From a “Young & Impressionable” Latina to Med Director: The Journey of Lissette M. Céspedes

From Young, Impressionable Latina to Med Director: The Journey of Lissette M. Céspedes
Lissette M. Céspedes, MD, went from being young and impressionable, to Medical Director of Global Affairs, at a global pharmaceutical company. We wanted to know more about her.

Table of Contents

Welcome. Give us a little background into your medical career before we really dive in.

Since I was a little girl, I remember always saying I wanted to become a physician, specifically a pediatrician.

I’m not sure how this idea came to fruition, since no one I knew at that time was a doctor, besides my own pediatrician. Growing up in a traditional Cuban household, the idea of becoming a physician was highly discouraged because I was a woman. “How will you have a family?” and more specifically, “What man will marry you if you are always in the hospital?”


From Young, Impressionable Latina to Med Director: The Journey of Lissette M. Céspedes


Now reflecting back, it seems almost like quite the contradiction, my mom encouraging me to get a college education, but not an advanced degree. Despite not having much guidance, I sought my own support and mentorship, mainly through multiple pipeline programs for underrepresented minorities in the sciences throughout high school and college.

I eventually did go to medical school, in fact I was one of a handful of first year students who was married.

After medical school, I pursued Internal Medicine and Endocrinology.

Following training, I returned to my medical school alma mater to work as a faculty in the Division of Endocrinology. As a faculty member, I completed my MPH in Urban Public Health and became a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. I had my first child in medical school, my second as a resident and my third soon after fellowship.

Following the COVID pandemic, at that time nearly 5 years into my academic medicine career, I needed to pivot.  I was struggling to juggle the demands of academics and clinical medicine with my family responsibilities and maintain my mental health. In addition to my children, I was also contributing to the care of my elderly grandma, whose health was quickly declining. 

As I was considering my next move, I became interested in taking a leap out of clinical medicine to explore career opportunities where I could impact patients at a larger scale outside of a clinical practice.  I remembered the volunteer faculty from my fellowship who worked full time for the pharmaceutical industry.  I had the impression they had fulfilling and exciting careers mainly in industry, while also spending a few hours in clinical practice.  So I thought this could be my next move. 


“As I was considering my next move, I became interested in taking a leap out of clinical medicine to explore career opportunities where I could impact patients at a larger scale outside of a clinical practice.”


You recently started a new position as Medical Director – Global Medical Affairs Rare Disease Endocrine at a global pharmaceutical company. How did you land the role? Any tips to those reading this, who many be interested in a non-clinical career like this?

I know this sounds cliche but I honestly believe things happen for a reason and that your mindset plays a major role in what opportunities enter your life. 

Once I made the decision to explore a career move, I was all in. 

One of my best friends from medical school was also in the process of transitioning to industry and she coached me through my own process, including helping me develop an appropriate resume.  I also tried to reach out to my networks, especially the previous volunteer faculty I worked with during fellowship, former co-residents who were in the industry and pharmaceutical representative colleagues that I had met throughout my clinical practice. 

I updated my LinkedIn profile and started looking for opportunities. 

I applied broadly and really took leaps. 

Many of these positions required some prior experience, but through my research I also knew that clinical physicians are sought and valued in the pharmaceutical industry, especially in medical affairs. 

My first position following my time in clinical practice I found and applied to on LinkedIn. 

Despite applying broadly and getting many rejections, I received an offer from the first position to which I applied. 

After an extensive interview process, I was hired for the role of Internal Medicine Field Medical Director in NJ.  I enjoyed my role and gained a great deal of experience in US medical affairs. 

The culture of my team was excellent and I was learning about various therapeutic areas.  I also enjoyed working with my colleagues, many of whom had been in academic roles as pharmacists or post-docs.  During that time, my friend alerted me that a position for the global Endocrine team was posted on LinkedIn!  I didn’t even know there was an Endocrine team at the company.  She encouraged me to apply.  Again, I took a leap of faith and applied for the position.   

I felt that my experience as an adult endocrinologist would be a great asset for the position. 

I was selected for the role and started with my new team on May 1.


How does working in this non-clinical role compare to working clinically, for you? 

I miss the direct clinical care of patients. 

Working in my current role is challenging and rewarding in a different way. 

In my role, I have the opportunity to make an impact for patients at a larger and broader scale, which is rewarding. 

I work with an incredible team of professionals, across multidisciplinary teams residing all over the globe, which is exciting. 

I have also learned a great deal about another facet of the healthcare industry, which I never had the opportunity to learn about or understand.  In this industry, I feel truly valued, especially because of my prior clinical experience.   

I plan to incorporate a small degree of clinical practice, because I want to have the connection to patients again and I think I can be better in my pharmaceutical role as well.


For those wondering if compensation is higher in a non-clinical career such as yours, how do you respond? 

I would say it depends on several factors, mainly your clinical specialty and industry experience. 

As an academic endocrinologist, I was in the lowest tiers of compensation for clinicians. 

Our healthcare system does not value cerebral specialties like endocrinology, where procedures are not the primary focus.  I would say that my current compensation is slightly higher than my clinical compensation, but there is likely more room for salary growth. 

I’m not sure I could say the same if I had been in private practice endocrinology or in a different specialty that was more procedural based. 

I also started in the lower salary tiers for industry, since I had no prior experience.


Where it comes to being a “leader” in healthcare, what are the qualities that really matter?

I think the qualities that matter for a leader in healthcare are integrity, emotional intelligence, courage, compassion and empathy.  Integrity is like a north star, when that guides your decisions, you can be unwavering. 

I think integrity, emotional intelligence and courage go hand-in-hand. 

It’s not easy to practice medicine, we make life changing decisions, often at the drop of a hat.  But guided by these principals, you can often feel confident that you are doing the right thing. 

More importantly, health care is a team sport, such that if you have these qualities you can model leadership with your colleagues.  And I left the best for last, compassion and empathy. 

I think I realized the value of these qualities during the COVID pandemic.  We are all human and we were taken to the brink, but it was the compassion, the camaraderie and the empathy of our colleagues and our leaders that brought light during those darkest moments.



How do you navigate the online world? Where do you see the most value for your time, being a busy professional?

I think I compartmentalize the online world as personal and professional. 

I think there is an incredible role for social media in how we learn and connect with others both on a personal and professional level. 

For professional time, I value LinkedIn as well as several physician groups on Facebook. I have made great connections on both platforms, including as I mentioned landing my first non-clinical career. 

For personal time, I prefer instagram and I mostly friends, family as well as running groups, personal finance and coaching.


Any pitfalls we can avoid, where it comes to networking and growing using the online world?

I try to be incredibly cautious when it comes to putting things online. 

I think online networking is incredibly powerful and positive, but one must keep in mind that what is on those platforms can be there forever and has the potential for as much harm as there is benefit. 

I also try to be cognizant of who I allow as part of my online networks, especially in my current role with a large, global company.  


I try to be cognizant of who I allow as part of my online networks, especially in my current role with a large, global company. Click To Tweet


Are there any unique interactions you’ve had in the past, which have helped shaped your growth?

Yes, meeting my mentor when I was a junior in college. 

Like I mentioned earlier, growing up I was told I had to fit in this box as a Latina woman, specifically that my primary goal should be to be a wife and mother.  I did not have any female physician mentors, with whom I truly connected, that could guide me to achieve my career aspiration. 

But as an impressionable college student, I met the woman who would become a mentor and is now a great friend and colleague. 


“Growing up I was told I had to fit in this box as a Latina woman, specifically that my primary goal should be to be a wife and mother.”


For the first time, as a college junior, I met a Latina physician leader, who left a lasting impression on me from the first day we met. 

Even though I told her I was no longer interested in medical school because I couldn’t pass organic chemistry, she didn’t discourage me.  Instead, she spoke to me about all the opportunities that would be available to me as a physician. 

With her mentorship and guidance, I finished organic chemistry and well the rest is history. 

This is why representation matters for underrepresented minorities, especially women. 

As a young and impressionable person, it is incredibly valuable and motivating to see others who look like you in the places where you aspire to be. 


What’s your favorite meal? We know it’s unrelated, but inquiring minds still want to know.

A typical Cuban meal, arroz, frijoles, plátanos maduros, bistec, ropa vieja.


Can you leave us with a powerful thought? Anything, really.

Your mind is your most powerful muscle. 

Through your mind, especially your mindset, you realize that you own the power to live a better and more fulfilled life. 

This has been further cemented through my endurance running over the last few years, since I have experienced first hand that the mind often gives up before the legs do.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your network of physicians.

All opinions published on SomeDocs-Mag are the author’s and do not reflect the official position of SoMeDocs, its staff, editors. SoMeDocs is a magazine built with the safety of free expression and diverse perspectives in mind. Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on SoMeDocs? Submit your own article now here.


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