By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
MiBella means “my beautiful” in Italian—and that’s the goal for Mia Cowan, MD, at her wellness center off of Highway 280 in Birmingham. The initial tagline for the business was “a beautiful approach to health and a desire to make women feel beautiful.”
“[It’s about] expanding the notion of beauty to include balance, belief, living well, and aging beautifully,” she said. “I want women to feel good about themselves.”
Cowan, 44, is the founder and medical director of MiBella Wellness Center, which specializes in gynecology, weight loss, hormone replacement therapy, and total wellness for women. The facility, which opened in 2010 at a different location on Highway 280, initially focused on gynecology and weight loss, then it expanded to provide other services.
Cowan is intentional about how she wants to treat the approximately 6,000 patients who visit her center, and it starts with her team of 10 full-time and two part-time staff members—all women.
“A lot of my staff are black women or women of color, but I always knew [my business would employ] women because we deal with such a sensitive topic,” said Cowan, who sees about 25 patients a day. “When you think about gynecology, … you don’t think about some of the bad stuff we have to deal with. Women who have been raped or molested in the past, are usually more comfortable with women, so it just kind of made sense to have all women [in my practice].”
Working with an all-female staff also allows Cowan to serve as a mentor. Many of her employees are currently in school, so working at MiBella enables them to get hands-on experience in the medical field.
“I like to hire young women who want to go into medicine,” she said. “They usually end up being my scribes [a person or paraprofessional who specializes in charting physician-patient encounters in real time, such as during medical examinations] and transitioning into something else. I think it’s a good way for young women to really see if it’s what they want to do because if this is not your passion, you are going to be miserable.”
Cowan’s patient population is diverse and includes women from all backgrounds and walks of life—blacks and whites, entry-level workers and CEOs.
“I take people with insurance, people without insurance, people with Medicaid, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re very LGBTQ-friendly, and a lot of transgender patients come here and feel comfortable. Anybody who walks in here—it could be a drug addict off the street or a CEO—gets treated the same.
Caring for Women
Cowan grew up in Birmingham in the Smithfield and Pratt City areas with her parents and sister. She attended Scott Elementary, Daniel Payne Middle, and Ramsay High schools.
Cowan’s mother worked as a nurse and seeing her mother’s work made Cowan realize she wanted to be in the health care field, too.
“I would follow [my mom] when she would stop by and do extra stuff for her patients, and I saw how much her patients appreciated her, so I wanted to be a nurse,” said Cowan. “My mother encouraged me to go a step further and be a doctor. She told me, ‘You’re smart in math and science, so you should be a doctor.’ From then on, I knew that’s what I wanted to be.”
After graduating from high school, Cowan attended the University of Alabama (UA) in Tuscaloosa, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1996, as well as a master’s degree in health education and promotion. She then went on to the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisc., where she completed her Doctor of Medicine degree and did her residency training in obstetrics and gynecology.
“I wanted to be a pediatrician,” she said. “Obviously, that wasn’t in the cards for me because I’m an OB-GYN now, and I love it.”
Even though Cowan didn’t want to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, she fell in love with it on the first day of her residency rotation. She felt that taking care of women and fixing their problems were appealing. She delivered babies and also treated patients who were not pregnant, making them aware of birth control options and helping them deal with a broad range of gynecological issues, including fibroids (abnormal growths that develop in or on the uterus).
“I liked the variety of it. I liked the fact that I could teach my patients [about gynecological health] and at the same time help them with any problems they had,” she said. “If a patient had fibroids, I could get rid of their fibroids by [providing treatment] that worked for them. I liked being able to fix their problems.”
First Black Chief Medical Resident
During her time at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Cowan won several awards and was appointed as the first black chief resident of the OB-GYN program, a position she held from 2005 to 2006.
“I don’t think the other residents really knew how to take orders from a black girl, but I did not shy away from what I was supposed to do,” she said. “I was OK with people not agreeing with what I did because I knew I was doing what was best for the lower-level residents and the patients.”
Once her residency was complete in 2006, Cowan and her husband moved back to Birmingham. She joined the doctors at Jefferson Clinic PC, which allowed her to work with patients at Cooper Green and Princeton hospitals.
“I worked there on purpose so I could come back, serve my community, and help people who really needed it,” she said. “I serviced the indigent population of Jefferson County, which I loved.”
The Birth of MiBella
While working at Jefferson Clinic as an OB-GYN, Cowan said she realized she loved helping people but didn’t like working for people.
“That’s what got me into entrepreneurship,” she said. “It was always a dream of mine to have my own practice because I realized I could control how I practiced medicine if I worked for myself.”
At Jefferson Clinic, Cowan began work on her Master of Business Administration (MBA) in the physician’s executive program at Auburn University in 2008. While there, the idea for her own practice was born.
“I did all of my projects on MiBella and just kind of developed it then,” she said. “At the time, I was working for a predominately-male-run practice, but in gynecology, women usually want to see women. … I wanted to be able to [treat women] on my own terms and give my patients what they really need.”
Cowan finished her MBA in May 2010. By November of that year, MiBella was born—and had zero patients. Because she did not bring patients from her previous job to her practice, Cowan had to really put in the work to gain a new patient base.
“I was everywhere. I was networking. Anytime somebody had [an event], I was there. If they wanted me to speak at a church, had vendor booths, whatever, I was in the streets getting my name out there for the first two or three years. Once I started building a [client] base, [the business grew by] word of mouth because my patients would tell their friends. Getting my MBA really helped me with marketing because I did things differently from the average doctor,” said Cowan, who also spread the word about MiBella via social media, as well as radio and TV ads.
She did all of this while making 25 percent of what she was accustomed to, having the same bills, and taking care of a new baby.
“It was very difficult, [but] God helped me through those tough times,” she said. “I also had a lot of good friends who sent a lot of people and helped me get the word out. I worked hard and built a different kind of culture.”
MiBella has become like family, Cowan said: “I think some of our patients now come in sometimes just to see us.”
Cowan’s business grew because of her integrity and faith, as well as her ability to meet the myriad needs of her patients, she said.
“[Patients] sometimes don’t know what they need, but I can [assess] their symptoms, figure out what’s going on, and come up with different treatment options,” she said. “I’m open to not just traditional medicine; I’m still open to learning new things and to being holistic.”
For her work with patients and in the community, Cowan has won several awards and earned numerous accolades, including being named one of Birmingham’s Best for Gynecology and Women’s Wellness Center by Birmingham Magazine.
“It felt really good because my patients helped me win. They had to vote for me for Birmingham’s Best and thought well enough of me to do so,” said Cowan, who also is also a published author with books on Amazon’s best-seller list, including “A Women’s Guide to Total Health” and “Medical Mogul.”
For more information about MiBella Wellness Center, visit www.mibellawellness.com, or follow on Facebook @MiBella Health and Wellness or Instagram @MiBellaWellnessCenter.