Interview with Dr. Luissa Kiprono

Dr. Luissa Kiprono is a perinatologist, leader and humanitarian. She is the Corporate Medical Director and Consultant in Maternal & Fetal Medicine at the Texas Perinatal Group (part of Mednax).

She attended the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. Then she completed her residency at Wright State University/Wright Patterson Medical Center (OB-GYN) and perinatology fellowship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (MFM).

And in 2020 she completed her executive MBA at the U. of Tennessee Haslam College of Business. 

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Becoming a Leader and Humanitarian

As a child, Luissa qualified for the Romanian gymnastics team and turned it down to pursue her education. When 19 years old, she emigrated to the United States with her family. She worked many different jobs after completing her undergraduate and master’s degrees. 

Dr. Kirpono enlisted in the US Airforce and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2010. She has been practicing maternal-fetal medicine ever since. And she is now in private practice with a large national medical practice (Mednax), where she also serves as the corporate medical director for her group based in San Antonio.

Recently, she has followed her desire to assist with perinatal care in underserved areas of the world. She is the founder and president of World Gateway Perinatal Consultants, a humanitarian organization that brings perinatal expertise to countries in Africa and South America.

Qualities of a Leader

Dr. Kiprono told a compelling story about her life and career. She has done a good job integrating clinical and leadership duties.

Stay open-minded and embrace change to be a good leader. – Dr. Luissa Kiprono

And she also had great advice for those who wish to lead, describing her thoughts on the most important qualities of a physician leader. Some of the qualities leaders must demonstrate include:

  • Develop an understanding of each situation
  • Have the courage to speak up about your convictions
  • Stay open-minded and embrace change when needed
  • Accept defeat with grace and don't hold a grudge
  • Acknowledge mistakes and move on
  • Remain humble


Luissa shared her unique story of living behind the “Iron Curtain,” emigrating to the U.S., learning a new language, and adapting to a new culture. She pursued her lifelong dream of a medical career and is now a leader and humanitarian, serving patients in her community and around the world.

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Transcription PNC Episode 204

How to Be a Leader and Humanitarian Improving Maternal-Fetal Health

Interview with Dr. Luissa Kiprono

John: I always enjoy and appreciate meeting physicians who have been able to strike a balance between clinical activities and leadership activities and also maybe some volunteer activities. So, I'm really happy to be able to welcome Dr. Luissa Kiprono to the podcast today. Hello, Dr. Kiprono.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: John, thank you so much for inviting me here and I'm really, really happy to share my thoughts and my vision with you.

John: This is going to be great. We're going to learn about leadership. We're going to learn about your past and some of the different things you've done. I'm also impressed by how my guests have such varied backgrounds. So, without wasting any time, let's just go ahead. Why don't you start by telling us a little bit about your background? And because I know your background, I want you to start a little earlier than we usually do. We usually start around the medical training, but why don't you tell us about your childhood and then go right through that whole process?

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Okay. I believe that everyone in some way or form is born twice during their lifetime. When I arrived in America at the green age of 19, is when I believe I was born again. I had the new identity, new language, new system, and therefore, it was truly a new me. It was just opening my eyes to a completely new and different world.

I just finished high school at the time, and then I took a year off to prepare for the medical school admission exams. It was April, 1987. I accepted my father's invitation to come and visit him here for one month. And that month turned into a lifetime. As I decided to remain in America, that month derailed everything I planned beforehand.

And in the years to come, I learned one more language, English, took science courses part-time, became a real estate salesperson, then broker in three states in the New England area. I worked a multitude of jobs from a grocery clerk and manager or bank teller, translator, interpreter, counselor, researcher in environmentalist, political advocate and campaign manager. All with one goal in mind that one day I would become what I dreamed of since middle school to be a doctor.

John: Okay, I'm going to stop you right there because we went really fast over that. But I just want to make it clear for the listeners. So, you were born and raised in Romania, correct?

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct.

John: Okay. So that was that first part up until age 19. And then you came to the states.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct.

John: And you originally wanted to be a physician, but at that point you didn't pursue that right away, you said.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct. I could not pursue that right away, for both financial reasons and also because the biggest barrier of all is the language.

John: Okay. And at the time before you moved here, Romania was still part of the Soviet Union, is that right?

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct. The iron curtain fell in 1988. And I left Romania in 1987, about a year and a half later.

John: Got it, got it. All right. So, you were here and you were basically learning and trying different jobs or doing different jobs. And so, take us through the next couple of steps that eventually ended in you pursuing a medical career at some point.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: So, like I said, I had to put a stop. Well, put a pause rather, to my dreams, to become a doctor because of the language and financial reasons. But also, to learn the system, the system in Romania versus the system you had in the United States. To go to medical school, to pursue a medical career are very different, night and day. That's how it is in Europe and also, in South America and Africa, mostly everyone else. So that in itself, learning the ropes, so to speak, to go to undergrad, to get my undergrad course load, to be able to get my undergrad degree and then pursue medical school.

The one thing that I did forget to mention is, I was part of the Air Force scholarship program. So, the Air Force would be a professional scholarship program for newly rising students through rigorous criteria. If you get accepted through the HPSP program, then the Air Force pays for your medical school. And of course, you have to pay back, but who doesn't ask for a payback?

John: That's right. You're going to pay it off somehow. You had to devote a lot of time, I think, after you finished med school to continue.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct.

John: And then you pursued a career and a training as an OB-GYN, is that right?

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct. So, after medical school, I started my residency in OB-GYN. I did my residency in Dayton, Ohio. There was a combined residency program with the military. Then afterwards, my first assignment out of the residency was actually my payback to the Air Force. That was 4 years in Mississippi. When I finished my assignment, that is when I separated from the Air Force and I pursued my fellowship in Jackson, Mississippi.

John: Nice. And that was, what I would call a perinatal medicine.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Yes. It is perinatal medicine or also the newer term being maternal and fetal medicine.

John: And so, you've been practicing that now since you left your fellowship.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct. So, since 2015, I have been a practicing maternal fetal medicine specialist. My first assignment, as you probably can tell, I still use the word assignment it's left over from the military. So, my first assignment at my fellowship was in Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana, at St. Mary's Health medical center. I spent about five and a half years there, and then I took about three months break in between doing some locum tenens. And then, in January, 2019, I joined Texas Perinatal Group in San Antonio through the obstetrics pediatrics medical group, also formerly known as Mednax.

John: Okay. Now let's just fast forward to what you're doing now, because then we'll go kind of back and talk about how you got here. You're doing combined, you're doing clinical, but you're also doing a lot of leadership. So, tell us about that position.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Presently I am the Practice Medical Director for Texas Perinatal Group, here in San Antonio. When I joined them in January, I joined them as maternal fetal medicine specialist. And 10 days later, the decision was made by the senior leadership to offer me the position for the practice director. In Indiana I also was the Practice Medical Director. So, I do have experience in the field.

Our practice has at this time 48 employees, five full-time physicians, a maternal fetal medicine specialist, and one part-time physician. We have eight advanced practice providers or advanced nurse practitioners, who are specialized in women's health and MFM. We have four full-time clinics throughout San Antonio and about opening a fifth one. We are a hundred percent consultative practice, when we employ virtual telemedicine capabilities, COVID helped us quite a bit to launch this. And the fifth clinic or the satellite clinic is going to be really run virtually through telemedicine.

We specialize in the full scope of high-risk obstetrics or high-risk maternal and fetal medicine. We have a very large inventory for patient population and OB referring providers. In addition to that, we support the two largest possible systems in the area, which is the Methodist and the Baptist system.

John: I remember when I was a CMO at my hospital, we did not have any perinatologist, and it was always a big deal "Should we ship someone?" depending on where they were in their pregnancy. So, I want your feedback on the telemedicine side, are you doing telemedicine consults with the local OBs and how has that been? It sounds pretty exciting.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: So, with the telemedicine, the way it's set up, we have a team on the site, in the hospital or in a space in the medical office building where other physicians have their offices. And the team, which is on site, which is composed of sonographer and nurse practitioners are the ones who work up the patient and do the ultrasound duty. And at the end, I am real time virtually connected through the visit with the patient and the staff and the team that discuss with the patient the findings. It's just like me talking to you right now or me talking to my patients face to face. And then at the very end, we know, we give the assessment, the plan, we write up the letter and then send it to their obstetrician.

John: Very nice. So that I'm sure has changed dramatically in the last five years, even, and with the pandemic, I don't know, maybe even pushed it quicker than it originally was going.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: I am very excited about this. I have to tell you that is something that was going to happen regardless in the next 10 years, the Coronavirus pandemic pushed it to come to fruition within one year, which is just amazing to me. But just imagine taking this to the next level, and being able to provide this at the international level. Even in the United States, you have so many remote and rural areas that patients either have to be shipped, two, three hours, five hours, either by helicopter or by ambulance. And sometimes the problem is they don't even need to, that is interesting. When you can actually get it there and say, yes, you must after the visit, okay, I'm going to send you to the hospital versus you're going to go home, and then we're going to be following you very closely. To me, it is amazing what we can do for these moms, for their unborn babies. Again, they get forward to Africa, they get forward to South America, take it to areas like Saudi Arabia. We cannot go there when we cannot provide, we did not use to be able to provide so seamlessly the services.

John: Well, since you mentioned international services, I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you're the founder of the World Gateway Perinatal Consultants. Is that right? And how does that tie in? And what is it? I'll just let you explain what it is.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: So, I founded the World Gateway Perinatal Consultants in 2018. I've always wanted to start a company and a company who would be able to allow me to work, teach and practice medicine beyond borders, beyond the physical borders of the state that they live in, or the city that they live in.

I am very active in participating and running humanitarian missions. I go frequently to Africa, to Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, South America. And really what I love to do is train the trainer, teach the residents, do clinical rounds, teach at bedside. That is the most fruitful that we can do in order to propagate my knowledge to the new generation. It's easy, people ask me like, well, don't you miss having deliveries or when you just go and do deliveries in Africa? Well, you can deliver it in about maybe two weeks. I could be able to deliver about a hundred babies, but then when I leave, there is nothing left behind besides those babies. But when I teach and when I inform my knowledge, or again, now with telemedicine, the way we are envisioning to happen, I would be able to be a clinical professor from here from San Antonio and teach in the hospitals around the world.

John: Boy, we could probably do a whole interview just on that. But I think that sounds like it involves a lot of your interests and then also the leadership, the coordination, and the project planning. All those sorts of things that go into being a leader. So, I'm going to bring it back to that because what were the experiences you had in the past 10 or 20 years? And I have to think the military is one of them, but you tell me, that led you just to be like a natural leader. It was almost like your first practice, you were put in place as the practice manager, right? So, what were those experiences that led you to that?

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: John, I believe that my rich life experience gave me the foundation to become naturally good at management. Networking with people of various backgrounds, spending time in various fields, gave me the opportunity to learn things that really you can find in books or in the classroom. Doing medical humanitarian missions around the world, teaching students and residents in the United States, Africa, South America, taking care of patients in various parts of the world, and here at home gives me a great deal of joy. And it also serves as a constant reminder, really how blessed we are here in America for the actual medical care that we have. It really is the life experience and keeping myself grounded, remember, always where I come from that make me the person who I am today.

John: Well, I'm going to ask you to think about leadership, and I know that in the past you've explained this to others. So, I'm interested in your thoughts on this. What do you think are the top qualities for a physician leader?

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Well, everybody is writing articles about this. Leadership competencies and qualities. And once in a while I read through them just to see, okay, how far or how close I am to one or more, or all of those qualities. Qualities of a strength, strongly in my opinion, is understanding the situation you are in and the dynamics of it. Being able to be effective, but also swiftly. I have to swiftly adapt to various environments and people around me. Just the way I talk to you right now and in 10 minutes, if somebody else walks into this interview, I will have to adapt the visual cues, but also the way that this person talks to me, I will have to adapt to that and just continue the conversation in a different way.

Also, strong interpersonal skills at all levels and distress at all levels is extremely important with various group, very wide interests. I have to stay diverse, be culturally accepting and willing to look through someone else's land. And not just my supervisor land or my president land, but the person who is at the front desk that is checking in the patient. I tell you to have the courage to ask somebody who works not with you, but for you. "Hey, what do you think? What do you think in this particular scenario? Just give me your point. Because we're so easy to get caught up in only our way being the right way. And it's so not true. And if somebody else gives you their opinion, that is really unbiased, you're like, "Oh, wow. I really didn't see it coming that way, but thank you". And then I stopped for a moment and that is such a revelation that yes, maybe that is another side to it that I failed to see.

Having the courage to stand up for what I believe in and not being afraid to speak up, it's something that I learned to cultivate, and really come out of my shell and then do it. When I came to the United States, I was always amazed that when I came here from Romania, in Romania I was very well known as a teenager, I was outspoken. In Romania, that is the saying, "If you cannot fit through the door, you just pick the window". And then I had like about five, six years getting to the United States, I was very shy because I was very self-conscious about not mastering the English language.

And as I became more and more professional I kind of got that back. If you talk to my market president or my CEO, they'll know that I speak my mind. And it is, it is a way to speak it up and just be honest and be professional and then another way to be abrasive. And it's always a fine line. One has to be careful about that. And I think it's a leader trait to be able to know when they can say, okay, I said enough, now I would have to take a break or just walk away for five minutes, because when you come back, you will have a big cooler head.

I think the most important thing is one should know, except when we make mistakes. We should recognize, and we should also be humble and accept all vulnerabilities and say, "Yes, I made a mistake. I'm learning from it. And we'll just move on to the next challenge". But that is not a reason to dwell on it and beat yourself over the head because a mistake has happened and an error has happened, we all are human. Just like my practice administrator says, "Oh, wow, you're a human. You've made a mistake". I said, yeah, it's always good to admit that.

John: That's hard sometimes for physicians, because we're kind of taught like, "Well, you can't make a mistake", which obviously is impossible, but still, it's a mindset of, "Okay, everything I do has to be perfect. I don't want someone to get hurt. I don't want to get sued". But I think in leadership, naturally you're going to try different things. And so, you're going to have to be able to accept the fact and apologize and move on.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct.

John: Now I do want to get a sense of what your daily work is like. What's the balance now between clinical and leadership and are there a lot of meetings? Is it conference calls? Is it getting into teams? What is that about in terms of the leadership side?

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Anytime somebody says balance makes me chuckle, because there is no such a thing as balance. I like to call it the yin and yang. A little bit of yin and a little bit of yang here. Just like a wave. So, at the moment, I am 60% clinical and 40% administrative.

Clinical and leadership are so different. My clinical duties and leadership duties are very different. And in my case, they complement each other. I love being a doctor and I have no intention to give up my clinical duties. I think one of the biggest mistakes that physician leaders make is when they go away with their clinical duties. And I will always keep, even if it is a small part of it, I'll always keep my clinical duties competent.

One, it grounds me. My specialty obstetrics, maternal and fetal medicine is part of who I am and it's very intuitive for me. It keeps me leveled. It keeps me in touch with my humanity. And also, when I am a leader and I talk to other fellow physicians, for the physicians who just broke away from being clinicians and just be in the leadership roles. I heard many physicians who said "When was the last time you practiced medicine to be able to understand what I'm coming from? Or when was the last time you stepped into the operating room to tell me the surgeon, how to run my schedule and my cases?" And you know what? You got nothing to say when that person asks you that very crucial question.

So, practicing medicine is very, very important to me. The leadership side. Well, that has been a transformation over the years. I grew into the role, as life threw me a couple of curveballs. First, I thought it was by accident. That was in Indiana. And then when the second opportunity presented itself here in San Antonio, I considered it. I am very proactive. I'm very methodical. I am very self-disciplined. My leadership for my nonclinical time, yes, it's full of meetings. And not only meetings at the practice level, but also meetings at the hospital level, working with the hospital leadership, working with my organization leadership. But also, like I said, the practice is more ideal to me. When an OB calls and wants to discuss to me a patient with me, that takes priority. And repeatedly if I would have a meeting and they would say, "Well, we have a case here. We have a patient that needs to be seen and we have nowhere to put it" and we'll just put it on my schedule. So, I would just make room and I would move my meetings around.

John: And I think we all learn how to balance the two and kind of fit the two together because it's not a black of three days here and two days here. It is always this interaction that can occur. And I will note that some of the CEOs of the biggest organizations, including Mayo Cleveland Clinic, Rush University Medical Center Chicago, they were still working clinically and they were running a multi-billion-dollar organization, which kind of blows my mind. But it's a personal decision.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Correct.

John: We're going to run out of time pretty soon, but I do have one more question I want to ask you to comment on, because the other thing you squeezed in there somehow was to get an MBA, within the last year or so. So, we don't want to get into too much detail, but what was that experience like and looking back, was it worth it? Just tell us a little bit about getting the MBA amongst all this other stuff that you've been to.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Yes. So, pursuing my MBA has been in my mind probably since 2014, mainly because I wanted to be able to refine my leadership abilities, especially in the field of healthcare. Healthcare nowadays it's really becoming a business. I call it the business of medicine. And what I've noticed, time and time again, physicians that have been looked at by their C-suite counterparts, are less than apt to become leaders. I heard this so many times, "You do what you do best. You do doctoring and let us run the business part of the medicine". And truth be told, physicians are completely apt to be both physicians and leaders. And I know for a fact that the opposite is not possible for most of the time, unless one decides to become a doctor after being an administrator.

John: I agree a hundred percent. Physicians make great leaders. We are natural leaders. It doesn't mean everyone wants to be a leader, that's fine, but it's very straightforward if you do, but it's not that you don't need to learn new things too, as you have done. So, I think it's consistent with everything I've heard in the past about this. And I encourage physicians, please take leadership roles. And hey, it doesn't hurt if a hospital is run by a doctor, I think that's a good thing.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: And it's so true.

John: Well, let's see. Do you have any last bit of advice for our listeners? It could be anything about what we've talked about today, but I'll just let you go with anything you'd like to tell our listeners who've been listening today with great intensity.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: I would love to hear it from you all. If you are in San Antonio, please drop me a line. You can find me on LinkedIn and my profile and my contact information. I would love you to come and visit my practice, visit me, go to lunch, go to dinner and just talk about anything. And that it goes for both, physician and non-physician leaders.

My final words besides that to the listeners, stay open-minded and embrace change. Accept defeat with grace and move on and don't hold the grudge. Stay true to yourself and remember where you came from. Because no one is born a leader or an expert of any kind. It's tempting to give it all and not worth it in the long run. Your health will suffer and you would innate your loved ones. Because you want to be able to share your journey with the people who matter most to you. Otherwise, what's the point of getting to the destination alone?

John: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I'm going to definitely list out each of those in my notes, as well as having that on the audio for people to listen to when we release this in the very near future. Well, Luissa I really appreciate you for coming on and sharing your experiences, your wisdom with us. This has been fun. And I hope to talk to you again in the future.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Thank you so very much, John. Thank you for taking the time. I'm honored that you invited me to your podcast.

John: Well, it's been my pleasure and I appreciate you. So, with that, I'll say goodbye.

Dr. Luissa Kiprono: Goodbye. Have a blessed day.


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