Women’s History Month: Spotlight on Dr. Camille Bentley

Camille Z. Bentley, DO, MPH, FACOFP

Camille Z. Bentley, DO, MPH, FACOFP, is the Chair of the Department of Tracks and Special Programs and Director of the Global Medicine Track and Externships. She also teaches Family Medicine as Professor in the Department of Primary Care Medicine.

Dr. Bentley received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Wagner College in Staten Island, New York, and a Master of Science in Environmental Biology from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She received a Master of Public Health degree from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Miami, Florida, and her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from NSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Since 1995, Dr. Bentley has continued to expand her teaching skills through continued professional development in both academics and medicine. She is experienced in working with simulated and standardized patients, directed case discussion/management, OSCE’s, and PBL.

Over the years she has directed many courses to involve Clinical Medicine, Procedural Medicine, Community Medicine, and International Medicine. Dr. Bentley is currently the Director of the Honor’s Global Track, and along with her on-campus teaching responsibilities, she provides international opportunities for student clinical training and work.

Below, we asked Dr. Bentley to answer the following questions in regards to women in academia and in the field medicine.

What do you think about when you hear “Women’s History Month”? 

I think about how important it is for all women to have role models to show them the opportunities that are available to them as women. I believe that good role models give us the confidence and freedom to know that opportunity is there, if you work hard and if you can place yourself in the correct environment you can be successful.

I also think that Women’s History Month should be ongoing all the time, for all great people, whether women or men, should be remembered by future generations. They are all role models for all of us. Even as we get older we need to have the support and nurturing environment to be the best we can, maybe even accomplish something we never thought we could do. As a child, I never thought of being a physician as there were none in my family.  A second-generation Italian American, I was privileged just to be able to attend college.  I was fortunate to have had a strong and outgoing female role model that pushed me to think big and be confident that I could be successful. More about her later.

What inspires you as a physician/physician assistant?

I started working as a High School teacher and found early that I needed to do more to have a greater impact on the lives of my students. I became a volunteer paramedic, working nights and weekends in the community.  That led to teaching first aide classes and CPR. Next, I found myself looking at graduate school, and then I realized that I should become a physician to have the greatest personal impact on others. I would like to know that the people I serve trust me, and know that I am truly interested in their good health and wellbeing. I am now able to incorporate science with humanism and educate others to attain the most health and wellness possible. What greater gift can there be?

What inspires you as an educator?

I have been in education all my life. I love to teach, especially hands-on skills, and then witness the students process and use those skills even better than myself. Whether I am teaching my granddaughter to ride her new bike, or a med student how to use an otoscope, the discovery and awe that accompanies the learning process is always a fulfilling moment for me personally. Also, what can be better than having a younger person say to someone older than that they want to be like them when they grow up! 

Dr. Bentley (fourth from left) with students during an RVU event

What has been one of your most rewarding moments at RVU?

There have been many moments over the years that have been rewarding to me. However, my most rewarding moments at RVUCOM are always when I see the brightness of a student’s eyes and a spark in their spirit evident when they understand and apply a concept or skill to a real patient. This can happen at any time, during a class, or most often overseas or off-campus again when working with real patients. Even in the clinic just this morning, I was again rewarded by a first-year medical student giving vaccines and the excitement she shared with being able to connect with others using her medical training and learned skills.

Working overseas in resource-poor settings, with [third-and fourth-year] students is always very satisfying. I encourage all preclinical faculty to spend time with clinical students to see the results of their hard work. Working with these students and seeing them be successful as residents and physicians are the rewards for what we do as faculty and for me what keeps me doing what I do.

What is your advice to women seeking a career as a physician?

Work hard, listen carefully to the advice from those who came before you,  make good life decisions, and then go for it. There will be many challenges and sacrifices made along the way, look at the big picture and the legacy you wish to leave behind.

What were some of the challenges you faced in your career and/or as a woman in this field, and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge for me was juggling family life with my career.  I had to rely on my husband to help raise our only child while I was in medical school and residency. I chose Family Medicine because I could finish my residency in three years and start working full-time again. Would I have had more children or completed a different residency, I sometimes wonder, but those were the decisions I made and I live by them well. 

Have you been inspired by other women in life or in medicine? If so, who were they and how did they impact you and/or the healthcare field? 

My life mentor was my mother, Carmella Zampino. She spent her married years assisting my dad in his printing business of forty-seven years. During that time, she raised my brother and me and was an active volunteer in many NYC programs for vulnerable populations, including foreign-born immigrants and the elderly. Her most public and greatest achievement was having a full-service YMCA built on the south shore of Staten Island, NY. She raised millions in financial support for its inception to completion. In 1983, she was voted one of five Women of Achievement of New York City. She had a big heart and an even bigger smile that captured the best from everyone around her. She was organized, direct, and well-grounded, yet always appreciative of what others did to support her, especially my dad. She was critical and tough as a mom, she always expected more that we could or would achieve, but I always felt she knew best and made the right decisions with everything. A hard act to follow, but well worth the path.

What are some challenges that you believe remain for women today, in society, or more specifically in the healthcare field?

I think the biggest challenge for most women going into healthcare is juggling their responsibilities of family life with that of a demanding career. Also, if they wish to be in a relationship with someone else, they need to find that person that truly respects and supports them for whom they are, and does not undermine or feel intimidated by what they do. Healthcare is not just a career, but a way of life.

What hobbies/activities do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I enjoy gardening, choral singing, traveling, crocheting and doing puzzles, learning about ancient civilizations, and watching sci-fi movies.

Dr. Bentley (top row, third from left) with students during an outreach trip to Kenya in 2017

Could you talk more about the hospital you helped establish for indigenous Maasai, what it took to accomplish this, and what impact it has had on their community?

During my travels overseas and while working at Nova Southeastern University in Davie Florida, I met Scott Smith, DO, and his wife Heidi, a register nurse. They traveled with me on my student trips to Central and South America, and I learned that Dr. Smith was raised by missionary parents in Tanzania and was hoping someday to return there to provide medical care. Fortunately, we connected again at a conference about 10 years ago where I learned he had returned to Tanzania, met some other healthcare providers, and started traveling around providing care to the indigenous Maasai still living as they did 100 years ago.

The Maasai needed primary healthcare and health education. After Dr. Smith established better connections with the public health and governmental groups in the county of Kajaido, the area near the border of Kenya and Tanzania at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I then offered to establish a clinical training experience for our RVUCOM students. This month-long outreach has become well participated by our students and faculty, international health care providers, and even local nursing students from the surrounding areas. During the month, each student will see an average of 120 patients and do all POC diagnoses, testing, and treatment, under the supervision of licensed health care professionals. 

In the last few years – after filling out paperwork, planning, and design – the building of a small local hospital ensued and just became a reality. Kilimanjaro Mission Hospital (KMH) was born with its official opening on March 1st, 2021, with 8 full-time employees. I accepted the position of Vice President of the 8-member Board of Directors for the newly establish non-for-profit organization and hospital last summer. We still have a great deal of work ahead, as we continue to provide meds and supplies for KMH, and eventually, provide round-the-clock medical services to all the people living in this area, and, in reality, manage a 24-bed hospital 4000 miles away!

I plan to continue with a monthly clinical outreach opportunity for a group of students to work at the hospital and out in the Maasai matadas surrounding Amboseli national park, near the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The hospital will be open year-round and eventually will be able to accommodate basic housing needs, volunteer physicians, and medical students from many countries. 

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