Dr. Susan Rudd Bailey '78 '81 is president of the American Medical Association. She was the first female student accepted into the Texas A&M University College of Medicine and has a Fort Worth allergy practice.
A piano accompanist serves the humble role of supporting star performers. However, without this musical guidance, dancers and singers risk missing a step or singing off key. What most people don’t understand is that while performers may bask in the limelight, the accompanist sets the tone for their success.
Dr. Susan Rudd Bailey ’78 ’81 became known as Texas A&M University’s designated piano player as a student. She played for the Century Players, Aggie Players and other on-campus events and was even asked to play background music for a special dinner the Texas A&M University Board of Regents hosted with Lady Bird Johnson.
“I never wanted to be a soloist,” Bailey said. “I enjoyed being an accompanist and helping others improve as performers.”
Today, Bailey is doing just that. Whether through her current role as president of the American Medical Association or during her day-to-day routine as a successful allergist in Fort Worth, Texas, her outlook on serving others is what has defined her as a leading lady today.
Taking the Stage
Bailey has always loved being involved. “I participated in numerous organizations in high school and college because I felt that showing up is how you get the most out of life,” she said.
Her “show up” strategy has led to many significant opportunities. Bailey was the first female student accepted into the Texas A&M University College of Medicine; the first female former student appointed to The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents; the third woman president of the Texas Medical Association (TMA); and currently serves as the American Medical Association’s (AMA) sixth woman president.
Bailey participated in the Student Government Association during her time at Texas A&M. She was also active in the Student Conference on National Affairs and served as a pianist for the Century Singers and other on-campus groups.
Raised in a household of “Horned Frogs,” Bailey said Texas A&M was not on her radar prior to her first campus visit for the Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA) during her junior year of high school. “I was blown away. My chemistry teacher asked if a scholarship would influence my decision to attend Texas A&M because he knew my family’s loyalty to Texas Christian University,” she explained. “He nominated me for the President’s Endowed Scholarship, and I was selected. Texas A&M recruited me so well that I had my student ID number by October of my senior year. When I received TCU’s equivalent Chancellor’s Scholarship the following March, my heart was already in Aggieland.”
Bailey quickly demonstrated her Aggie Spirit on campus: She was extremely active in the Student Government Association (SGA) and SCONA and used her musical talents upon request. She poured her heart into helping performers improve their acts and SGA more productively govern the student body, but this participation reflected poorly on her grades.
Talk of the university opening a medical school was one of Bailey’s major draws to Texas A&M. When it came time to lay her cards on the table in front of a faculty panel tasked with reviewing medical school candidates, the panel questioned her sincerity.
“I strolled into the interview with a 3.4 GPA, and the panelists asked, ‘Are you serious about medical school? You’re involved in all these other things, and your grades aren’t the best,’” Bailey recalled. “I explained that I strongly believed everything I was doing would make me a better doctor one day,” she said. “I still believe that to be true. Student government taught me leadership and communication skills and how to effectively work in teams and prioritize my time.”
Bailey’s explanation sold the panel on her commitment. It also helped when the panelists discovered that she had aced an organic chemistry class taught by the toughest professor on campus.
Becoming Dr. Bailey
Bailey embarked on the adventure of a lifetime in 1977 as the first female student in the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s charter class. “It was an amazing experience,” she said. “We were making history, and I had such faith in Texas A&M as an institution that I had no qualms about how my education would compare to well-established programs,” she explained.
In her charter class of 32 students, Bailey went from having the lowest grades to the fourth highest by the end of her first year. And although she was one of only a few women, she was treated and respected as an equal. “As part of the overall attitude of ensuring Texas A&M College of Medicine students were successful, there was no institutional sexism baked into the program,” she said.
A pediatrics residency at the Mayo Clinic led Bailey to her next home in Rochester, Minnesota. “I had allergies and asthma as a child, so the constant visits to my allergist piqued my interest in that area,” she explained. “To become an allergist, I had to specialize in pediatrics or internal medicine during my residency, so I chose pediatrics.”
Bailey was surprised with Texas A&M University's Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2016.
Bailey said she experienced similarities between the Mayo Clinic and Texas A&M.
“The culture was very similar—the Mayo way and Aggie Spirit mirror each other. The attitude there, which I continue to embrace in my practice today, is that everything comes back to the patient.”
A Medical Mission
Bailey discovered her passion for organized medicine when she first attended the Texas Medical Association’s (TMA) Annual Meeting after her first year of medical school.
“The TMA was electing delegates to attend the American Medical Association (AMA) Annual Meeting, so I stood in front of medical students from across the state and made up a speech about why this freshman from a brand-new medical school needed to represent them at AMA, and I got elected,” Bailey laughed.
The rising medical star was hooked after attending her first TMA and AMA meetings and quickly found herself in leadership positions. “I learned during that time how to combine advocacy and organization work with education and eventually my career,” she said.
Serving in numerous leadership roles in both the TMA and AMA, Bailey’s eyes have been opened to the behind-the-scenes actors who affect her industry. “There is so much that affects our patients and our ability to care for them that doesn’t happen in examining, emergency or operating rooms. It happens in Austin, Washington, D.C., insurance company board rooms and community health meetings,” she explained. “Being involved in medical organizations and advocacy is a professional responsibility. If doctors don’t speak up for the practice of medicine and our patients, no one else will.”
Bailey’s theme during her AMA presidency is “Let doctors be doctors,” which focuses on relieving the administrative burdens associated with electronic medical records and with prior authorization issues caused by insurance companies controlling what doctors can prescribe their patients. “We’re working on ways to fix the system’s dysfunctions so doctors can spend more time with their patients,” Bailey said.
One of these dysfunctions, she explained, include the use of medical technologies as reimbursement tools by the federal government. “It’s the first and only time I’m aware of an industry that has gone digital and become less productive,” Bailey said. While serving on AMA’s Board of Trustees years ago, Bailey and fellow leading physicians conducted a study at Dartmouth University that provided the first scientific data proving that administrative tasks have become problematic for medical professionals. “We learned that for every hour physicians spent face to face with patients, they spent two hours at their computers,” Bailey explained. “Physician burnout and suicide have become huge issues primarily because the very systems that were created to maximize efficiency and income do not adequately address patient care.”
Aggieland’s Leading Lady
Bailey has also dedicated much of her time and resources to giving back to her alma mater, from serving on The Association of Former Students’ Board of Directors to serving as a speaker for Muster and numerous A&M clubs.
The President's Endowed Scholarship program has supported outstanding Aggie students for more than 50 years. As a recipient during her time at Texas A&M, Bailey enjoyed the personal relationship she developed with her scholarship donors.
One of her greatest life achievements was being appointed as the first female former student to Texas A&M’s Board of Regents. “It was a whole new world of leadership and advocacy; it wasn’t just about football—it was about system budgets and academic policies,” Bailey said. Her six-year term was filled with tragedy and triumph as the board led Aggieland through the bonfire collapse in 1999 and, later, into a bright future selecting Bob Gates as the university’s president in 2002. “It was such an incredible opportunity to give back to Texas A&M.”
Today, Bailey and her husband, Doug ’67, also support Texas A&M through an endowed scholarship for Aggies in the College of Medicine. “My personal experience drove our decision to make this gift,” Bailey explained. “The President’s Endowed Scholarship program encouraged and nurtured the personal relationship between me and my donor family, and that meant so much to me as a student. The fact that the Texas A&M Foundation still prioritizes that relationship is incredibly important.”
Bailey explained that the Aggie Code of Honor—“an Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do”—has become a roadmap for her life. “The ‘or tolerate those who do’ section brings an expectation of advocacy,” she said. “It sends the message that just being a good person is not enough—you have to actively make the world a better place.”
Whether consulting with a patient at her allergy practice, advocating for physician and patient rights in Washington, D.C., or helping lead the future of Aggieland, it is obvious that Bailey has others’ best interests in mind. And although the physician said she never wished to be a soloist, she’s undoubtedly moved from a supporting role to a star performer.
To learn how you can support students, faculty or programs in the Texas A&M College of Medicine, contact David Boggan '79 using the form below. You can also give to the college online.