Connie Yu is the Associate Chair for Administration & Finance of the Department for the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Reproductive Sciences. She is the boss of OBGYN, in other terms. Her rise through the ranks of Human Resources in Hospitals was both unlikely, but also inevitable given each path taken in stages of her life. She oversees over 800 people, ranging from Doctors, Nurses, Professors, researchers, and many support staff who are all part of the great work of overseeing new life that comes into this world through UCSF.
Connie was born in Racine, Wisconsin to Taiwanese immigrant parents. Her childhood was spent in large part trying to fit into her white peers’ lives. She has memories of eating different food and feeling different. Once a year her family would load up the kids into the car and drive to the nearest Asian grocery store in Chicago’s Chinatown to buy their Asian foods en masse, and then their basement would basically be a supermarket they could go and get the specialties they needed for cooking. “I didn’t want to be different. It was really hard growing up because you wanted to do all the things that the Americans were doing, but my parents would be doing Chinese types of traditions, and eating Chinese food.” But these cooking differences made Connie feel more self-conscious at school. And now as an adult and the current discussions about structural racism, she sees how the hardships she endured growing up made life harder. But at the time, she went with the flow and had a really difficult childhood because of them. “You didn’t want to say anything, but people were making fun of you for being different.”
Her home life had its challenges as well. Some of her early memories as a child was sitting next to her mother in the kitchen while she cooked and cleaned, and even as 5-year-old reciting multiplication tables. Academics were strongly enforced in her house, and her family had high expectations of how she should perform – throughout her entire schooling life. Math and piano in particular were the focus, whereas reading was not as prioritized. Most of her childhood was spent in Wisconsin, except for a year where her father spent in Ohio to do the in-person course work for his Ph.D. in engineering when she was eight years old. During this time, while her father would hand-write his Dissertation, she and her older brother would help him type it.
After that, they returned to Wisconsin where he could work full time at his previous job as well as continue the school work remotely. He worked very hard, and once he received his Ph.D., he got a job as a professor at San Jose State University, and the family moved to a completely new world. San Jose, California had much more diversity and for the first time in Connie’s life, she was with people who looked like her.
Through middle school and high school, while advanced to just go through all the AP courses in math and science, she never really loved the work. She did it because she was expected, but at the same time, it was very hard to deal with the pressures from her family who expected perfection. “I remember crying when I got a B because I knew I was going to be yelled out for failing. It was pressure, just constant pressure on school.” The stress of the academics and the way it was treated with her family never helped her be excited about school. The one area that really helped her grow was the Debate team. This is where she bonded the most with other people, spending each weekend at different locations and competing. Outside of that though, it seemed that her relationship with her parents was hurting her and causing exhaustion. On top of that, they were encouraging her to be a nurse and did not appreciate her defiance with the fact that she did not want to be a nurse.
She was excepted into UC Berkeley and attended there. Many people think of their acceptance at their first choice school as a relief, but for her, she was just glad that her parents would be happy enough with this. They paid for her to go to school, but gave her no extra funds, so she worked jobs while attending school to afford it. “I’ve been working since I was 16 years old. If I ever wanted anything, my parents would not pay for it.” This went into college, and in her first year of school, she worked and worked to the point of burnout. In her sophomore year of college, she began suffering from depression. She thinks back to that period and it was a very dark period for her. She did not realize that was what was happening to her, she was not aware that this was a diagnosis. She began sleeping a lot and missing classes, and it got to the point where she was not even aware of her schedule and that she was missing exams.
At the beginning of her sophomore year, she had nearly a 4.0 GPA, and by the end of her second semester, it dropped down to “2 point something.” Her parents began noticing her behavior. Her dad asked her what was going on and she remembers clearly saying to him “I don’t want to tell you. You don’t care about me, you don’t care what I do. All you care about are my grades.” That was the pivotal moment with her parents where things began to change and they finally had a conversation about how she was actually doing.
She went to the Dean’s office about what to do to figure out what to do to salvage her GPA. When she was a sophomore looking at her major. Initially, her parents were encouraging her to go into business, but she hated those classes. The classes that she really connected with were her psychology classes. Taking classes that she actually liked, as well as Chinese classes that had extra units attached and doing well in them, helped salvage her GPA by the time she graduated.
Upon graduation, she found work in Menlo Park at the VA, with the ultimate goal of pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology as that seemed to complement what she had been studying up to that point. However, when realizing that she would likely have to continue studying and not working for 6 years, she realized that a Ph.D. was not something she desired. She accepted a spot at UChicago for their one-year program for a Master’s Degree in Psychology. As she was preparing for that, her brother was getting married and she also helped plan his wedding. This was actually the most fun she had ever had working on any project, and when it came time to go to school, she decided to drop out of the program because she realized it was not her passion. Wedding coordination was now her goal.
She moved in with her brother in Washington state as she tried to pursue this new goal, refusing to live with her parents again who she knew would be disappointed in this turn of events in their daughter. And while she did not get work as a wedding consultant, she did happen to get a job at Seattle Children’s Hospital at cystic fibrosis research as an administrative coordinator in their business services office. She handled the paperwork, contracts, and budgeting in collaboration with the accountant. Over time, she was given more responsibilities with business contracts, and pharmaceutical business services. She became so advanced that she became an independent negotiator assigned to all business services.
At this time, she realized she hit a glass ceiling. There was a job that she wanted within the hospital, but someone from the outside came and got it. Connie realized that she could not rely on just having a bachelor’s, so she decided to go and get her Masters’s degree – this time knowing exactly the field of work she was aiming for. She looked at different MBA programs around the country, but it just happened that the University of Washington had a joint MBA and MHA (Master of Health Administration), and while she did not get into the MBA program, she did get into the MHA program. In the last two years of her career of Seattle Children’s Hospital, she began going to school full time. The amount of work was daunting, even overwhelming, and she began to think she needed to drop out because it was all too much for her. With the support of those close to her, she instead decided to persevere and also get some help from a professional who prescribed medication. This helped calm her anxiety, while also giving a diagnosed name to what she was going through for the first time – depression.
And with that help, working and going to school full time, she accomplished something amazing. Upon graduation, and with her new degree she wanted a change in jobs, she began work at the University of Washington, in a new office where she would be in charge of all the billing for medical trials in the school of medicine.
And to interject with her personal life, just as she started this job, she began dating a man who had been living in Seattle but just was planning to start a job at Intel. They dated for a year while she worked and eventually got engaged and she decided she would move to Portland to be with him. Thus deciding to leave her job at the University of Washington, she found a job in Portland at the Department of Family Medicine as the director of research services Department Family Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. She led a team that oversaw all grants coming in and out. This is the first time she was managing a team of people. The chair put his faith in her, and she ended up doing very well in this work. But coupled with this switch, she had a mass amount of stress that came in and she became depressed. She had become accustomed to this feeling and was more capable to get a proper diagnosis to manage the stress. She gets triggered under pressure and stress.
That was a huge leap in terms of her career because up until that point, she had never managed people before. Now, managing a team, faith was put into her to lead organizations and move them forward. She grew so much in her job. Learned about research, grants, and leading teams of people. Her boss at the time took the time to mentor her but then gave her free reign to lead the research group. When she joined, the portfolio was about $3 million, and by the time she left seven years later, to $16 million. And even though when she started she thought she was in over her head, she ended up developing so much because he had put faith in her.
And back to her personal life. Her husband ended up leaving the career that had brought him to Portland and decided to go to Business school. She was the main earner for her family now, as he started going to classes. When he graduated with his MBA, he received a job from a firm in Silicon Valley, and he decided to move – and she decided to stay. And while they were married long-distance, within just a few months Connie got pregnant with their first child, which sealed the deal that she would move so that their family could be together.
“You know, I’m pregnant, I’m going to have this baby. I need to move my whole house. Let’s just wait to figure out my job after the baby is boring. BUT, let’s just see what’s available now.” Her mind automatically went to Stanford and UCSF, and she found a position as Head of the Department for Family Medicine at UCSF. I’m just going to ask – and I ended up asking my boss at the time “how well do you know the Chair of UCSF.” “OH! I know Kevin, we go back years. Do you want me to reach out to Kevin.” She ended up meeting with the person who Connie could end up replacing. She comes in at 5 months pregnant, talks to her about the job and she convinced Connie to apply. She goes through 7 or 8 rounds of interviews with panels of people who have question after question for her. At one point after one interview, on the way to another, she had to take a longer break to just eat. In December/January is the interview process. On the day her water broke, she got her offer letter. She did not even reply to them for more than a week because she had a complicated birth process. They ended up negotiating a start of May, where she would come in and manage an entire department. “This is the first time I would manage everything. Research, education, research mission, the entire clinical component, and public service. And oversee administrative and clinical aspects of the work.”
She worked for them for 4+ years and loved everything about her job. She learned a lot about managing and leading others, and aspects of diversity. She started working within the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives within the School of Medicine. She also saw that to be a good leader, she could not just spend her time in one department, so she started volunteering in other committees of the school.
“When I think about [fulfillment from my job], yes work within my department. And also doing different projects around the school.”
After four years in the Bay Area, as she really developed in her career at UCSF, and they promoted her to Associate-Chair, the Vice Dean called her out of the blue to let her know that her counterpart in OBGYN was retiring and she wanted her to apply for the job. Around the same time, she found out she was pregnant with her second child. When Connie let her Vice-Dean know that she did not think she could handle the more demanding work as Associate-Chair of OBGYN, the Vice-Chair at first accepted her decision in not applying and said she understood and wasn’t disappointed.
And then she stopped herself and said, “You know what? I am lying. I am disappointed. I think you should do this. There are plenty of career women, executives, who have raised small children and are successful in their job, and I think you should try.”
“I went back to my husband to consult with him, and I did go forward to apply. I thought that I probably wouldn’t get it. But lo and behold, I met with the Chair – who is my current boss. I went through the 7-8 rounds of interviews, and she offered me a job just before I was going to go on maternity leave.”
She currently manages the UCSF department of OBGYN. This includes all aspects within the School of Medicine, the actual hospital, and doctors and clinics. Their buildings, their research grants, the administrative teams. In all, she oversees 800 people, with teams of admins supporting her work.
Her current days, are constant, back-to-back Zoom meetings. She starts her day early to be with her kids and get them ready for school. Then from 8 am to 6pm, in constant Zoom meetings with all the different departments. She says it’s a very well-oiled machine, where she has lots of support. But she is there to help manage the problems as they arise. She then spends her evenings with her kids, and then after they are in bed, it’s back to more work that she could not get done during her day, most times going to bed herself past midnight.
“Do I like what I do? Most days I do. Some days it’s just really stressful. This job in OBGYN has really kicked my butt. And this job with COVID, and what we needed to do to pivot, has been difficult. When parts of the hospital were shut down because of elective surgery, we bled $4 million, and it’s my problem to fix. The pressure is just constantly on.”