After more than three decades in exam rooms, procedure rooms, classrooms and board rooms, gastroenterologist Colleen Schmitt has seen it all. That's a safe bet.
"A career trajectory is not necessarily linear," Schmitt says about the diverse, demanding path that is her life's work. "It's not always pedal to the metal; you make adjustments. If you don't, you might miss opportunities."
Case in point: Leading a large, physician-owned multi-specialty group was not necessarily in the game plan, but that's where Schmitt landed in 2016 when her partners elected her president of Galen Medical Group. She is the first women to lead the group that includes about 60 physicians,
She balances her work as group president ("I was the right person at the right time," she says) with managing her own gastroenterology practice, teaching, conducting research and volunteering with local, state and national physician and related organizations.
Schmitt takes all of this responsibility in stride and credits a "great group of partners" for her accomplishments.
But it's more than than peer support, according to two people who know her well.
"She is a consummate professional with a great sense of humility, and she is deeply and profoundly motivated by her faith," says Rae Bond, executive director of the medical society. "She has a quiet demeanor but everyone recognizes her innate leadership capacity."
Foram Bhagat, who works with Schmitt at Galen and who nominated her for a Champions of Health Care award, highlighted her academic research, previous leadership of the local medical society, teaching at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and involvement in health policy work at the local, state and national levels.
"Dr. Schmitt not only works as a physician, researcher and president of Galen," Bhagat writes. "She also spends a significant amount of time volunteering at local leadership programs and high school science classes."
Both Bond and Bhagat credited Schmitt for her contributions to two important physician-led outreach efforts -- Project Access and Volunteers in Medicine -- in Chattanooga.
"I really don't know how she does it all," Bond says. "She is blessed with extreme organizational skills and is always, always thinking holistically."
Galen earned accolades for its quick pivots to telehealth, community outreach and innovative patient pharmacy services during the pandemic, which Schmitt describes as a "wake-up call" to the community.
"It was easy to be complacent. With COVID-19, we realized we had to work together quickly as a whole clinical team to take care of our patients and this community," she notes.
While helping steer Galen's response to COVID, Schmitt joined the city and county COVID-19 Joint Taskforce and the community testing subgroup. COVID revealed some uncomfortable truths, she says.
"We knew about the disparities in health care access in our community. The pandemic amplified those disparities,"
she says. "That's a humiliating fact of COVID."
The changes COVID forced on a health care community stressed by an unprecedented crisis, such as more emphasis on tele-health, will endure, she says.
"We took the approach of not being defeatist; we worked through and around the challenges COVID threw at this community," she says, pointing out the critical importance of group collaboration. "We needed to break down barriers -- and we did that."
Dr. Colleen Schmitt
› Role: President, Galen Medical Group.
› Career: Board-certified internist and gastroenterologist; joined Galen in 1993. Besides her medical degree, earned at University of South Alabama, and a couple of fellowships, she completed a master's degree in biometry and informatics. She is an active volunteer in local leadership programs and high school science classes.
› Personal: Married to her Ringgold High School sweetheart, Clint; two adult children; two grandchildren.