Linda Keyes is a board-certified emergency physician, the past-president of the Wilderness Medical Society and current vice-president of the International Society of Mountain Medicine. Since she graduated from Yale School of Medicine, she has spent her career combining medicine, research, and outdoor adventure. Her area of expertise is high altitude medicine.


1. What are you most proud of in your current work/project/life?

My current project highlights the gender imbalance in wilderness medicine. We are about to publish two articles that demonstrate how women, who make up half of US medical students, are in the minority at all levels in the Wilderness Medical Society. In one paper, we specifically evaluated the gender imbalance of authors, peer reviewers and editors at the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine (where I served as associate editor for many years). I just completed my term as the second woman president of the WMS, and the first in the past 15 years. One of my goals as a board member and as president was to create more opportunities for women in our organization. My hope is that this work will draw awareness to where bias may exist, and to spark changes in policy that will lead to gender equity, such as double-blind review processes for journal articles and transparent criteria for society recognition awards. These efforts were inspired by similar work done in other fields of medicine. I hope that my work further inspires others to document gender imbalance in their fields, and that the sheer weight of data showing underrepresentation of women in medicine and science will start to break down the barriers that prevent gender equity, and spur leaders to make policy changes that give women in STEMM the recognition they deserve.

2. Please share a few of your personal motivations, everyday life, and daily routines.

I spend time outdoors every day. I’ve been lucky to integrate spending time in the mountains with my career in high altitude medicine and my current position as a volunteer ski patroller. My skills as an emergency physician are useful as patroller, and my time on the mountain provides a counterbalance to the indoor chaos and fluorescent lights of the emergency department. Plus, I get to have fun doing something I love while providing service to others. In my mind, that is the ideal job. In fact, since I began medical school, I’ve looked for ways to fulfill those two criteria – have fun and do good, preferably in the outdoors. Some of the other ways I’ve been able to achieve this goal include working on a mobile medical disaster response team in Nepal and Dominica, serving as the expedition doctor on a Himalayan climbing team, and teaching mountain medicine to doctors from around the world in Nepal. These escapes from daily routine are essential for my well-being.

3. What is some of the best leadership advice you have been given/seen/read … or that you have to offer personally?

I believe in the principle “lift as you climb,” the motto coined by Mary Church Terell for the National Association of Colored Women. I first heard this quote at a leadership conference for women in medicine. At the same conference, a speaker on negotiation proposed finding ways to make the pie bigger instead of settling for a smaller piece, or not sharing the pie. This philosophy resonates deeply with me, and I think goes beyond negotiations. I try to incorporate these two concepts in any project I am leading in very concrete ways. In all projects, there is more work to be done than anticipated, and sharing that work across a team by inviting students, residents and fellows (especially women) to participate both unburdens and elevates each person on the team. In addition, I look for ways to give the maximum number of people recognition, in other words, their own piece of the pie. For example, I try to break big projects down into several papers, giving opportunities for multiple first authors, or to give students a chance to present the abstract versions of the papers. These are simple things that any project leader can do to “lift as they climb” and “grow the pie.”

4. What are the key issues in your field that need addressing with visible female leadership?

Women remain underrepresented in emergency medicine and in the niche fields of wilderness and high altitude medicine. We need women leaders as role models, and the women leaders we have need to actively raise up the next generation. For example, we can nominate other women for awards, promotions and other recognitions. We can put women on our teams and support their ideas. Women must support each other.

In addition, to growing women’s representation in my field, we need to expand the research on women’s health, including pregnancy. These topics have been neglected and relegated to side issues. Much work is needed to develop solid evidence about the safety of wilderness activities and travel to high altitude during pregnancy. Women obviously have a vested interest in this topic.

Finally, it’s time to stop having male only studies because “women’s hormones” confuse the picture. We need good evidence and large scale studies on high altitude physiology in men and women and comparisons between them.

5. How do you feel that Homeward Bound can help you to become a more effective leader and what are your hopes for your participation?

I’ve come to a time in my career where I am ready for new opportunities, though I am not yet certain of what exactly my new direction will be. I hope that engaging with this cohort of brilliant women who share my passion for protecting the earth will inspire me to find and tackle my next career challenge. I believe in the idea that genius comes from applying ideas across domains and finding patterns in seemingly unrelated topics. The ability to network and interact with women across multiple disciplines seems like the perfect situation to spark genius and build great things.

I often suffer from imposter syndrome. I tend to doubt my own ability to make change or do important work. Those worries often prevent me from thinking big enough. I hope that the Homeward Bound training can help me overcome my own self-doubts about what is possible and direct me towards how I might have a greater impact on my field and beyond.


Find Linda on Twitter and LinkedIn

Words and Video by Linda Keyes
Edited by Diane Nazaroff