As a medical student at the University of Kentucky in the early 1970s, Dr. Susan McGuire was convinced of one thing — under no circumstances would she pursue psychiatry as her specialty.
But in her clinical rotations, she discovered she had the ability to empathize with and assess people unable to express what was going on in their lives.
"And with that, I chose to do the absolute thing I said I would not do," Dr. McGuire says in an interview at Parkridge Valley Hospital, child and adolescent campus, where she has served as medical director since 1996. The facility, on 80 wooded acres off Morris Hill Road in East Brainerd, serves children under the age of 18.
Dr. McGuire has dedicated her career to improving the mental health and welfare of children, according to colleague Carolyn Ridge, who praised Dr. McGuire's tireless passion for children and teens.
"Dr. McGuire has a tough exterior and a soft heart, which makes her the best in her field," Ridge wrote in nominating Dr. McGuire as a Champion of Health Care. "Her resolve is unwavering and her efforts unsurpassed."
Dr. McGuire credits her parents for instilling solid values that she draws on every day.
"I got a strong work ethic from my mom, and from both of my parents the notion that there was absolutely nothing I couldn't be or achieve, which was quite something in the early '50s," she says.
Early on, Dr. McGuire wanted to run a Girl Scout camp like the one she attended. She also loved music and considered being an orchestra conductor.
"My mom said make music a hobby and do something else," she says. Whatever the path, she knew, leadership was on the horizon.
So off to the University of Kentucky she went, then on to the university's medical school, an internship and residency in psychiatry followed by a fellowship at the University of Michigan. She is board-certified in general psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry.
Her arrival in Chattanooga in the summer of 1981 marked the beginning of a nearly four-decade career in adolescent behavioral health, and as Dr. McGuire succinctly put it: "I have no intention of retiring."
Over her career, Dr. McGuire has seen sweeping changes in the psychiatric services landscape, including seismic insurance reimbursement shifts, inpatient, outpatient and residential service options expanded, and trends toward more community-based and family-focused treatment.
* Role: Medical director, Parkridge Valley Hospital, Child and Adolescent campus; medical director, Southeast Center of Excellence
* Years in health care: 39
* Secret to your success: “My tenacity, the work ethic my mom gave me, my one-track mind in helping kids survive,” and “hiring and developing a qualified and motivated staff.”
* Dream job when you were 10: Running a Girl Scout camp or conducting orchestras.
"As far as families, I think people are more intellectually comfortable with the idea that we need to look at both the kids and the family, but when it gets personal, and you are having a problem with your child, it's sometimes more difficult not to feel that it's intrusive and that it is hard not to be defensive," she says.
Working with children and adolescents, she says, keeps her and her staff on their toes.
"Kids have a vulnerability and a capability of communicating what they feel and what they think through their behaviors," she says. "And I find that probably the most honest communication. That's not to say kids can't be dishonest, but there's a certain frankness in kids that appeals to me."