Update: Bethany Ballinger passed away Monday, August 13, 2018, after a 3-year battle with cancer. She was an incredible teacher, role model and physician, and is remembered fondly by her colleagues at UCF.

Bethany Ballinger remembers growing up in rural England and telling everyone she wanted to be a doctor — just like the one who came to her country home when she was sick.

“What happens to the women physicians along the way?” Ballinger asks. “Why do they not become leaders? What are the barriers? This is the real area we need to work on.”

“People just looked at me and patted me on the head and said, ‘Yes, of course, dear,’” she says.

That’s because in the 1970s all of her community’s physicians were men.

Today, Dr. Ballinger leads the Emergency Medicine Residency program at Osceola Regional Medical Center, caring for distressed patients as she educates young doctors. And in September, “National Women in Medicine Month,” the American Medical Association has honored Dr. Ballinger as one of the nation’s most inspirational women in healthcare. This year’s AMA celebration carries the theme, “Women in Medicine: Born to Lead,” and honors 80 physicians who have offered leadership, mentoring and support to increasing the number of women in medicine.

Emergency medicine has been a traditionally male specialty. When Dr. Ballinger joined Osceola Regional in 2014, she was the only female full-time emergency physician. Since then, she has led the ER residency program, a partnership between the UCF College of Medicine and the hospital. Today, half of the core physician faculty in the graduate medical education program are women. Dr. Jennifer Waxler serves as the emergency department’s regional medical director and Dr. Larissa Dub is the department’s assistant medical director. The ER residency had one woman among seven trainees in 2016, its first class. This year’s residency cohort has two women.

“I am honored and privileged by the AMA’s award,” Dr. Ballinger says. “With it comes the responsibility to highlight women physicians who are leaders and to show women you have every opportunity available to you. You’re only limited by your imagination.”

She says being a physician “was a feeling inside me for as long as I can remember,” and that she chose emergency medicine as a specialty because it offered such a diversity of patients, ailments and injuries to treat. “I wanted to be the one who walked into a room and heard someone had collapsed and know what to do.” The specialty also offered her the opportunity to fulfill another passion – teaching. She helped build the UCF College of Medicine’s curriculum with an emphasis on digital learning tools. Now she’s teaching M.D. graduates who spend three years at Osceola Regional, a Level II trauma center, training in their emergency medicine specialty.

The mother of a 14-year-old son, Dr. Ballinger says she hopes she can show other physicians by example that they can balance career with raising a family. And she said she hopes her work in the ER shows patients that women and men can be leading physicians.

She notes that while half of medical school graduates are women, females make up only about 15 percent of the leadership in healthcare. “What happens to the women physicians along the way?” she asks. “Why do they not become leaders? What are the barriers? This is the real area we need to work on.”

Osceola Regional CEO Davide Carbone says, “We are honored to have Dr. Ballinger, who is our Emergency Medicine Residency Program Director, on our team.  She is leading the way in medicine and a true example of hard work, service and dedication to our patients and to the entire community.”

Dr. Deborah German, UCF vice president for medical affairs and dean of the medical school, praised Dr. Ballinger for her dedication to training the next generation of physicians and her mentorship of other women in medicine. “Dr. Ballinger has been an inspiration to so many as an excellent, kind and engaged physician who models the traits of The Good Doctor that we want all of our students to emulate,” Dr. German says.