The library has always been a special place for Ana Fuentevilla. As a young girl, she and her siblings spent their evenings among the stacks—not for their own education, but for their mother’s.
Both of Fuentevilla’s parents graduated from college in Cuba before the family relocated to the US as political refugees, but they repeated their degrees after immigrating and went on to become professors. This emphasis on education proved instrumental for Fuentevilla’s career, and it showed her from an early age that education, work, and parenting can coexist.
“We would spend many nights while my mother studied sitting at her feet in the college library,” Fuentevilla says. “I was really supported with that background of a strong work ethic and a strong belief in education as a way to be successful and to be a contributor in life.”
Fuentevilla is now the chief medical officer of Optum Population Health Solutions at UnitedHealth Group. She sat down with The Alumni Society to share her education transformed her career and why she encourages young people to follow in her footsteps.
Why do you think education is so central to a successful career?
To quote my parents, education is something that no one can take away from you. It opens up the door for experiences, work opportunities, and further educational opportunities. Let’s use a college graduate with an education in psychology—that’s the example of one of my daughters. That degree allows her to pursue higher education, many fields in healthcare, and many other fields in other industry, but it also allows her to get a job in lots of fields today.
What doors has education opened for you?
Had I not pursued my geriatric fellowship, I would not have been offered my first job coming on board to a team of physicians working in an underserved area in Phoenix around Manitoba County. I was one of less than three fellowship-trained geriatricians to lead that group, which was providing primary care to seniors. Had I not done that two years of geriatric fellowship, I would not have been given that opportunity that really made my career blossom in a direction that I was passionate about—serving seniors that were frail and on Medicaid.
What drew you to working with underserved populations?
I was drawn to that from my personal experience as an immigrant myself and watching my own family and the people in the neighborhoods where I grew up struggle with getting healthcare from the point of not having the resources, health literacy, or trust in the system.
Like your parents, you pursued higher education while raising your children. What challenges did you face in balancing these roles, and how did you overcome them?
After I got my doctoral degree, I had to do my residency, and by that time I had little kids. It’s a tradeoff of waking up at four in the morning to get your homework done so that you have a little bit of family time on the weekends. I always say it takes a village. My parents were instrumental in promoting my success through college and med school. Once I had a family, they supported me with picking up kids after school and helping with homework until I got home from school or work. My parents were partners for me.
What are your core values as a leader?
It’s important to help get young adults excited about a career in healthcare—especially individuals of color and minorities. There are so many populations within our own country that are underserved where we could use more culturally sensitive, culturally appropriate care givers—people just like me, in other words—serving in their own communities. I think it’s important as a leader to recruit, develop, and mentor all potential healthcare providers and leaders, but especially a diverse workforce that can really represent the population that we serve.
What would you tell young people who are considering a career in healthcare?
I feel so privileged to be in these shoes and to continue my career trying to be part of the transformation of getting to a point where we feel good that everyone in America is getting the care that they need and deserve. I’m encouraging anyone who will listen to seek a career in healthcare because I think we need more sensitive, hardworking, passionate people in healthcare.
A key piece of success is building a strong network. How do you cultivate your network?
I have a circle of professional colleagues that are my support system. Many of them are minority women who I lean on for advice, but I also have several colleagues who are not women or minorities who have been mentors for me throughout my career with providing me a place to bounce ideas off of and to ask questions about the right next move to further my leadership development and my contributions in healthcare. Having those mentors and colleagues that really support you throughout your career is critical.
What do you wish that you had known at the start of your career?
I would have liked information about the finances of medicine. I feel like I was ready for the clinical, quality, and human part of medicine. My training took me there. But balancing that with being able to make a living is not something you’re taught in medical school. I did learn it at Dartmouth, and I learned it throughout my career from my mentors and my partners, but I think all doctors should get that sooner.