Dr. Phyllis Miller is the first female physician from Polk County.
Born and raised in rural Ocoee, her home did not have electricity, running water or a telephone. Her father was a sheep farmer and her mother toiled in the family garden to provide food for their family of four.
Aside from being her home county’s first female doctor, Dr. Miller has had many firsts in her outstanding career. She is the first woman to serve as president of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, the first female chief of staff at Erlanger and the first woman elected president of the Tennessee Medical Association.
Dr. Miller recently received the 2010 Women of Distinction Award at the American Heart and Lung Association Awards luncheon, presented by BlueCrossBlueShield of Tennessee. It is awarded for personal and professional achievements important to the city and the state.
She has made a commitment to a life of service, evidenced by her record of personal and professional achievement. She is president of the Medical Foundation of Chattanooga and she gives her time to nonprofits whose mission is to improve health and well-being. She has served on the boards of Hospice of Chattanooga and the March of Dimes, as well as on the advisory committee for the Rape Crisis Center. She was recently presented with the Tennessee Medical Association Outstanding Physician Award.
Dr. Miller currently has a private gynecology practice with The Women’s Institute for Specialized Health.
She has never forgotten her early life in Polk County. Her parents died before she graduated from high school, but she always remembered her father’s values and the importance he placed on getting an education. She held fast to that vision as she attended college on scholarships and work-study programs supplemented by odd jobs.
“I think each person’s particular circumstance is unique to them,” Dr. Miller said. “Whatever the circumstances, I think focus is very important. So many people get sidetracked by other things and sabotage their goal. Also, not being afraid of hard work and sacrifice is important. I was lucky to know early on what my dream was.”
She added, “As someone said, you have to put your feet in your dreams. Although I always thought I would become a doctor, I did have a “Plan B” in case it did not work out. My biggest hurdle was just getting accepted to medical school. I did the best I could in school and once I applied, it was out of my hands.”
Dr. Miller was selected as Polk County’s Outstanding Woman of the Year in 1996 as part of Tennessee’s Bicentennial Celebration. She was elected to the Polk County Hall of Fame in 2002. Continuing to honor her early roots, in 2004 she established the Polk County Education Foundation which provides scholarships to Polk County graduates.
She offers words of encouragement to youth who may find themselves in a similar situation saying, “I had lost my parents in high school, but I had nurturing and support from teachers, relatives and other adults in my life. Financially, I did not have much, but I have always lived on the principal of never spending more than you have.
“Doors always seem to open,” she stressed. “A positive attitude and believing in yourself are always important. For young people whatever their circumstances, I would advise hard work, focus, sacrifice, dedication and a ‘can do’ attitude.”