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Alumna succeeds against odds

Mills College Weekly

From the perspective of others, Dr. Julie Vails has succeeded
“against all odds,” as a recent award stated from the Sacramento
chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. From
her own perspective, Vails has never lost. She simply has done
things her own way.

It’s true that all too few women who have their first child at
the age of 15 go on to become doctors. And it’s also true that all
too few doctors quit a lucrative job with a hospital to open a
family practice that does house calls and spends an hour with every
patient. But Vails has done both. Her new office in Elk Grove, near
Sacramento, is open a few evenings a week for working patients, in
addition to daytime hours. She wants to be not just a doctor, but a
really good doctor.

Vails was a student at Solano Community College, studying to be
a legal secretary, when her father took her to meet a Mills Alumna,
who urged her to apply to Mills. She resisted, considering herself
“not the academic type.” She also had two children to support, and
her first goal was financial independence. But, Mills appealed to
her. She applied only to Mills, and was accepted in 1991.

“I was the youngest resumer ever, at 22,” Vails said. “I liked
being around folks with real lives in the Mary Atkins lounge.” She
lived with her two children in a family apartment on campus, and
sometimes took them to class with her.

“I needed the way Mills was. I took some classes at Berkeley,
and I know I wouldn’t have survived U.C.,” Vails said. “I needed
small classes, and professors who knew who I was, a pro-woman
atmosphere in which I was encouraged to speak up and didn’t have to
compete with men.”

Vails also appreciated a math class that helped her get up to
the level she needed. When she discovered she was good at biology,
Vails decided with characteristic bravado to declare a pre-med

Vails said, “I didn’t have much time for other classes, but I
enjoyed the women’s studies classes I took, and I loved the dance
classes! I really wasn’t very good, but I was allowed to enjoy
myself in them, and it was great to go to the graduating recitals
of the other students.” She also remembered with relish, “getting
into trouble” for a mock striptease that she performed for the
talent show.

When Vails graduated from Mills in 1995, she had her pick of
medical schools, and decided to attend the Univ. of California, San
Francisco because they had on-campus family housing. Her oldest
daughter Genevieve now manages Vails’ office, having accompanied
her mother through the great journey to get there.