Colorado G.I.R.L.: Tiffany Willard, M.D.

Tell us about yourself.
I am a Colorado native. I grew up in Colorado Springs and attended Cheyenne Mountain High School. I attended and graduated college at University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. I then attended medical school at University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City. After medical school I pursued a career in surgery and completed a surgical residency in Chicago at University of Illinois Metropolitan Group Hospitals.

After surgery residency I completed a fellowship in trauma and critical care at University of Tennessee. I then returned to Colorado Springs to settle down into my career at UCHealth Memorial Hospital as a trauma critical care surgeon.

I met my husband in Chicago and married in 2004. We started our family in 2006. I now have 3 children ages 11, 8 and 6.

A big part of my career includes teaching surgeons in training, medical students and young children in elementary school.

When in your life/career have you been a G.I.R.L. (go-getter, innovator, risk-taker, leader)?
As far back as I can remember I have been a very competitive person. Whether I was playing with my brothers or doing a sport I was always the leader of the pack. My imagination always kept me going. I was usually the one to come up with new ideas for adventure and create fun obstacles to overcome.

I was constantly aiming to please my coaches and my teachers. Anything other than straight A’s in school made me work that much harder.  I was involved in sports year around and often times the team captain. I was MVP in both cross country and track and field during my high school years. My sophomore, junior and senior years in high school I was scholar athlete of the year.

I was an active member of the National Honor Society and participated in numerous volunteer activities growing up. I played the piano and the flute during my younger years in elementary school and junior high school as well.

In college I was an active member of numerous academic groups and I also served as a math and science tutor. I knew I wanted to get into medical school, which can be very competitive. Therefore I started a medical school interest group in college to help facilitate others in the process of applying for medical school. We arranged medical-related volunteer activities to help broaden our experience. I also started my own research project in ophthalmology in order to write a research paper before interviewing for medical school.

Prior to being accepted into medical school I completed my EMT and paramedic training in order to again broaden my medical experience, therefore showing the acceptance committee how devoted I was to succeeding in the medical field.

During my surgical career here in Colorado Springs, I created an outreach trauma program for elementary-age schoolchildren to raise awareness about how making bad choices about your body can result in total body system compromise and even trauma. I teach what being involved in a trauma can really mean and how even their own poor choices can change their lives forever. I have spoken at 80 schools over a 5-year period.

I am also the director of medical students at UCHealth Memorial for both University of Colorado School of Medicine surgery students and Rocky Vista University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

What does it mean to “take the lead?”
Taking the lead can mean numerous different things to different people of all different ages. For a young kindergarten child, it may be that effort to teach everyone else in class how to tie their shoes when you just perfected it the day before … or for a 3rd grader, to initiate new friendships if there are new kids in the classroom who don’t know anyone. It may be that 5th grader who steps out in front to break the silence at the science fair presentation or even that 1st grader who isn’t afraid to explore new adventures and try new things even if it is scary at first. Taking the lead could be that 12th grader who launches a campaign for class president or the 8th grader who opens up to a trusted teacher or parent about something that makes her uncomfortable at school. Taking the lead can mean being a trendsetter for a new look or even new activity. It can mean joining a sports team or a band group and most importantly striving to be the best and lead your team to positive outcomes. You don’t have to win to be a leader but you do have to support, encourage and build up those around you no matter what the circumstances might be. Lead others on a pathway to being confident, respectful and humble at all times.

Why is it important for girls and women to “take the lead?”
We need to show girls that their dreams are within reach. Taking the lead proves not only to the girls themselves but also everyone watching what they are capable of.  Taking the lead improves a person’s ability to communicate. Girls and women can be more effective at promoting change and narrowing the gender gap between men and women that has developed over the past few centuries. Women and girls tend to be more collaborative with all groups they may face or interact with.

Women and girls will not shy away from diversity but actually promote diversity.

Most importantly, girls can be amazing.

Women and girls can be role models for young children who are learning, as well as for other countries who may be developing their own roles for girls and women. Taking the lead is empowering.

What has helped you achieve success?
The most important word to describe what helped me achieve success is “attitude.” If you do not have the right attitude then you will not go far. You need to set attainable goals and strive for those goals one step at a time. Keep your goals within reach to climb to the next level. It takes a broad imagination to keep your mind moving toward your dreams of success.

You also must have a slightly healthy competitive edge and aim to please in order to be successful in life.

You must remain self confident about your plans and actions and don’t be afraid to fail. Failing at some things opens other doors for learning and allows new bridges to be built. I never settled for second best, and I always wanted to be a better person, which in turn would be better for my own children.

Were you a Girl Scout? If so, tell us about your experience and what is the most important thing Girl Scouts taught you?
I never was offered the opportunity to be a Girl Scout when I was a child due to circumstances out of my control, but as an adult I have been fortunate enough to work closely with several Girl Scout groups on various projects. They are an amazing group of girls who have taught me the importance of teaching and the importance of being available to talk, encourage and communicate. They have also taught me the importance of encouraging girls to step out of their comfort zone to be better and stronger individuals.

Girl Scouts of Colorado