CMO Spotlight - Dr. Dara Richards

Dara Richards.png We believe that behind every nonprofit there is a visionary, hard working and passionate leader who wants to make a difference and make our community a better place. Through our Community Leaders Spotlight Series, we hope to share our candid conversations with these leaders about their personal and professional journey, challenges and dreams for the future.

We kick off the series with a Q&A of Dr. Dara Thomas Richards, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Southwest Community Health Center. Since joining Southwest in 2002, Dr. Richards has made every effort to ensure that not just a kinder practice of healthcare prevails, but that a sense of belonging is part of the fabric of Southwest. 

What does your job entail? What’s a day in the life?

As Chief Medical Officer, I oversee all the clinical services here at Southwest. That includes oversight over quality improvement initiatives, and clinical risk management activity. I spend a lot of the day listening so I can understand staff and patient needs. And I spend a lot of time planning and attending meetings that support the work we do. We’re in the business of helping people so it takes a lot of planning and coordination of efforts to make that happen. 


Where did you grow up? 

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and then we moved to Birmingham, Alabama when I was nine years old. I finished high school there, and then came up here to Connecticut to attend Yale University. I ended up staying for medical school and residency. I met my husband along the way, and I've been in Connecticut ever since. Connecticut has grown on me.  This is my new home now.


What motivates you to get up and go to work each morning?

The patients . This job is rewarding because of them.. It motivates me to know that we're helping people and that we can always do more. And we keep doing that here at Southwest as we bring more and more services to the community.


Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, what would say is the #1 public health issue in Connecticut/Bridgeport?

I think poverty is the number one public health issue. Poverty affects life in so many ways. It hinders access to education, basic needs, healthy food, healthy living environments, safe communities. Those who are not living in poverty have better health outcomes.


What does ‘healthcare for all’ mean to you?

To me, ‘healthcare for all’ means healthcare for everyone, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation, gender identity, or their beliefs. We need to make sure that our doors are open at all times and that we promote a welcoming environment so that everyone feels comfortable seeking healthcare at Southwest.


What experiences have helped you most in your career?

I think the experiences that have helped me the most are the ones that have challenged me. And allowing myself to be challenged made a difference. I’ve never been afraid to try something new, whether it was in education or work or my personal life. I was the first in my family to attend an Ivy League school and the first to become a doctor.. Other experiences that have helped me include  being a mother and being a part of the Southwest family. Also, being a patient is an experience that has helped me in my role. We can’t know how to help our patients if we’ve never been in their shoes.


What are some things you enjoy outside of work?

I enjoy flower gardening and hiking. In my town there are a lot of hiking trails so there’s always someplace new to explore. 


What’s a fun fact about you many people may not know?

I’ve always wanted to climb Mount Everest. 


What advice do you have for people looking to start their careers or become leaders today? 

Stay focused on your dreams. Don't be afraid of new challenges. Keep learning. Every experience is a learning opportunity. Aim high. Study hard and work hard. Stay focused on your goal and your mission. And don't be afraid to be the first. As you move up the career ladder, there are going to be plenty of times where you might be the first. You might be the first black person. You might be the first woman. Don't be afraid of that. Don’t shy away from that. People sometimes prefer to gravitate to areas or jobs where there are many others just like them in that place. But if you do that, you may be limiting yourself from other opportunities.