By Katarina Fiorentino, B.H.S. Communication Sciences and Disorders ’21
Denise McIntyre is an obstetrics and gynecology resident physician at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center in Los Angeles. She is a University of Florida alumna who holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a Master of Public Health with a focus in epidemiology from the College of Public Health and Health Professions. She received her Doctor of Medicine through the Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program, a joint program between the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and the University of California, Los Angeles. She is passionate about enhancing health outcomes for women in underserved communities, and she has experience in the areas of pediatrics, women’s health and health disparities. In her free time, she enjoys floral decorating and spending time with loved ones.
McIntyre shares insights about her career journey, working in the field of medicine, and memories from her time as a UF student.
Why did you choose to attend the University of Florida and to pursue a Master of Public Health?
I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, from Jamaica when I was 12 years old. I attended Palm Beach Gardens High School, and our mascot, funny enough, was the Gators too. So I think it was always meant to be. I remember traveling along the turnpike to Georgia, and I saw what I call the UF stretch, where you can see UF on the right side. I asked my father, ‘What is that school?’ He said, ‘That’s the University of Florida,’ and I replied, ‘That’s the one I want to go to.’ That’s how UF came on the radar for me. I completed my undergrad in biology with a minor in health disparities in society. I ended up staying for graduate school in public health before I took myself all the way to California for medical school.
“Being able to speak the public health language and understand that narrative set me up for success in terms of mentorship opportunities, job prospects and finally becoming a physician.”
I honestly didn’t know a lot about the M.P.H. degree. I had been pre-med for as long as I knew, but there was so much doubt, so much imposter syndrome, that I really didn’t think I would make it to medical school. I saw public health as an avenue to still be in health care, still be around patients, but in a different type of realm. It was truly self-doubt that led me to public health, but honestly it was the best thing I could have done for my career. Being able to speak the public health language and understand that narrative set me up for success in terms of mentorship opportunities, job prospects and finally becoming a physician. Sometimes I’m ashamed to say it was self-doubt. Nevertheless, I’m so grateful that self-doubt led me to public health as it’s been such an integral part of my journey.
What led you to fulfill your dream of becoming a physician?
I had my M.P.H., and I was working as a community health worker in the Gainesville community, which meant I was going out to churches, health fairs, bus stops, laundromats, you name it, doing health assessments and getting citizens’ perceptions of their health. Then I got a job as a pediatric research coordinator at UF Health Shands Hospital in the College of Medicine. I was doing a lot of recruitment for pediatric studies, so I was working with patients and doctors every day, and I thought, ‘This is where I need to be.’ But I’ll tell you again, there was this self-doubt. Can I really make it to medical school? Unfortunately, at that time I wasn’t seeing a lot of doctors that looked like me and that increased my self-doubt. Thankfully, I found excellent mentorship through my job. I was surrounded by physicians at my job who were so supportive of my journey to medicine. They truly were a vital source of encouragement. Additionally, being around patients and these physicians, I knew this space was where I needed to be. I remember the day I decided to fully commit to pursuing medicine. A physician I worked with was in a difficult situation where she needed to break bad news to a family about their child. She went to a more experienced doctor, and she was role playing the conversation she needed to have with the family. The humility and humanism she displayed was so profound. I said to myself, ‘This is the type doctor I need to be, and this is the space I need to be in, those are the type of attributes I want to have, medical school, let’s go.’
How did you choose the specialty of obstetrics and gynecology?
To be honest, I thought that I was going to go into emergency medicine or pediatrics. As is my life, I say these things and the opposite happens. I had my third-year rotation in obstetrics and gynecology. I loved it because I was able to go to the operating room, clinic, and labor and delivery. I was able to take part in delivering babies and speak with women about such a wide range of issues. Of course, witnessing birth is so special and gives me energy. I love that part of it. Additionally, I enjoyed being in clinic, speaking to adolescents one minute then speaking to older women in the next minute. You can’t replicate that in any other area of medicine. Obstetrics and gynecology is a field that is so empowering to women and individuals who are pregnant. The thing that cemented it for me was when I had the opportunity to advocate for a patient who was being treated unfairly. I realized that I had the skill set to advocate for this patient population, and this is something I love to do anyways, so it was an easy fit and made sense. Obstetrics and gynecology combined my social justice and medical interests, so it was a perfect marriage.
“My M.P.H. allowed me to understand questions such as ‘How do you assess a community’ and ‘How do you build capacity and ensure sustainability?’”
How have you woven your background in public health and interest in health disparities into your role as an OBGYN?
Learning about health disparities in my Health Disparities in Society course is where it started for me. I then went on to volunteer at Peaceful Paths in Gainesville and worked with survivors of domestic violence while in graduate school for my M.P.H. I started learning more about trauma informed care. The knowledge I gained from this experience has been infused within my career, from working in the community as a domestic violence survivor advocate, working as a pediatric research coordinator, to medical school and now as a physician. My M.P.H. allowed me to understand questions such as ‘How do you assess a community’ and ‘How do you build capacity and ensure sustainability?’ My M.P.H. gave me the words to be able to tell that narrative. While I initially worked with the pediatric population as a research coordinator, my research efforts in medical school looked at the effects of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on early adolescents’ brains. A multitude of studies have shown time and time again that ACEs have disastrous effects on cardiovascular health, mental health, and overall wellbeing.
As a result of these experiences, I always knew that studying the effects of trauma would be a part of my career. I want to advocate for individuals affected by trauma and ultimately want to help reverse the effects of trauma. As such, as a new OBGYN resident, I practice trauma informed care. My goal is to use a strengths-based approach, to advocate for women and pregnant individuals. Again, this all stemmed from the Health Disparities in Society course and then my M.P.H. to really be able to build this connection.
What advice would you give to students applying for medical school or considering a career in medicine?
Honestly, applying to medical school was hard. At the time, I was working a full-time job, studying for the MCAT, and preparing an application. The medical school interview process itself was nerve-wracking. I had so much self-doubt going into this process, so I think I was my own naysayer, but my mentors were there each step of the way, especially for mock interviews. Additionally, I had so much support from family and friends who were in my corner and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.
“As a first-generation college graduate and a Black woman, navigating the path to a career in medicine was often tumultuous and plagued with imposter syndrome. While the self-doubt never fully went away, I learned how to be more patient with myself and to give myself grace.”
I think for me what made the difference was pushing past the self-doubt and surrounding myself with people that supported me. As a first-generation college graduate and a Black woman, navigating the path to a career in medicine was often tumultuous and plagued with imposter syndrome. While the self-doubt never fully went away, I learned how to be more patient with myself and to give myself grace. Ultimately, the most important advice would be to surround yourself with people who care for you, people who believe in you even when you doubt yourself. I think that will help you get through the peaks and troughs of applying to medical school. Surrounding yourself with love and light is a big, big thing.
What is one of your favorite memories from your time at UF?
I feel like it’s always the people. In both my time as an undergraduate and graduate student, I ended up making such great lifelong friends. They have been such an impactful part of my life. Even now, I can picture how bright my smile was as I first moved into North Hall as a freshman. I remember attending gymnastics meets, running up the stadium stairs, sitting under a tree for Krishna lunch or getting a glimpse of an alligator in Lake Alice. A huge thank you to the University of Florida. I will be forever grateful.