Bethany Bruzzi, DO, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, was named the 2021 Woman of the Year at the Tucson “40 Under 40” awards.
Dr. Bruzzi was one of 40 Tucsonans under the age of 40 – including four from UArizona Health Sciences – recognized for their demonstrated leadership and community impact. The awards are presented annually by Snell & Wilmer with the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Daily Star.
She didn’t know she had been selected Woman of the Year until presenters began sharing her story at the event. “It was actually quite a surprise. I had looked through all the bios of people I was nominated with, and they’ve all done extraordinary things. I’m just honored to be among them,” Dr. Bruzzi said.
As the youngest woman to hold the chief medical officer (CMO) role at Banner Health, Dr. Bruzzi currently oversees clinical efficiency at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and Banner – UMC South. She was promoted to the role in February 2020 just as the COVID-19 threat emerged. She has led efforts to ensure capacity to care for patients and also pioneered Banner Health’s Long COVID treatment program. She said her life has revolved around the ups and downs of the pandemic ever since.
“I've been living and surviving a very hectic life throughout the pandemic,” she said. “I got married on leap year day in 2020, the weekend before everything went totally crazy. We never got that honeymoon that my husband, who’s also a family physician, and I were hoping to take. We just dove right into COVID, unfortunately.”
From a clinical view, the pandemic experience is a lot different than what many may think, she said.
“When we have a low in COVID numbers, it's not a lull. We switch gears and we’re still at full speed ahead, trying to get in all the patients put behind schedule because we were taking care of COVID patients. Whether that was people who missed their annual checkup or ongoing care screenings, people who didn't get their surgeries, all of those things, we ramp up as fast as we possibly can to provide care for them. There has never been a lull, honestly, for anyone in health care,” Dr. Bruzzi said.
Stress from the past two years, including sociopolitical blowback over social distancing, masking, restrictive hospital visitation policies and vaccines, contributed to the “Great Resignation of 2021.” Health care was the second largest job sector hit by that phenomenon. Dr. Bruzzi has felt that issue personally.
“It grew increasingly challenging to be positive every day for myself and for all the teams around me. I personally have lost a couple of colleagues who left our profession recently. It is so sad the degree of burnout that's occurring because we are always going 1,000%,” she said.
Dr. Bruzzi said she has leaned heavily on her supportive family, friends and colleagues in this time. She has been there for them, too.
“I’ve been lucky and fortunate that people can come to me and discuss their feelings, knowing that not only is it a protected environment, but also that I will give my best advice and opinions about what I think can be done. I do know my colleagues appreciate that,” she added.
Dr. Bruzzi earned her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Rhode Island and her medical degree from the New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Maine. From 2008 to 2011, she completed her family medicine residency, served as chief resident, and completed additional training in integrative medicine at the College of Medicine – Tucson. Simultaneously, she completed the Medical Acupuncture for Physicians track at California’s Helms Medical Institute, and a Faculty Development Fellowship at UArizona.
Dr. Bruzzi started her career as an urgent care physician at Northwest Medical Center, then became a hospitalist with Banner – University Medicine Tucson and its predecessor, the UArizona Health Network. She has served as family medicine inpatient medical director, medical director for care coordination and CMO at Banner – UMC South. During the pandemic, she and her husband began pursuing MBAs from UArizona, which they expect to complete in summer 2023.
She’s now looking forward to that honeymoon and scuba diving.