; and her grandson, 11-year-old Jackson. She loves to spend time with them, and one benefit of completing her time in leadership is that she is now able to do that more often.
When not in the midst of a pandemic, Dr. Bailey also enjoys expressing her love of music by singing in her church choir at University Christian Church. She has had unforgettable experiences with her choir members, many of whom are her closest friends. A top highlight has been being able to sing at Carnegie Hall—six times.
Though Dr. Bailey loves organized medicine, she is ready to step back and focus on her practice and her family. She looks toward the possibilities of the future with anticipation as she limits her role at TCMS, TMA, and AMA to that of an “interested observer.”
“I have had 40 years to make a difference,” she says. “If I haven’t done what I needed to do in 40 years, said what I needed to say, accomplish what I needed to accomplish, then it’s nobody’s fault but mine. It’s time for younger people to occupy those committee chairs, to be the delegate, to get a chance to run the meeting. I’ve had my turn, and it’s been glorious, but now it’s someone else’s.”
As Dr. Steve Brotherton puts it after spending many years as her colleague in organized medicine, “Dr. Bailey has been an exemplary physician at all levels.” With great appreciation for her many years of selflessly serving the patients and physicians of Tarrant County and beyond, we congratulate Dr. Bailey— the Doctor’s Doctor.