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Dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD, has been a member of Cleveland Clinic's medical staff since 1967, and not surprisingly, has a long list of “firsts” among her professional and personal accomplishments and accolades. She has received countless awards and has served as president of multiple local, national and international societies. In addition, she has more than 600 publications and over 80 book chapters. In this episode of WPSA’s (she was a co-founder of the organization) centennial podcast series, Wilma shares her stories and thoughts on being a (sometimes controversial) trailblazer in medicine, at Cleveland Clinic, in her community and in her family.

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Wilma Fowler Bergfeld, MD

Podcast Transcript

Cara King:

Hi, my name is Dr. Cara King and my co-host Dr. Mary Rensel and I want to welcome you to the Women's Professional Staff Association Podcast called Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs. In this podcast, we will share conversations with women doctors from all career stages and practices, exploring the highlights and challenges of being a woman in medicine. We hope these thought provoking stories inspire you and provide insight into the unique challenges and accomplishments of remarkable women docs.

Cara King:

Welcome everyone to our very first episode of Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs. We are so excited to have you all join us today. To start off our series, we are thrilled to welcome Dr. Wilma Bergfeld. Wilma has been at the Cleveland Clinic since 1964 and was a co-founder of the Women's Professional Staff Association, which was started in 1984. She has truly paved the way for all women who have followed. Wilma is Emeritus director and past director and co-director of Dermatopathology, departments of dermatology and pathology.

Cara King:

She has received countless awards and has served as president on multiple international societies. In addition, she has more than 600 publications and over 80 book chapters. In our interview today, Wilma offers incredible insight into what it felt like to be only one of five women on staff at Cleveland Clinic embracing gender communication differences, and work-life integration. We hope you enjoy.

Cara King:

I want to welcome Dr. Wilma Bergfeld today to our WPSA podcast. Thank you so much Wilma for your time.

Wilma Bergfeld:

You're welcome.

Cara King:

So we are so excited to have you here with us today, and I want to dive right into some questions. So, you started here at the Cleveland clinic back in 1967 when you and your husband (John A. Bergfeld, MD), who is an orthopedic surgeon, both started here on staff. Is that right?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Well, no, not exactly. We came in as interns in 1964 and then I did my residency in dermatology and my husband in orthopedics and 1967 I came on staff and my husband soon followed me when he left the Navy.

Cara King:

I see, so you trained here as well.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Yes we did.

Cara King:

You've seen a few changes here in Cleveland

Wilma Bergfeld:

A lot of changes.

Cara King:

I can imagine and I heard that they were hesitant to let you join as staff because you were married. Is that a true story?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Well, it's very true. If I could go back in history a bit, my husband and I were part of the first internship class at the Cleveland Clinic. There were 20 individuals in that internship class, five of whom were women, which was unusual. And they had about a hundred fellows in the Cleveland Clinic at that time. And the staff hovered around 100-150 at that time in total. And we were in the old building up on Euclid Avenue, which is now used as office building and I think some of the various medical specialties are still there, but it's the old building that's been refabbed on Euclid Avenue.

Cara King:

It's really interesting history. I was just asking about how they were hesitant to let you join on staff because you were married. I want to hear about that.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Well, that was a very interesting event because when we were in, I was on the staff before my husband went into the Navy. And when he went on into the Navy, I joined him after six months and I took a leave of absence. So when he got out of the Navy, some three years later in 1970, the orthopedic department invited him back as staff and he was going to head up the sports medicine cause he had been at the Naval Academy and been over all the midshipman and been the head sports medicine orthopod there. When that was proposed, the board of governors and then the leadership said, "well, we can't have them both here. His wife will have to resign."

Wilma Bergfeld:

So, that was quite upsetting and I didn't really know about it at that time, but I heard about it later. The department of orthopedics in full, which was then five or six orthopedic surgeons, marched down to the CEO's office and said they were quitting. And with that, that was broken. No more could they say that not a family member could be on the staff of the Cleveland Clinic and it opened the door for many married couples for the future. And of course we were the first married couple on the staff.

Cara King:

Wow. So you didn't... did you know any of that was going on behind the scenes?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Not really. I heard about later when my husband joined the staff, obviously. I had come back six months early from Annapolis, Maryland, where we were stationed. And so I started to work again, but I did hear about it because he was going through the review process and during that time I heard about it, but my department did nothing. I did not resign. We didn't know that it was the orthopedic group that marched down there and demanded that he be put on the staff.

Cara King:

Oh my gosh. So the men marched down there because they wanted your husband and so that therefore meant you, or were they fighting for you?

Wilma Bergfeld:

No, I was already on the staff.

Cara King:

Got it.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And I was... they were asking... The leadership was asking me to resign.

Cara King:

Oh my goodness.

Wilma Bergfeld:

So he could come on the staff.

Cara King:

So I can't even imagine the barriers that you faced. I mean, it was an entire new... entire different world here.

Wilma Bergfeld:

It was indeed. There were only five women anywhere at the Cleveland Clinic. I was the second female on the staff. We did have a couple of researchers, maybe three and there were two of us. Kathy (Kathryn L.) Popowniak (M.D.) was the first, and then we had one of the heart researchers was a female and then there was another female buried somewhere in research, but there were only five of us. And two of us were the only visual ones because we were actually in practice.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And since then, the numbers are much exceeded that. And because there were so few of us and because we didn't have any rights, nor were we ever put on a committee, nor did we ever have any kind of leadership opportunity. We requested, Dr. Gita Gidwani and I, she was a GYN surgeon, we requested that we be able to form a women's professional group (WPSA) that included not only physicians, but scientists and also administrators, because we didn't have enough numbers to do anything. And we met monthly for years and discussed our trials and tribulations at the Cleveland Clinic. We presented ourselves at the Board of Governors, demanding that a woman be placed on the Board of Governors over time. The most important change in the first change was getting the women surgeons. And Gita was one. I believe there soon followed another, a dressing room and sleeping quarters. And at that time they were sleeping and dressing with the men.

Cara King:

Wow. And this isn't even that long ago, which is just appalling, what you all faced during your faculty. I just can't even imagine this.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Well, I still remember going up in an elevator. I was a young staff and I was becoming very active nationally, presenting some of the materials that we were working on in the clinic here in dermatology. I was going up with a senior position in the elevator. And he said to me, "Well, Wilma, we discussed you, and we decided that you shouldn't come into any committees or have any leadership role because you have two children and you should go home at night and be with them." Well, I can tell you how angry I was. Very angry. I said, "You don't have that right. If I am qualified to be in a position of that type, then I ought to be able to make the decision if invited." And so it spurred me on to be very vigorous and for years I was called a Maverick and I went against the institution.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And just in normal thinking, this might be an idea or I don't think that's right. The fact that I even had an opinion was not welcomed. But over time, if you look at my curriculum vitae, I did manage to get elected to the Board of Governors, Board of Trustees, I served on... And president of the staff because it was the time of the Mavericks in the late 70s and early 80s. They decided that people who just went along with leadership and never had an opinion or never gave a secondary opinion about what was happening or what they should do were not the people they wanted in leadership. They wanted people who questioned what was going on and looked at other solutions. So I was very lucky because it was... I call it the time of Maverick-ism and my husband being the same kind of character, different personalities a little bit, but the same character also did the same thing, and ended up with some major leadership here at the Cleveland Clinic, but also nationally and internationally as did I.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And I guess the highlight of succumbing all of this and being on top of it was I set a goal when I was about 34 years old, working here with my two children and my husband at home and, caregivers for the children at that time, that I didn't want to be a common dermatologist. That I was going to work every day and I should have the opportunity to achieve anything I put my heart to. So I set my goals one night when I was sitting for my boards, studying, I said, well, I think I should look to be the president of the American Academy of Dermatology. They'd never had a female president. And I think I should try to get in the Honorary Society of Dermatology and at that time they had one female in, and it is a group since mid-1800s that had existed.

Wilma Bergfeld:

So then I said to myself, "well, how do you get there?" And I said, "I'm going to get some skills, some leadership skills, some organizational skills." So I took on every job possible to build those skills. At the same time, the Cleveland Clinic had discovered that it had to train some of his physician leadership people. And they began to give directors' courses and business courses and you were selected every year, a number of people to do that, which exists today but we were the first to go in. So skill building became very important and lo and behold, involvement. Just being involved and passionate about one's work and willing to put the output to achieve, to get there and to be at the table. Ultimately, I became the president of everything. President of the County Medical Society, president of the Local and State Derm Society. And we founded the Women's Derm Society at the Cleveland Clinic.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Just about the time we were founding the women's professional group here, I was president of American Academy of Dermatology, and I was president of the honorary society called the American Dermatological Association and lo and behold at this age, and I'm old now, I've been here over 52 years, I have just received an outstanding award for my efforts in training dermatopathologists, and the ACGME has just awarded my program, the highest achievement award for all programs.

Cara King:

Wow.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Wow, still achieving. How about that one? And of course, if I reflect back in my American Academy of Dermatology activities, I have been awarded the Master Dermatology Award and the Sulzberger Research Award. So I can go on and on. And in the Women's Dermatological Society, they have named a scholarship for achieving women after me, and they named me the first person to receive this, which is interesting, but anyhow, not taking this too seriously, it just... the end result of working hard, having goals, supporting others, developing teams of approach and being female. I enjoy being a female through all this and have seen that females can be leaders. They're a little softer, they usually will take on multi-focus approaches to any kind of problem and have alternative pathways. So I enjoyed being a female in my leadership expansion.

Cara King:

Wow. So on that note, Wilma, I'm fairly certain that you are a superhero.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Well, I never looked at it that way. I enjoyed so much what I did and all the people I met on the way and all those that I've helped and seeing them achieve. I just think it's been a wonderful career, and a wonderful life. And I enjoy still working because I'm able, and I'm pretty much doing the same thing I've always done and achieving at the same level that I always have done. So I just feel I've had a gifted life.

Cara King:

I just cannot thank you enough for paving the way for our generation. I mean, you have made it possible for us women to be here and to have the success that we're having. So truly from my heart, thank you so much.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Oh, you're very welcome.

Cara King:

So I have... I want to dive into so many other things from your stories. Let's start with leadership for a moment. You mentioned how female leaders sometimes have to be a little bit softer, I think is the word that you used.

Wilma Bergfeld:

They are naturally softer.

Cara King:

Yeah. Tell me more.

Wilma Bergfeld:

They have to embrace that. You don't want to act like a man.

Cara King:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Wilma Bergfeld:

You just need to be... act like a professional and you have to look like a professional, you have to speak like a professional. You have to realize that women approach problems or problem solving differently than a male and the end result might be the same but also you don't want to deny yourself that privilege of approaching it differently because you will have different solutions many times. And the women also don't seem to be so focused on themselves. They don't mind bringing up the younger ones, male or female. I have mentored males as well and have many of them come back and say, thank you, thank you. But the reality is, you want to embrace yourself as a person and a woman and build your skills so that you can lead others. But you cannot do that by just saying, "I want to do it."

Wilma Bergfeld:

You've got to be involved and you have to divide your life up so that you can be involved and not shirk your duties if you're a home caregiver or you have family or husband or other. You want to have that kind of life too. So what I did, when I was very young, because I was very stressed, I'm a dermatologist, I'm a pathologist, I'm a home... I had parents and I have extended family. How was I going to manage all of this? So I decided I would build boxes and I would live in each box for a certain amount of time during the day, but I wouldn't cross over the boxes. So I had a derm box for the clinical part of my life and I wouldn't let my secretaries break into my other box, which is my path box when I was supposed to be in pathology.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And so if I kept the boxes reasonably clean and my home box clean, I rarely did work at home. I did everything at work before I went home or on occasion, I would say two or three times a year, I might have to spend a weekend writing a paper or doing something else, but I managed to be exceedingly efficient and I managed to have a relaxed life because I didn't have all this persuasion coming from my other boxes because I did... I would not allow it. I would not allow it. I lived in my box that I was working on at that part of the day. For instance, the morning was dermatology, the afternoon was pathology and the evening was home.

Wilma Bergfeld:

So I found an equilibrium for myself and I had a husband who was working very, very hard. And he was the (Cleveland) Browns' doctor. The (Cleveland Cavaliers) Cavs' doctor, consultant for the (Cleveland) Indians, traveled with him. So I pretty much had it on my own to do it my own way. Now it's a little more difficult. He's semi-retired. He's telling me what he thinks he ought to be... I ought to be doing, I said, "I've been on my own too long, John. I can do this myself. I like your opinion, but you're not going to sway me."

Cara King:

That is funny.

Wilma Bergfeld:

You can manage, even if you have a family, because what happens when you're young and you're achieving in your profession, and trying to keep up with it, you may not be able to do a lot of extra stuff. But those kids get to be an age where they don't want you around. So I remember at 16 years of age, I gave my oldest daughter the keys and said, now you're driving your sister. I am no longer the chauffeur. I guess what happened on the weekends was I had to depend on other women that were home bodies to take my kids to and from, or a housekeeper or whatever. They assigned me the weekends. So I spent the whole weekend driving a bunch of kids around to various functions because it was the only free time I had, but I bit the bullet on that because they got to be 16, I didn't have to do that anymore.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And as I went from 16 to 20, that's another different phase of your life. While you're continuing to mold your child and direct them to college and then obviously marriage, but then you're free. You are free. And so you can start to dabble a little bit when they get a little older and to things that you think you'd like to pursue greater than what you're doing. Even spend more time at it too, because you don't need so much of a home box, whatever. You can exercise, you can diet, and I would say, you need to be in a woman's group because you need to be in a woman physician group or a working women's professional group, because they are your support. A woman who stays at home all the time, as bright as she can be, is not that supportive of you.

Cara King:

Right.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Or people who are doing the same thing that you do in a balancing act that you're doing are the people you need to relate to and forming the Women's Derm Society Group and also the Professional Women (WPSA) of the Cleveland Clinics group here, these are your support people and these are the people who will help you through all kinds of adverse events, confrontation events, life events, help you to succeed and be as happy as you can be. These are the groups that will train you in leadership. I remember the first groups we used to have, those in derm and in the Cleveland Clinic. Everyone talked over each other. That's common for women. And they're so creative. I used to just take notes and we'd come out and how we brainstormed this. My God, we did all kinds of stuff here tonight. But then, there... it became evident that when we had a male in there, they didn't appreciate that.

Wilma Bergfeld:

So we had to get little more order going. And so then we had to learn to do that order, how that organizational skill went. And we have served as training grounds for women to do that. Didn't change their character, just changed some of their behavior and to make it more acceptable and also allowed for getting to the end where you'd have something that had to be discussed, you'd have a format to discussion and then you'd have a strategic plan that came out of that discussion. So it allowed you to move from the beginning to the end, a little easier than the common way that women like to do it. Now, if you asked me when I'm with my friends and family, do I talk all the time? You betcha, because that's what I like to do. But in a professional setting, no, no, no.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And I had one of my colleagues, I work in Washington Chair of Cosmetic Safety Committee for Cosmetic Chemicals and have, for now about 40 years, he said to me, I always know when you're going to come in and get them, Wilma, because you don't say anything and then you lean forward and then you blast them. I had to unlearn that trait because I didn't care to let him be warned.

Cara King:

You're giving him a preview.

Wilma Bergfeld:

It was very interesting. It was just a little bit of a statement but body language gets to be really important. But I still remember at the Cleveland County and Medicine, we were discussing, I was on the board, at that time, I was actually going to run for president, which I did do and did win but I was on the board and we were discussing changing the voting districts. And there were some very dominant males there that have been at UAH and even private practice and I was sitting there. I'm the daughter of three generations of physicians and they were all members of the County of Medicine of Cleveland. So I was really glad to be there representing my family. But anyhow, they were having this discussion and they wanted to vote on it because they're going to change these voting districts.

Wilma Bergfeld:

So I said, well, I didn't think that was a good idea. That was really an important vote. Oh no, no, no, Wilma, you don't know. You don't know. I said, "Well, could I just ask a couple of questions?" And the question I asked was, "Who sent this forward to be voted on?"

Wilma Bergfeld:

"Oh, our planning committee."

Wilma Bergfeld:

"When do they meet?"

Wilma Bergfeld:

"Oh, the other day."

Wilma Bergfeld:

"How long was the meeting?"

Wilma Bergfeld:

"Oh, they had a big discussion for an hour and a half."

Wilma Bergfeld:

I said, "What was on the agenda?"

Wilma Bergfeld:

Oh, they had a busy agenda.

Wilma Bergfeld:

I said, so we're going to vote on such a mammoth decision and they probably spent 15 minutes on it?

Cara King:

Wow.

Wilma Bergfeld:

They called the vote, it went down, no one voted for it. So I learned very easily that the way to success in a vote is to figure out what's really in the background and then come after that. Not go head and head just because it's you against me.

Cara King:

Right

Wilma Bergfeld:

You'd have to come in with a dissection of what's occurred there and what's important that has served me great to know that.

Cara King:

Yeah, absolutely. And what I'm really hearing you say, which I think is so important is that men are different from women and for women to be exceptional leaders, we don't have to be like men. We shouldn't be like men. Right?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Absolutely not. We're different and We should be proud of it.

Cara King:

Embrace that because that actually bodes well for us. Right?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Yes. And it brings something else to the table and it makes for better decision-making. And so I think that that is pretty well accepted now.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

You know, most decision-making groups do include women and, and different ethnic groups as well. And also people who are not even in the field, just for that other opinion, which needs to be considered.

Cara King:

Yes, absolutely. And the other thing I'm hearing is to really compartmentalize your life.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Absolutely.

Cara King:

And have boundaries and stick with those boundaries. Right?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Absolutely.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

If you're a visual person, derms are visual people. We look at skin all day, wrinkles, all that kind of stuff. We're very visual, but I used to visualize the box.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And what was in it.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And also visualized a circle of leadership that I couldn't get into. And I was sad. My vision is I kept running around the circle, but there was no door to go in.

Cara King:

Wow.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Finally, there was.

Cara King:

You made a door, you had like a chainsaw.

Wilma Bergfeld:

But anyhow, I'm very visual, but I think visual helps.

Cara King:

Yeah, absolutely.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Rather than just all words.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

You can visualize it and visualize where you want to go and visualize the different pathways. We have one of our junior staff say she wanted to be the program director and we discussed it. She presented herself to the committee and I said, really, what is it you really want to do? She said, "Well, I want to be the head hospital administrator." I said, so why would you want to be the program director? Why don't you go for a different skill? You need a different administrative skill. So she's going off to Harvard to take a business class.

Cara King:

Awesome. So don't cap yourself too short, right?

Wilma Bergfeld:

No.

Cara King:

Why not get into that inner circle, baby? That's right. I love it. You know, one thing that I thought was so funny that you stated earlier about your husband now being retired and how he worked a lot and now he's home. And I just expected you to say that things would be easier now that he's home. And you're like...

Wilma Bergfeld:

Oh no.

Cara King:

And you're like, no, things are much more difficult. He's meddling with my system. Is that right?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Absolutely, he's in my way.

Cara King:

I love that.

Wilma Bergfeld:

He's even telling me what to cook and whether he liked it or not. And he told me the other day, I had too much asparagus in something. I said, what?

Cara King:

Excuse me?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Excuse me? Did you eat it? Yes? Well, stop commenting.

Cara King:

Less words. Yeah, exactly. So I want you to bring me into your household when you had these two young kids. Talk to me about the tribe that you built. You talk about having other moms that maybe had different professions that were home more and maybe cleaners. What did your tribe look like? How did you make your house work when you're so busy in your other boxes?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Well, first thing I had full-time help for the children until they were 10. And then I had part-time help that came in daily to clean and do whatever. I always did all the grocery shopping because I sort of like that, like shopping. I had a mother and a sister, and a sister-in-law in town, which I could count on and some friends, but then I had the children's friends and their parents. And they're the ones that I traded off some of the driving responsibilities. But the reality is, the girls learned how to function. And they were very good on the phone with patients. And I still remember one day, John and I were to entertain some international orthopedic surgeons who were in town and we're both late getting home. And so I called the girls and I said, "Onee and Sig (Onee Bergfeld Lowe {deceased} and Sigrid Bergfeld Grieco), you got to get the cocktails out and the cheese, you know how to do that?"

Wilma Bergfeld:

When I got home, we're about 40 minutes late, there they were perched up on the chairs, talking away at these men.

Cara King:

Wow.

Wilma Bergfeld:

With their cocktails, with their hors d'oeuvres, very comfortable. And my daughter now who is 55, says she can do anything. She said you had us doing all kinds of things, Mother, I know. Calling the grocery store, calling the dry cleaner, running here, running there. And I even sent them on airplanes to their grandparents when we were in Annapolis, Maryland by themselves when they were little... eight, six.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And Sig can maneuver an airport like you can't believe. And I can't understand why their kids can't do it. I say, because you didn't start them early enough to do this. So they became very independent and very strong women and very successful women and great house wives.

Cara King:

Yeah. They take after their mother, completely.

Wilma Bergfeld:

I don't know about that. Their mother's more compulsive than they are, but they're great wives and mothers.

Cara King:

That's so nice to hear. You know, I have three young kids and there's always that push-pull right, of the different boxes that we have. And I think it's really important to hear that by us being full-time or part-time, but I'm very full-time physician as well. We're being great role models for our kids, right? Like we're showing them what hard work can do.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And you show them how to deal with situations.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

How to solve it, how to feel good about solving it. I'm very proud of my girls and the fact that I have relatives whose mothers stayed at home, their kids grew up and they haven't done so well. Well, years ago, one of the first formal functions we went to at the Cleveland clinic was this beautiful Christmas party, where everybody got invited and had wonderful cocktails, weren’t so many people. I was standing in line for my meal at the buffet and I had several young women who were housewives say to me, "You should be home." I was in tears.

Cara King:

I know.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And then I had another episode where I went to a party, I was into my career in my mid-40s, and I was moving ahead nationally to be an officer. I was at the Cleveland Clinic Christmas party, a little bigger party this time. And as I was walking out, one of the Board of Governors said to me, "You walk a very thin line, Wilma." I said, I was with my husband. I said, "I walk a thin line?" He said, "We talk about you every Board of Directors' meeting." I said, "Really?" He said, "You should come and talk to me." So we're walking out, my husband said, "Wilma, you better go talk to him. You better find out what's going on." I said, "I'm not going to talk to him. I'm walking the line."

Cara King:

I love you, but those words hurt. Right?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Yeah.

Cara King:

I know

Wilma Bergfeld:

Why would they be talking about me? But that was a time when there were five or six women here, that was a long time ago.

Cara King:

Right, you stuck out. And those judgements, and even though in our heart of hearts, we know that everything is fine, our kids are doing great, we've created this tribe around them, those words still hurt. I'm right there with you. And those words, unfortunately, are still being said. It's true.

Wilma Bergfeld:

I think so. I think that's why you have to join the Women Professional Group because they all have those being said to them. And you know, if you get into a good group, there's a lot of good communication going on. A lot of support, a lot of skills being transferred. You may not see these women often, but that's often enough. And it's also a phone call away. If you get to have a friend and I have friends all over the world that I communicate by email mainly. But when we were allowed to go to meetings frequently at the meetings and the women have become very strong because of this, they feel very internally good about themselves.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And you know, every once in a while someone has something with divorce or someone has something bad with their kid, or the kid dies. These women are all there to support each other, which is really wonderful because it is a woman who's doing what you're doing and facing some of the same issues that you're facing, trying to get a balance in life. And so you take those words to your heart because they're good advice, very good advice and support.

Cara King:

It's really powerful. I love those words. And speaking about supporting other women, I want to pull on a story that I heard about you that may be my favorite story ever. So it's about Dr. Lynn Drake. So it's crucial for women to support other women for us to make these synergistic gains together. And I, again, I've read so many different accounts of you pulling women into the fold, really raising other people up. And you know, we really continue... we need to lift as we climb, right? We only can do this together. And a story that I think embodies that perfectly is the story about Dr. Lynn Drake, when she was about to give her presidential address for the AAD. Do you know what story I'm referencing?

Wilma Bergfeld:

Yes.

Cara King:

Can you tell us about that? I love this story.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Well, Lynn Drake was the second woman president of the American Academy of Dermatology and we were thrown together in leadership and became close friends because we were both achievers and outspoken individuals. But she was in preparation to be on stage for the presidential address to 5,000 dermatologists. And I took one look at her, she's a short little woman, a little bit chubby, no jewelry, no earrings, nothing. And she's going to have this great big video camera on her. She's going to be shown in detail.

Wilma Bergfeld:

I pull off my earrings and I give them to her and I said, "Lynn, put these earrings on, look better than this." She goes out there and she's told that story over and over again, that that was a sign of a real friend. Well, I tell you what I was panicked when I looked at her. I said, "Oh my God." But the other thing, I also did it with her purse, her purse was so terrible. I've been buying her purses for 20 years so she would have a decent purse to carry to a meeting, Oh my gosh.

Cara King:

I love it. You're like, you need to pull it together. You're going to be on the big screen. Come on, now.

Wilma Bergfeld:

I want to tell you, this woman is something else. She is the fundraiser for the department of dermatology in their research center, Wellman Labs, $20-30 million a year, she brings in.

Cara King:

Wow.

Wilma Bergfeld:

She's amazing. Can't care much about what she looks like.

Cara King:

Her strength is not accessories. You have to help her out.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Anyhow. She a good gal. So bright, so able. Lynn asked me one time, she said, "Wilma, why do you do it this way?" And she's more outspoken than I am. I'm not laid back but I choose my moments. "Why do you do it this way?" And I thought, and I said, "I don't know. It's just in me. This is what I do. It's what I always have done." And I thought about it after a few years, I said, "You know, Lynn, I figured it out." My mother lived next door to my father's sister. She was a lovely woman, but she hated my mother because her husband died, who was a doctor. And her mother had a husband was a doctor and kids. And she was living with her father, my grandfather with her kids. And she just couldn't stand it.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And so my mother just happily went on her way. She said, just put on blinders.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Always included her, never responded to anything negative. It was a lot of negative never responded and kept a happy family together. I said, I think that's who showed me how to do that. That you'd need to go forward. And you don't need to bring all that negativity with you. And even if there's someone who you don't like or has misbehaved against you, you can be nice to them.

Cara King:

Yeah.

Wilma Bergfeld:

You don't have to do a whole lot for them, but you can be nice for them, but you don't have to have revenge.

Cara King:

Yes.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Revenge is evil and you need to toss that out if you've got it. I used to say I had a problem in the Department of Dermatology years ago with a chairman, who decided that I committed malpractice. And I had a patient who is psychiatric patient, who... I dermabraded his face. And he told me that I should have asked him if I should dermabrade this child's face. I said, well, I got psychiatry to sign off of him. And I'm on the staff. Why would I ask you, the Chairman? He says malpractice.

Cara King:

What?

Wilma Bergfeld:

So I went through a year here at the Cleveland Clinic.

Cara King:

Wow.

Wilma Bergfeld:

My father said to me one night, he said, "Wilma, why are you so down?" You went to the Cleveland Clinic, you had joined my clinic, Euclid Clinic. And I left there. I left my family's clinic to come back to the Cleveland Clinic. I said, "Dad, I have to, I have to protect myself." And he said to me, "You went there to accomplish something." And I said, "Yes, I did." He said, "You're not accomplishing anything."

Wilma Bergfeld:

I went to bed that night and I said, that's it no more revenge, no more of this protection stuff I'm thinking about. I said I'm going to have antennae and my antennae are going to be constantly working and they'll help protect me when I move forward.

Cara King:

I love that. It's your barrier, your barrier of good energy. Absolutely. You know, it reminds me of this quote, I'm not sure if you've heard this before, I read it a few times. It says, "Fix another Queen's crown without telling the world it was crooked." Have you heard of that before?

Wilma Bergfeld:

No, I haven't, but that's very apropos.

Cara King:

It does. It reminds me of you, of just really building other people up and not having to surface other things, other weaknesses to build yourself up, right? Together, raise everybody.

Wilma Bergfeld:

That's part of personal empowerment and again, in my early years here, I had to learn to say I was okay. And all these people criticizing me, it was their problem.

Cara King:

Yes.

Wilma Bergfeld:

And so I self-empowered, so I don't need all that. I mean, all these things had happened to me, I'm really grateful and I've loved doing it, but I was okay before that.

Cara King:

Yeah. It takes a strong woman to have that, to have that insight though. So again, you are just an amazing, amazing role model, sponsor, mentor, teacher, all the things, Wilma. Thank you so much.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Oh, you're welcome.

Cara King:

It's been an absolute honor talking with you and we hope to have you back on again soon.

Wilma Bergfeld:

Thanks Cara.

Cara King:

Thank you for listening today. Join us again as we draw inspirations and insights from women doctors past, present and future. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at WPSA1. That's at W-P-S-A and the number one. This podcast is supported by Cleveland Clinic's Women's Professional Staff Association, as part of the Cleveland Clinic centennial celebration.

Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs
WPSA - Insights and Inspirations VIEW ALL EPISODES

Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs

In celebration of Cleveland Clinic’s centennial, hosts Dr. Cara King and Dr. Mary Rensel share conversations with women doctors at Cleveland Clinic, exploring the highlights and challenges of being a woman in medicine.
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