Senior Physician | TVA
Brenda Sowter, D.O., knows what it’s like to always be on call. As TVA’s only staff physician, she can tell you: Injuries and illnesses don’t take holidays.
“My days have no beginning and no end,” she says. “Because the plants operate 24/7, I am available 24/7. But that’s usual in medicine—it’s not uncommon at all.”
In fact, she can “be there” even when she’s not actually there.
“I am the only physician in the fleet of TVA. I have been with the company for nine-and-a-half years. I oversee the medical practitioners of employee health throughout the entire fleet.”
“We recently developed an injury assessment program, and in order for me to cover all the sites we developed the ‘telemedicine pathway,’” Dr. Sowter explains. “I work with a group of very talented medical professionals, but when a nurse practitioner onsite wants or needs my opinion, and the injury is not life- or limb-threatening, they can connect with me via iPads any time, and I can talk to the injured person directly and help evaluate.”
Getting Better All the Time
But being TVA’s staff doctor has a happier side, too. Dr. Sowter enjoys developing policies and programs to help employees be healthier.
One new program Dr. Sowter helped develop with Employee Health is Case Management, in which a case manager works directly with an employee who is away from work for an extended period due to illness or injury.
“We help get the employee back to their job after a medical issue,” she says. “Statistics show that the quicker an employee gets back to their job, the more likely he or she will have fewer lingering problems from the injury. It helps the individual recover more quickly. I was allowed to be part of guiding that development and it’s been very rewarding to see this change in the culture. I see people learn to accommodate, to make adjustments, until they’re completely well.”
Dr. Sowter really enjoys being a problem solver. “That’s the core of what medicine is: someone comes in with a problem and you have to figure out what it is. At TVA, I can do that on a more global scale. For example, Nuclear came to me and wanted me to develop their physical fitness program and bring it in-house. So I had full rein to develop it. You research, look at what is the best option, follow regulations, and go from there. I can do that 24 hours a day—it’s very exciting to me to see it implemented.”
The Right Prescription
In her work, Dr. Sowter keeps TVA’s values of stewardship and fiscal responsibility in mind. “When we’re putting together a program, I consider: How is the best way to do that? To be frugal but at the same time develop a top-notch program? Are we just meeting regulations or are we truly making a difference and helping people? You can say to someone, ‘Take this prescription and you’ll be better,’ but they might walk out and decide not to take it. You are only as good a physician as you are able to sell your advice.”
Earlier in her career, Dr. Sowter spent many years treating patients for drug and alcohol addiction. In 2008, she heard that TVA was looking for a medical review officer to help with the Nuclear organization’s drug testing. Her background made her the right fit for the job.
“The medical review officer needs to have a strong history of treating chemical dependency, and I did,” she says. “I’ve done inpatient, outpatient, recovery; I was medical director of a jail; and as if that wasn’t enough, I also was a medical examiner,” she says. “So I’ve seen the devastating loss that addiction can cause.”
She and her husband and daughter live outside Chattanooga. Her daughter is busy with applications—but not for medical school; she picked law school instead!
When she’s not on duty, Dr. Sowter enjoys a hobby that might seem unusual for a doctor: shooting. She is an excellent marksman and especially enjoys skeet shooting. In addition, she has a travel “bucket list” and went recently to the Holy Land. “I’ve been to Central America, Mexico, all over the United States. Now I’m headed to Europe.”
She sees her career at TVA is a journey, too.
“We have plans to implement so many more things—we’re meeting with Benefits to discuss more collaboration,” says Dr. Sowter, looking to the future. “I want to do everything I can to help TVA employees be healthy, because that’s how I serve the Valley: by helping our entire workforce serve the Valley.”
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