Woman to Watch: Dr. Linda Butler


>>Linda Butler didn’t grow up aspiring to be a doctor. She graduated with an engineering degree, but after witnessing her father confront his own health issues while she was in college she thought, “I can do that.”

She did “that” and then some. Because she also enjoyed children, Butler practiced as a pediatrician for more than 13 years in Raleigh. Her ambition and professionalism quickly landed her in leadership roles and today she finds herself serving as Vice President of Medical Affairs, Chief Medical Officer/Chief Medical Information Officer for Rex UNC Health Care in Raleigh.

“The only negative is that I don’t get to practice medicine,” she shared with me.

Today Dr. Butler is in the position to make decisions and recommendations about policies that impact women and their families and that’s why she is one of our Women to Watch.

And in talking to her, what surprised me is the things that Dr.Butler sees as key to improving the health of North Carolinians can’t be found in a pharmacy.

“We need to work to keep people healthy before they get to medications,” she said.

Part of that is greater accessibility to healthy foods. There are “food deserts” in our state – neighborhoods where finding an affordable and fresh vegetable or fruit isn’t easy. Beyond that, she also sees the the availability of parks and walkable neighborhoods important to overall health.

In addition, Dr. Butler sees preventive health screenings as key to a population’s health. While many of us take our annual check up for granted, it’s a luxury others can’t afford and it’s not until they’re in the E.R. that they’re addressing their health problems. At that point, the issue is often a costly, or even deadly problem. Dr. Butler says it’s often women who delay care.

“I do think that women make a lot of the health care decisions in their family and I always found that parents are much more willing to do things for children than they are for themselves,” she shared.

That’s not easy for the 600,000 – many of them women – who fall into the Medicare expansion gap in North Carolina.

Dr. Butler predicts that eventually those people will have access to health coverage through the Affordable Care Act.  “Eventually states will be forced to expand Medicaid but getting people access to care doesn’t improve the other challenges they have,” she said.

By that Dr. Butler means addressing all barriers to health – including economic and social factors impacting health.

“People need jobs, they need access to all those things.”

And Dr. Butler finds herself in her position today because she had access to strong family support as she was raising her children and advancing in her career, but she admits it wasn’t always easy.

“I think the frustrating thing on the mom side is there were days where the sickest child I saw all day was the one I left at home,” she said.

And as for advice to other women pursuing a career …

“Women in general sometimes focus more on the barriers or obstacles that they have to overcome and they’re not confident enough to take the leadership positions.  Women bring a lot to the table, and I don’t think they should be afraid to try something.Have the confidence to try something new – you can do it.”

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