When she first moved to the Central Coast, Dr. Ellen Yankauskas, MD did not plan on being the only female doctor working in Twin Cities Hospital, but it turned out that way. She took over another female doctor’s practice and shouldered her way into the “boys club” of the medical field. Her whole career seems to be filled with firsts and actions that buck the cultural norm.
“It’s not like I started out to be a feminist, I just did what I needed to do,” said Yankauskas. Breaking tradition was nothing new for Yankauskas. She’s the only one in her family that practices medicine. “Most of the women I know that have gone into medicine have come from families where education is really valued,” she said. Yankauskas recalled that her mother told her that you’re supposed to marry a doctor, not be a doctor. “Ellen, it’s always something with you,” her mom had said.
In fact, it was not her original intention to earn her medical doctorate. She wanted to become a physical therapist, but that did not go as planned. After entering into Cal State Long Beach in the physical therapy department, she was told in no uncertain terms that she did not belong, and that she should leave the program and go study medicine. Yankauskas left the program, but stayed in school and ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in zoology.
After attaining her bachelors, Yankauskas turned her eyes to medical school, but once again she ran into opposition. During her entrance interviews into various medical schools Yankauskas said that she was repeatedly asked questions along the lines of; why are you not comfortable with your role as a woman in society? Why have you never married? Do you realize you’re taking a job away from a man that has a family to support? She was finally accepted into UCLA.
“I got accepted in UCLA and got a master’s in public health and spent two years there, studying chronic disease epidemiology.”
In the seventies, after UCLA, Yankauskas was approached by Group Health Services (GHS), one the first Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO’s) in the Orange County. The HMO Act of 1973 was an attempt to financially level the healthcare playing field.
“The thinking of the great schools of public health; UCLA, Berkley, Harbor, and John Hopkins were all very upset that there were 9 million uninsured Americans,” said Yankauskas. “There wasn’t equity in terms of who got medical care and who did not. It didn’t impact the budget in a year, but this was going to impact it for a long time.”
GHS offered to pay for her school. Since the medical schools in the United States seemed out of reach, Yankauskas took her Volkswagen down to Mexico and finally attained her medical degree at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. She and her Volkswagen traveled all across the country and up into Canada to perform the required externships. They ended up in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee where she performed her 2 year residency.
After completing her residency, Yankauskas was invited to Long Island, New York to work at the Women’s Center for Family Health, the first independent women’s health center. The center was founded in 1985 by the revolutionary women’s health advocate Dr. Penny Wise Budoff. The New York Times called Dr. Budoff “a pioneer in women’s health”.
Once again, she caused unintentional waves with her can-do attitude.
“In Tennessee, we did not have any competing residences; you had to do it all. You delivered babies, you did caesarians, and you could do appendectomies if you wanted to,” said Yankauskas. “I go up to New York and it’s like you need a referral to put on a band aid. I was a little notorious there.”
Yankauskas finally did get married, though she never actually settled down, and had a family. Eventually, Yankauskas and her husband, Dr. Phillip Citek, moved with their two children from the East Coast to Southern California, but the area grew too big for comfort. They moved up to San Luis Obispo County in 1990, where Yankauskas was welcomed by Twin Cities Hospital and now has a practice in Atascadero.
Dr. Yankauskas’ family medical practice is located at 7619 Morro Rd. in Atascadero.
By Mark A. Diaz