Gene Ma, MD, FACEP, recently named Interim President and CEO at Tri-City Medical Center (TCMC), served as an emergency medicine physician at Tri-City Medical Center (TCMC) for more than 20 years and is a 10-time honoree of San Diego’s Top Doctors in emergency medicine. He has also held numerous administrative roles during his tenure at TCMC including chief of staff and chief medical officer, as well as CEO of WorkPartners, the region’s dominant occupational health practice.
Why did you decide to become a doctor?
Life experiences are often the reason people become doctors and I was no exception. My mom had a ruptured aneurysm in her 30s, which changed her personality, as well as our family’s lifestyle. We frequently interacted with healthcare providers who made a significant impression upon me. I see my mom’s health experience as the inflection point that most influenced me to become a doctor.
I was drawn to emergency medicine not only because of the adrenaline rush, but also for the diversity within the specialty. Every day you can see something different, which requires that you be knowledgeable in multiple aspects of medicine, rather than just one specialty – ‘a jack of all trades, but a master of none.’ Emergency medicine physicians expect the unexpected; they must think fast on their feet and communicate closely with other physicians when trying to save a patient’s life.
What drew you to become a hospital administrator?
I’ve always thought that I have natural tendencies toward administration and leadership as I thrive on creating processes to improve operations and employee and patient satisfaction. When physicians and staff enjoy their jobs and find meaning in their work, they are happy, and this results in a better patient experience. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to lead TCMC in different clinical and non-clinical roles of increasing responsibility and to be a stakeholder in the decision-making process to bring about positive change.
What is your leadership style?
I always tell people that being a hospital administrator does not automatically make me a leader until I prove it and gain their trust. I would describe my style as that of a servant leader – I am willing to roll up my sleeves and do the hard work with everyone else to get the job done. When we sit side-by-side, rowing together with the same purpose in mind, we can accomplish our goals. Throughout TCMC, there are many people doing really hard work who do not have a manager or administrator title, but people look to them as leaders. They are the true leaders.
What motivates you to come to work each day?
The people I work with are like family at Tri-City. Without them, it’s just brick and mortar, another building. Family is what defines us; that sense of nurturing and belonging is unique to Tri-City. Since we often spend more waking hours with this family than our own, I want the physicians and staff to know that they are valued and appreciated for all of their hard work. But I also want them to know that we are all in this boat together and to feel free to share their insights and ideas with leadership so that we can move forward together.
How is Tri-City building a healthier community?
It’s our Tri-City family, working together, that is helping to build a healthier community. Our people are absolutely our ‘secret sauce’ and critical to our community outreach. North County residents and businesses recognize what we are trying to accomplish and want to be a part of it. We continue to engage with the community through the COASTAL Commitment including events, educational seminars, health fairs and more to increase awareness of all that Tri-City offers.
As we look to the future at TCMC, we are further investing in minimally invasive procedures and robotic surgeries because they offer better outcomes, while lowering the risks of infection and rates of complications for our patients. We have become a leader in this area, being the first in North County to offer Mako SmartRobotics™ for knee and joint replacement surgery, which is outstanding for a community hospital. Providing transformative surgical technology to improve patient care is just one of the many ways that Tri-City is defining the future of healthcare for our neighbors.
How do you maintain your wellness (physical health) and wellbeing (mental health)?
Growing up, my dad’s side of the family was always filled with laughter – whether it was from watching a TV comedy or reading a humorous book or sharing funny moments with each other. It became instilled in my personality and today, my family and I really enjoy laughing. People underestimate the value of what laughter brings to your physical and mental health. The saying, ‘laughter is the best medicine’ is really true as laughing releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins that help ease pain and improve mood. I do exercise and eat healthy, but keeping laughter in my everyday life is most important for me.
When not at work, what brings you joy?
I was born in Hawaii, but lived in Burma, Hong Kong and Japan when I was younger because my father worked for the U.S. State Department. That sparked my love for travel. Today, my bucket list is filled with travel experiences such as an African safari.
Also, I have five daughters, a King Charles Cavalier dog named Sadie and pet fish, which I’m fairly sure are all female too! My favorite thing is to spend time with my family, watch my girls play sports and, when possible, go dirt biking, wakeboarding or snowboarding.