Alumni Portrait: R. Donna M. Baytop, M.D. ’76
As corporate medical director for Solar Turbines Inc. and regional medical director for Caterpillar Inc., she cares for thousands of workers scattered around the globe in 30 countries
“I consider nearly 8,000 employees worldwide, as my patients,” said Baytop, who is based in San Diego. “If something happens and there is a medical emergency, I’m the first person who’s called to help.”
Despite the sleepless nights and other challenges, the 1976 UF College of Medicine graduate loves her job. She has traveled to almost every continent and works with medical teams globally to transport and care for her patients.
“I always wanted to travel, but I never imagined traveling this way,” said Baytop.
The Jacksonville native didn’t anticipate a career in corporate medicine. She earned an undergraduate degree in pharmacy at Florida A&M University, then later decided to apply to medical school.
Her first two years as a UF College of Medicine student were anything but easy.
“Our first child was born just a few months before I started medical school, and my husband was sent overseas at the same time,” Baytop recalled.
Baytop’s husband Allen was stationed in Germany for two years with the U.S. Army. Meanwhile, Baytop had to adjust to the busy life of a medical student, while essentially serving as a single mother to her baby daughter, Chanza. Friends helped but she remembered cold mornings when her car wouldn’t start and she couldn’t get her daughter to daycare before class.
“I used to have to take her to class. I’d sit way in the back and hope she didn’t cry,” Baytop remembered. “So that was very tough.”
After her graduation from medical school, Baytop completed her residency in urban family medicine at the University of Connecticut.
She accepted a job in employee health services with Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, which is now known as CIGNA. Within 18 months, she was the acting medical director.
She was later recruited as medical director at Solar Turbines in California. She has worked for the company, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., and one of the world’s leading manufacturers of industrial gas turbines, for more than 27 years.
She manages three onsite occupational medical clinics caring for employees in California and Texas, plus designs emergency response plans using a worldwide emergency medical network. When an employee is injured, she is notified and she finds the nearest center of excellence, oversees the transport of her patient and communicates with the physician to follow her patient’s progress. Her main responsibility is to coordinate the highest degree of care possible.
For example, an employee from the company’s Swiss office, was injured while in Istanbul. Baytop had him airlifted to a hospital in Zurich with one of the best burn units in the world.
Another case involved an Angolan employee who experienced preterm labor and needed a higher level of care, which was not available in Angola.
“So we made the right medical decision to airlift her to the highest level of care in Johannesburg, South Africa to assist efforts to save her baby,” she said.
During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, Baytop also was part of a team that successfully designed a fully automated telephonic and computerized workplace “gate screening entry” process for thousands of the company’s employees.
One of the perks of working in private industry is to be able to provide her patients with the best care possible and access to top-notch medical resources without a lot of bureaucracy and red tape. She said she’s pleased to be part of an organization that wants the best possible medical care for its employees worldwide.
“That is the upside of what I do,” Baytop said. “I really get to see how well we can practice medicine, including preventive medicine, without third-party payors and interruptions.”
Her connections to UF have also helped her treat her patients. She recalled calling Hal G. Bingham, M.D., who was medical director of Shands at UF’s Burn Intensive Care Unit, about a case.
“I picked up the phone and he remembered me,” said Baytop. “That was 15 years later and he made himself available to me.”