Houston obstetrician-gynecologist Carla Ortique, MD, says one of her top goals as the Texas Medical Association Foundation’s (TMAF’s) new president is getting the word out about how the foundation helps physicians and improves health care.
When Texas Medicine spoke with Dr. Ortique, she had just attended a luncheon at TexMed 2023 in Fort Worth where TMA and TMAF honored 16 incoming medical students for their $10,000 Diversity in Medicine Scholarships. The timing was fitting, she said, because the scholarships are funded by TMAF, and are the reason she started donating to the foundation.
“I don’t think people may be aware of what [the foundation] does,” she said. “When they attend the [annual TMAF gala at TexMed] or a luncheon like this, we hear responses such as, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t realize you were doing this. I’m happy to give, and I want to give.’”
The nearly $180,000 TMAF grants annually to the TMA Diversity in Medicine program helps offset the cost of medical school, which averages around $200,000 per student, Dr. Ortique says. The TMA Educational Scholarship, Loan, and Awards Committee chooses one recipient entering each Texas medical school for the scholarships, which are funded by the TMA Foundation with generous support from its Bayardo Trust and Patrick Y. Leung, MD, Endowment, and in 2023 with major annual gifts from H-E-B and Baldemar Covarrubias, MD, as well as TMA county medical societies and physicians and their families.
“As I looked at the dollar amounts that were being awarded by this foundation, they were greater than several organizations specifically set up to assist minority students,” said Dr. Ortique, who also is now chair of the TMAF Board of Trustees.
The foundation was created in 1966 to support the philanthropic vision of TMA members. In 1989, TMA expanded the foundation’s mission to fund TMA and TMA Alliance projects that help physicians and the public while engaging businesses and communities in a healthier Texas.
The foundation’s work mirrors the motives Dr. Ortique had for choosing medicine as a career, she says. Aside from her strong affinity for science, she truly likes working with others and helping them out.
“I’ve always enjoyed human interactions,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed taking care of people, from babysitting to elder care positions I held from the time I grew up.”
The breadth of the foundation’s good works makes it a natural for another of Dr. Ortique’s priorities: expanding its base of corporate donors.
“We’ve been most fortunate to have a number of very generous and consistent corporate donors,” she said. “But I feel there’s an untapped market. There are a lot of corporate entities who are genuinely interested in improving health outcomes for their team members and communities. Many are truly interested in becoming donors, and they have dollars that are set aside for philanthropic endeavors. … An easy case can be made to any corporate leader that contributing, regardless of their specific sector, helps improve the health of all Texans – improves the health of their workers.”
That work goes hand in hand with raising awareness about the foundation among physicians, she says.
“All of us can give,” she said. “All of us can create legacies.”
Finding her voice
Dr. Ortique is a well-known OB-gyn who chairs the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, which investigates the causes of maternal death and illness on behalf of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
But she originally specialized in family medicine. After three years, two factors pushed her to become an OB-gyn. The first was the death of her sister – at age 33 – to an aggressive form of breast cancer in 1992.
“Her illness triggered me to go back and do the [OB-gyn] residency,” she said. “But also [I did it] because, as a female family physician, I was doing a lot of obstetrics and gynecology. Even though I took care of families, I had a large women’s health practice as a family physician.”
Her sister’s death also led her indirectly to her work with the TMA Foundation because it raised her awareness about health disparities and how to address them.
“It was pretty apparent to me at that time, though I didn’t understand it, that something was not right about this because she was married, held a master’s degree, and was insured. She wasn’t a smoker or overweight, she breastfed both of her children, and delivered both before age 30,” Dr. Ortique said. “All these are things we think about as being risk-lowering factors for breast cancer, and she had none of the high-risk factors.”
Her sister’s death highlighted the need for more underrepresented physicians and researchers – the very problem addressed by the Diversity in Medicine Scholarships. A long history of discrimination against Black Americans contributes to their distrust of health care systems and medical professionals. That fact helped lead to the creation of TMA’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Task Force, on which Dr. Ortique served.
Based on an understanding of the importance of having mentors who are racially and culturally similar, in 1987 Dr. Ortique joined the National Medical Association (NMA), the largest and oldest national organization representing Black physicians.
“My membership in the National Medical Association showed me that your voice is louder when it’s in a group,” she said. “When the group represents things you believe in, you have so much more power in terms of advocacy than as an individual. That’s not to say that individual voices aren’t important, but collective voices are much more difficult to ignore.”
Once she moved to Texas in 1995, Dr. Ortique’s experience with NMA helped her recognize the importance of TMA’s collective voice. Her foundation work and time on the JEDI Task Force are just part of her long history of activism within TMA. She currently participates as a member of the Council on Science and Public Health; is former chair of the Committee for Reproductive, Women’s, and Perinatal Health, on which she currently serves as a consultant; and is a past member of the Child and Adolescent Health and Patient-Physician Advocacy committees.
Dr. Ortique also has been on the TMAF board for six years and looks forward to working with fellow board members as part of such “a positive and hopeful entity.”
“I’m humbled and honored to serve alongside these amazing individuals,” she said. “I believe [we can] increase the General Endowment so that we can further increase the good work that we do supporting future physicians and the communities they serve.”