By Sam Marie Engle
Five years ago, Ranitta McDowell set her sights on moving South.
The Cleveland, Ohio native was the program coordinator responsible simultaneously for graduate medical education programs in sports medicine, plastic surgery, and dentistry for Akron’s Summa Health System. After being pulled in so many different directions, Ranitta was ready to give her best to one department and she wanted to do so for a top-tier medical center.
“I sought out Emory Radiology because it’s Emory,” she admits.
A serendipitous site visit from the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medication Education programs (ACGME) opened the door.
“When I started in GME at Summa, I was thrown into the fire. We had two site visits from the ACGME and I had to get everything in order in a very small amount of time—I did so well the ACGME site visitor complimented me. Ohio to me can feel small at times, so I started looking for bigger opportunities in bigger states and that compliment helped lead the way.”
During her interview, Ranitta talked about the benefits of focusing her energy on one specialty like radiology. She initially was hired as program coordinator for the Nuclear Medicine Residency and Nuclear Radiology Fellowship. Of course, with her organizational expertise as well as her exceptional people skills, Ranitta’s responsibilities quickly multiplied. She now also coordinates the new Interventional Radiology Integrated Residency Program (IR-I) and the Vascular Interventional Radiology Fellowship program.
Controlling Chaos with Clear Communication
Asked about a typical day, Ranitta starts with “Emails, emails, emails…and coffee. We get and send so many emails in a day!” That’s about 100 a day, more during interview season, so, Ranitta’s BA in communications provides a firm foundation upon which she regularly draws to ensure communications are impactful as well as fact-full.
The fall months are devoted to “controlling the chaos” that is resident recruitment. “We usually receive over 700 applications in just two days. From there, the faculty invite about 200 applicants to interview for one of 16 spots in the Diagnostic Radiology and Interventional Radiology Residency programs.”
What seems like a straightforward process is anything but. “People think it’s easy, but it’s not. You have to make sure every detail is taken care of, like applicants with similar or even the same names. Did you invite the right candidate? Did you spell everything correctly? On interview days you’ll see me running all over the department making sure the applicants get the best experience ever! I can’t rest until everyone is taken care of.”
A Passion for Service
Ranitta’s organizational skills are enriched by a surprising source: she holds an associate’s degree in culinary arts.
“I love cooking, especially prep work. It calms me and helps me put things in order,” she says.
Order is essential for coordinating all aspects of the residency and fellowship programs, which was why Ranitta acted fast when she discovered dinner for a faculty meeting was ordered for the wrong day.
“The meeting was about to start but we had no food! Luckily, I have a good relationship with Shane at Saba, so they were able to get food over to me at the last minute and the meeting proceeded without incident. It’s essential that I maintain good rapport with every vendor both inside and outside of Emory. It taught me that while it’s okay to make a mistake, it’s the recovery that counts.”
While she loves the energy and excitement of interview season, the graduation parties for residents and fellows are the highlight of her year. “I plan both the welcome and graduation parties. I love to meet the new trainees but I especially love celebrating graduation. They work so hard for so long and finally it’s their day to be celebrated for doing so. Angela and I work very hard to keep things in order, so to see our graduates tearing up and hugging us is the most rewarding feeling.”
The Secret Ingredient
Ranitta has a secret ingredient that laces her recipe for success: fearlessness. It’s hard-won. As a child, Ranitta had anxiety attacks. She remembers fifth grade as especially painful: she spent one day in the coat closet, too terrified of how her classmates might tease or taunt her because of how she dressed or wore her hair.
“I missed out on a lot. As I got older, I promised myself I never would sit in the closet again.”
She’s kept that promise. Indeed, that fearlessness fueled her move to Emory and helped her wave goodbye to her family and life in Ohio and head to Atlanta. “I’d never been to Atlanta. I interviewed by phone and accepted this job by email. I even found my place to stay by researching online.”
“There have been many times I wanted to run back to Ohio especially since I have NO family here but my Emory family—the residents, fellows, doctors, clinical staff, leadership and my colleagues—they all keep me here.”
Ranitta’s fearlessness also helps when it comes to another aspect of life at Emory: diversity.
“Where I grew up in Cleveland, it was mostly people who look like me. In college I started seeing more diversity. When I looked at Emory online, I saw so much diversity, which let me know it could be a place of opportunity for me.”
Her assessment has proven to be spot on. “It was great to see everyone support diversity on Diversity Day,” she says of the department’s first such celebration on November 14. I’m seeing more minorities interviewing and getting hired. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit we now have is great. The emails we’re getting about diversity topics also are helpful. I’m reminded to be more aware of the unconscious. We know, have seen, have grown up with ideas and experiences and we may not think anything about them but now we get to check those, and also understand others have their past experiences and ideas that they bring to the table.”
Service Excellence: Put People First and Add a Splash of Humor
Ranitta puts people first, something she learned at the grocery store when she was only 16.
“It was my first job and I saw how important it was to smile and make the customer feel valued. Now, I always listen to the person I am serving. When someone comes into the office or calls on the phone, I stop whatever else I was doing, if I can, to help that person. I just take care of that person’s need. Whatever else I was working on will get done and I know it will get done, but if I put the person off, that makes them feel badly. Our department is all about taking care of people. Once I’ve taken care of the customer—be it a trainee or a faculty member or another staff member—that person is happy, and I feel good, too.”
Humor is another ingredient in Ranitta’s winning recipe for customer service excellence. “I love to joke around; it helps me get through the day. For example, we go to AUR with residents and I love having fun with them. This last conference, one of the residents and I actually got down on the ground to pose for a group picture. That helped everyone relax and enjoy themselves.”
“My mother and grandmother both taught me the importance of having passion for whatever I do. I live life with passion now. I’m passionate about taking care of our trainees, I’m passionate about doing my best every day, and I’m passionate about making every day count.”
When it comes to taking care of trainees, Ranitta says, “Residents and fellows have lots of pressures, getting through boards and tests, learning how things work, and many do so while juggling family responsibilities. My goal is to help lighten the load, make it easier for them.”
Ranitta prides herself on being the go-to person for residents and fellows. That’s why it meant so much when one of the fellows recently said: “When in doubt, call Ranitta.”
Away from Emory, Ranitta recharges at the spa. She also plays Cooking Craze on her phone, watches “tons of TV shows, documentaries, and movies” and listens to music. Most importantly, she says, “I have 8 nieces and nephews. They give me strength. I Facetime with at least one of them every day.”
She’s also saving money for the future. “I want to travel to every continent. I want to see how others live, especially how people live off the grid. My father was in the military. Last time I was outside the U.S. was when I was five and we lived in Germany.”
She’s determined to see the world’s wonders, not its coat closets, and she’ll use her fearlessness to get there.