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Mother and daughter share the journey of being doctors

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Hayley and Jean"My mother has been an amazing role model throughout this process, and throughout my whole life. Without ever pushing me toward medicine, she was a tremendous influence on me."

Spend some time with UC Davis medical alumnae Joan Smith-Maclean and Hayley Coker and you’ll find scant evidence of a generation gap between the mother and daughter. The similarities in the lives of the two physicians prevail over any differences between them.

After Joan Smith-Maclean received her bachelor’s degree in physical education from UC Davis with honors in 1975 and obtained her master’s degree in exercise physiology at Davis two years later, she decided to enter the workforce before enrolling in medical school. Her only child, Hayley, who completed her undergraduate degree work at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 2008, chose to work for a while before advancing her education. Like mother, like daughter.

Smith-Maclean initially went to work for UC Davis as a research associate investigating job-related physical ability testing. She also was an exercise specialist with the UC Davis Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic, at the same time teaching physical education at Solano Community College in Fairfield. In 1980, though, she took a position as an exercise physiologist with William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.

"Rudy Dressendorfer, who had been director of the UC Davis Adult Fitness Program, was one of my mentors when I was in grad school. When he became director of exercise and rehabilitation programs at Beaumont, he invited me to join the staff there," Smith-Maclean says. "My fiancée was from the Midwest. He wanted to go back, so I said I would try it."

Smith-Maclean had worked for Beaumont Hospital for three years by the time she decided to enroll in medical school at Michigan State University. Her father, Mel Smith, was a dentist and her mother, Bea, had been a nurse before becoming a preschool teacher.

"Since I was a little kid, I always had an interest in becoming a physician," Smith-Maclean says. "I enjoyed looking through my parents’ medical textbooks, and I admired my family doctor in Davis. That’s where I grew up." Like mother, like daughter.

After giving birth to Hayley and obtaining her M.D. degree, Smith-Maclean relocated with her young family in 1987 as she began her residency with UC Davis Medical Center. They settled in Davis, where Hayley was raised. In 1990 Smith-Maclean joined the Sutter organization as a family medicine physician, seeing patients in Dixon and Davis. She also became a UC Davis volunteer clinical faculty member, and now is a clinical professor. In 1994 she helped to found the Sutter Health Family Medicine Residency Program, of which she is the Davis track director.

Even while becoming increasingly immersed in her medical career, Smith-Maclean did not try to sway her daughter’s career path.

"She encouraged me to find what I wanted to do," says Coker, who enrolled as an animal science major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where she became a member of the competitive water polo team – as her mother had been at UC Davis. Coker’s team twice captured national championships. She became fascinated with embryology, and upon her graduation with magna cum laude honors in 2008 accepted a position as an embryologist with Reproductive Science Center of the Bay Area.

"That was very fulfilling and rewarding, but much of the work was done in the lab. We had some patient interaction, and I wanted to expand that role," says Coker, explaining her decision to enroll in the UC Davis School of Medicine in 2010.

"My mother has been an amazing role model throughout this process, and throughout my whole life. Without ever pushing me toward medicine, she was a tremendous influence on me," Coker says. "Her patients love her, her colleagues admire and respect her, and she constantly goes above and beyond for all of them – all the while maintaining a pretty good work-life balance. Though we have chosen different specialties, she is the model of the physician I strive to become."

A member of the School of Medicine graduating class of 2014, Coker has her sights set on a clinical career in obstetrics and gynecology. She has been accepted into the residency program at UC Davis. Like mother, like daughter.

"I am so proud of my daughter," Smith-Maclean says, "and it’s been really fun to share the journey."

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Mother and daughter share the journey of being doctors