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Punching Through the Inferiority Complex with Tracy Penaloza

August 9, 2022


Punching Through the Inferiority Complex with Tracy Penaloza

This is the first article in a new Periop Café Insider column, “Whitman Partners Success Stories.” Individuals from our community share how Whitman Partners has given their careers a boost through either a placement or expansion of networking opportunities. Supporting and advancing the careers of Directors of Surgical Services is at the heart of what we do at Whitman Partners. We foster meaningful relationships with our candidates and clients that survive post-transaction; we’re in it for the long haul, ready to be of service again when the need arises. This month we highlight Tracy Penaloza’s story of success.

Coming out of nursing school, Penaloza knew she wanted to be in the operating room. She attended the University of Maryland (UMD) and earned a spot in their Clinical Scholar Program, available to nursing students in their final semester of study. Once they complete the program and pass the NCLEX, they are offered an RN position at UMD Medical Center. Penaloza spent ten years in their OR, becoming a Team Lead, then a Nurse Manager. 

“After being a manager for four years, I began looking for the opportunity to become a Director of Surgical Services or Perioperative Services,” Penaloza says. “UMD nurtured me well, so it was bittersweet because I did not see any opportunities to move up. But at the same time, I did not want to leave my area. I’d been in Maryland most of my life and did not want to relocate.” 

Penaloza began putting feelers out and sharpening her interview skills. She learned of a manager position at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. This was when she crossed paths with Ashley Lloyd, Portfolio Manager for Whitman Partners.  

“I was very new, three months into my job,” says Lloyd. “I was tasked with finding an OR Manager candidate for Mercy. They had 30 OR suites, so it was massive. They needed someone who understood the volume they would face in Baltimore. I canvassed the local market and started with the University of Maryland. I made some calls, identified Tracy, and called her up.” 

Meanwhile, Mercy was also looking for a Director of Perioperative Services. Penaloza had already interviewed for a director role at UMD but had not heard back if she was still in the running. After seeing her resume, Lloyd encouraged her to keep her options open and seriously consider starting a conversation with Mercy about their director role. Even though Penaloza did not have the director title on her resume, she managed over 36 ORs and had oversight of 150 FTEs at a large academic medical center. By comparison, Mercy took up less oxygen, size-wise. The transition from a manager at UMD to a director at Mercy had the potential to be smooth sailing for Penaloza and an excellent fit for Mercy. 

“In my experience, people tend to get overlooked easier within their organizations because you get applicants already at the director level,” Lloyd says. “It’s not a hard and fast rule, but we’ve seen it in the market. Once I saw her resume, it was clear how impressive her OR background was.” 

But, despite her desire for a director role, Penaloza wasn’t sure if she should pursue it at Mercy. 

“My biggest barrier was a little bit of an inferiority complex coming through,” Penaloza says. “I was encouraged by Ashley to go ahead and just advocate for myself. She told me the process was about a good fit, not just placing bodies in positions. Finding out what a person is looking for and what an institution is looking for.”

It turned out to be a “love match.” The VP of Surgical Services at Mercy was highly impressed after a phone interview and wanted to set up an in-person meeting ASAP. Penaloza walked away, captivated. In just a few weeks, she received an offer and accepted it. 

 “I was going from a big university trauma center hospital, the only thing I knew, to a smaller, independently-run facility that was unattached to a big system,” Penaloza says. “They were much more agile because there weren’t as many levels of formalized hierarchy. When I met with Mercy’s leadership and executive teams, it felt right. I assured my team at UMD that I was not running from anything; I was running towards something. It was a growth opportunity.” 

And grow she did. Six months after her start date, the first COVID cases began popping up in China and quickly made its way around the globe.  

“Even though COVID was a crisis and was very scary, I was amazed by how Mercy rallied as a leadership team,” Penaloza says. “One of the things they did so well, which was pretty revolutionary, was having their number one goal be, from the C-Suite to my level, to keep people employed and working. They vowed no furloughs and no time off unless people wanted time off. They were reinvesting in the staff; the monies that might go to an agency were spent on creative bonus options, scheduling, and shifts. We all felt very supported, and I think it has set us up for success coming out of the 2020 crisis.” 

“When you start running into roadblocks on your career path, you can feel defeated,” Lloyd says. “I think the biggest lesson here is encouraging candidates to keep their options open because you don’t always understand your potential until you start talking to people outside your organization.” 

If you have a Whitman Partners Success Story that you want to share and be featured in this column, email Carisa Brewster at