Minako Watabe, MD, MSc

Chief Medical Officer at Ventura County Medical Center & Santa Paula Hospital 

Spring Minako

Whether it’s in her leadership capacity as chief medical officer for two county-run safety net hospitals or through her voluntary work with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Dr. Minako Watabe is committed to promoting health equity, social justice and improved outcomes for traditionally underserved populations. It’s a commitment that took root during Dr. Watabe’s UCLA OBGYN residency, during which she spent half her time caring for the underserved population at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.

“There’s an aspect of OBGYN that lends itself to health advocacy, particularly related to women’s health and reproductive rights,” Dr. Watabe says. “It’s rare for physicians to speak up when it comes to influencing legislation or regulations — but not doing so can lead to adverse outcomes and health disparities. Working with underserved patients during my residency was a reminder of why I went into medicine, and ingrained in me an interest in continuing to advocate for them.”

Since completing her UCLA OBGYN residency in 2010, Dr. Watabe has been on the staff at Ventura County Medical Center & Santa Paula Hospital. After nine years as an OBGYN, she was named associate chief medical officer, and in 2022 she took over as chief medical officer (CMO). As CMO, Dr. Watabe oversees the clinical care for the two safety-net hospitals and psychiatric facility, all of which are run by Ventura County — one of only a dozen California counties that still operate public hospitals. After the George Floyd tragedy, Dr. Watabe took an additional role as co-director for diversity, equity and inclusion. She continues to see patients once a week as a clinical OBGYN.

Dr. Watabe has also been active as a section officer for ACOG District IX, which covers all of California for the professional society. Currently, she is co-director of the district’s first Global Health Committee, which has worked with partners in Ecuador to develop a residency exchange program. In the fall, Dr. Watabe will begin serving on the district’s executive board as secretary.

Dr. Watabe says her UCLA OBGYN residency has had an enduring influence. “I thought the most important thing to achieve through residency was to become a strong clinician, and the UCLA program provided excellent training in that sense,” she says. “I got my first leadership experience as an administrative chief resident and was surprised at how much I enjoyed that. And the most impactful part was the time I spent at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center under the phenomenal leadership of Dr. [Christine] Holschneider, learning about the importance of serving an underserved population.”

Through her advocacy work, Dr. Watabe hopes to continue using her experience to help colleagues and policymakers understand that improving health outcomes requires a stronger focus on the communities that are struggling most. “The U.S. is the world’s wealthiest country, and yet we have substantial inequities we haven’t faced or effectively addressed,” she says. “I’m proud of what we have achieved in Ventura County in creating an equitable system where, regardless of your income or status, you have access to the highest quality of care.”