Feb. 19, 2020 — “Nothing in my life thus far has been normal. For the most part, I have been okay with that.”
So begins a chapter of “Not My Family: When Ties Should Not Bind Fiction,” written by author, medical director and biotechnology adviser Felicia Baxter, M.D. ’97. True to her point, Baxter’s own journey after attending the UF College of Medicine was not the usual linear path from residency to practice. Though she practiced as a pediatric hospitalist for many years, these days she is pursuing other passions, namely writing and biotechnology. She advises those currently in medical school or just beginning their medical careers to remember that they have options, too.
“Always have a never-ending curiosity. Never think that you don’t need to learn anymore. Look into other degrees or a certification or just take a couple classes. That is my goal: to be a never-ending student,” says Baxter, who currently lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “There are a whole bunch of ways to be a doctor. Seek those out. Test them. If you don’t like it, change it.”
Baxter brought some of the skills she learned as a physician — interviewing as she would a patient and storytelling like when presenting a patient’s case at rounds — to the creation of her first novel. She says writing affords her the opportunity to flex new creative muscles that aren’t part of a career in medicine.
“Writing has been a way of working through and processing a lot of things, wondering why I am where I am,” she says. “In medicine, you always have to make the right decision. You don’t want to question things. When I had time to look back on certain decisions or my responses to certain events, I saw how I could have looked at them differently.”
“Not My Family” is a fictionalized autobiography inspired by true events in Baxter’s life and family history. In the novel, the protagonist, Maria Butler, turns to 23 and Me to research her paternal lineage and finds that most of what she thought she knew about her family, including the genetic relationships among her family members, is untrue. Baxter says she hopes her readers glean from the novel that forgiveness is a vital part of moving forward in one’s life.
“It’s about learning how to forgive — not just other people, but forgiving yourself,” she says. “The book shows that when people don’t completely and positively work through their issues, they get stuck in the past and their circumstances when they could go so much further. Why would you waste so much time spinning your wheels?”
When she’s not penning the sequel to “Not My Family,” Baxter is working as a medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, where she reviews patient cases for medical necessity and conducts pre-authorizations for medical procedures. She also works as a biotechnology adviser, aiding providers in selecting and navigating the best methods to incorporate virtual reality, 3-D and precision medicine technologies into the electronic medical record.
After Baxter graduated from the UF College of Medicine, where she was mentored by pediatric endocrinologist Janet Silverstein, M.D., she joined the U.S. Air Force and treated the children of other service members. During her time in the military, she became interested in the business of health care and received her master’s in business administration from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She worked as a pediatric hospitalist for many years before transitioning to her current administrative role.
Baxter’s path after medical school may not have been typical, but she followed her curiosity at every turn, reinventing her career until it became exactly what she wanted for her life. She credits her medical training with giving her the skills and connections to follow her dreams, which may take her just about anywhere.
“When I applied to the UF College of Medicine, I was told, ‘You’ll never get in,’ but I did. I made my mark and graduated. Medical school was a stepping board. I don’t think I would have been exposed to the people and experiences I’ve been exposed to without medicine,” Baxter says. “At this point, the only thing I probably won’t try is bungee jumping. And I’m not going to eat squid. Everything else is negotiable.”