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Getting to Know: Dr. Rebecca “Becky” Bigoney

Where you grew up: I was born in the small town of Abingdon and grew up in the even smaller town of Meadowview.

Education: I graduated from Emory & Henry College, then from the Medical College of Virginia. I did my internship and residency in internal medicine at MCV. Later in my career, I received a master’s degree in clinical ethics from the University of Virginia. I have also achieved board certification in hospice and palliative medicine.

At what age did you know you wanted to be a doctor? I majored in chemistry in college, and about halfway through I realized that I really did not want to be a chemist. So, almost by process of elimination, I made the decision to apply to medical school.

Why did you decide to enter the medical profession? I loved the idea of the intellectual challenge of medicine, and that was what started me down this road. It was only after I got into my training and especially into practice that I realized that I loved the interaction with patients, hearing their stories and being entrusted with their medical care, even more.

Your career history before joining MWHC/MediCorp: After residency, my husband, Burton, and I moved to Fredericksburg, which is his hometown. I started as the first woman physician at Pratt Medical Center, then still Pratt Clinic, where Dr. Moss served as my mentor.

I had my first child during my residency and discovered that I was pregnant with my second the week I started work at Pratt. I was apprehensive about how my colleagues would respond, since they had probably always feared that if they hired a woman she would immediately start having babies, but they were wonderfully supportive and happy for me.

After about two years with Pratt, I left to join Dr. Wayland Marks at Fredericksburg Internal Medicine. I practiced with Wayland, and later with Dr. Patrick McManus, until the end of 2000.

I had developed an interest in medical ethics and received the master’s degree during that time, and in 2001 I left private practice to work for Mary Washington, first doing a combination of medical ethics, geriatrics and case-management physician support, then later transitioning into palliative care.

I became chief of medicine in 2010, vice president for medical affairs in 2012, and chief medical officer in 2013.

Are you still practicing medicine? Unfortunately my administrative responsibilities are consuming my time, so I am not taking care of patients at present. I still get the opportunity to occasionally work with a patient, family and care team on an ethical issue.

While I enjoy what I am doing, and I will always believe nothing is as hard as practicing primary care medicine, I do miss my patients. I still have many cards, letters and gifts they gave me, and I think of them often.

Discuss the transition from being a practicing physician to having more of an administrative role: This was a gradual transition for me, and it feels like each change came along at the right time. I still see myself as a physician, and I can’t imagine a time when that will not be true. So, my administrative role provides an opportunity for me to bring the perspective of our physicians and advocate for the primacy of patient care in our mission.

What are the responsibilities of the chief medical officer? I represent the physician perspective to our organizational leadership and board, work on key organizational projects that cross facility boundaries, and oversee the work of the senior medical leaders at each of our two hospitals.

You are also director of ethics services. What does that mean? Medical ethics is a labor of love for me. It provides an opportunity to work with patients and families to work through the moral dimensions of difficult problems, bringing in the perspectives and wishes of our patients along with the views of the health care team to arrive at an ethically acceptable consensus.

Our ethics program also includes organization ethics, which examines the ethics of business decisions, as well as policy development, education of our staff and ability to serve as a forum for discussion of ethical issues.

Mary Washington Healthcare has bucked the industry trend and stayed independent while other hospitals have merged with larger healthcare organizations. How has the organization been able to do that, and what does it mean for your patients? I really believe that community ownership and governance allows Mary Washington Healthcare to hear the voice of our community. While large hospital chains make decisions based on what is good for their systems, we are able to clearly support our mission of improving the health status of our communities.

We have been able to bring in some amazing programs, like our open-heart surgery program, stereotactic radiosurgery program, and neonatal ICU, for which hospital chains would likely transfer patients to their central facilities.

Our Board of Trustees consists of local leaders who volunteer their time and who are passionate about our obligation toward our own community.

Where you live: Spotsylvania County

Age: 60

Family: Husband, Burton, who owns Bigoney Engineering in Fredericksburg, and two children. Burt is married to Katie and lives in Seattle, and they are the parents of our 7-month-old grandson, Grove. Lauren is a physician completing her residency in Charleston, S.C.

Hobbies: Reading, boating, traveling.

Something people don’t know about you: While I was in medical school we lived on a soybean and hog farm in Charles City County in a trailer. (I know there are some very nice manufactured homes available now, but, trust me, this was a trailer.) In the summer I would cut my landlord’s grass instead of paying rent.

—As told to Bill Freehling