Close Mobile Menu
Marsha Roberts and her family pose in front of Sather Gate. Marsha Roberts ’90 (second from left) with friends on the Cal campus. / Courtesy of Marsha Roberts

Meet the Vice President: Marsha Roberts ’90, M.D.

Marsha Roberts ’90, M.D. plans to advance the Cal Alumni Association’s mission through mentorship and a focus on equity.

February 28, 2024
by Josephine Thornton

Marsha Roberts ’90, M.D. is a lifelong advocate for equity. In fact, equity has been central to all that she does. Roberts is the chief of staff/APIC of Hospital Operations at Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Medical Center. She is also the elected director on the Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) Board of Directors, serving Northern California (NCAL) Kaiser Permanente physicians.  

The Cal Alumni Association sat down with Roberts to discuss her professional journey, relationship with the Cal community, and commitment to mentoring the next generation of Golden Bears.

Cal Alumni Association (CAA): Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Marsha Roberts (MR): I am originally from the Bay Area. I grew up in Oakland. I spent a lot of time at various programs, like the Lawrence Hall of Science, so Cal felt very comfortable to me and I was ecstatic when the time came to apply. I majored in molecular biology and spent all four years in a dormitory, which was just great being so connected to campus. During one summer on campus, there was a career fair, and I found out about an opportunity to do a summer at Harvard. So I did that for a summer and met a wonderful mentor with a connection to Yale who convinced me to leave California, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise. After graduating, I went off to medical school on the East Coast at Yale. After graduating from Yale, I knew I would return to California for the rest of my training. I did my internship in San Francisco at California Pacific and then my radiology residency and fellowship in interventional radiology at the University of California, San Diego.

Marsha Roberts wearing her graduation gown at her graduation ceremony.
Roberts at her UC Berkeley graduation in 1990, where she received a degree in molecular biology. / Courtesy of Marsha Roberts

Because of high housing costs, I took my first job in Las Vegas, which only lasted for two and a half years. I am a California girl at heart. So I came back and took a job at a busy trauma center in interventional radiology. It was really busy and a great practice. But I got burnt out. So after about ten years, I took a leap of faith and took a job at Kaiser Permanente in Walnut Creek. It was at that time that I was searching for purpose in my life.

Roberts poses with her first-year dormmates.
Roberts and her first-year dormmates, who are still some of her closest friends today. / Courtesy of Marsha Roberts

I had made the decision that I really wanted to help students and our community achieve their dreams and goals. Knowing the challenges brought on by economic and ethnic and racial prejudice, I really wanted to give back. I actually ran into a lot of closed doors trying to do this. This led me to CAA. I found out that they have scholarships that they offer to underrepresented students to help them fulfill their dreams. 

So that was the beginning. I started reading scholarships, doing interviews, and being part of healthcare panels. I found my purpose. I truly believe in equity and, in this space, it’s educational equity. I attended a dinner for The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) and was speaking with someone about my interests, and they suggested that I apply for the board. 

And so I did! I landed a seat on the board and learned so much about campus and the community.

CAA: Now that you’ve been involved with CAA and the larger UC Berkeley campus community for many years, what are some of the most memorable or impactful experiences you’ve had?

Roberts poses with a friend during her first year at Cal.
Roberts and a friend during her first year at Cal. / Courtesy of Marsha Roberts

MR: As an undergraduate, one of the most memorable experiences has to be when I was a freshman and we beat Stanford when we weren’t supposed to. I think we were 1 and 11 or something that year. So that was truly memorable, beating Stanford at that time. But I would say my graduation was very memorable. 

Every time that I mention that I am a UC Berkeley graduate, no matter where I am—in medical school or traveling abroad—everybody around the world knows UC Berkeley. The connections that are made because of that are just amazing. I’m still in contact with my dorm mates from my first year. We go out even more frequently now than we have before, they are my closest friends.

Since undergrad, mentoring students has been very rewarding. For instance, I mentored a student who took the MCAT and didn’t score very well. His father was ailing so he had to go back to Southern California to help the family. A counselor told him to take the time off, kind of dissuading him from applying for medicine. And I thought ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?’ My coaching and encouraging him, seeing him get into a medical school and then get a residency as a surgical resident was just amazing. 

I’ve partnered with folks in the CAA Alumni Chapters, like Chuck [Ng] with the Berkeley Chinese Alumni International Association, and been welcomed and participated in their mentoring. I actually mentor one of their students, which has been great. Making those common connections and building relationships has been truly amazing. 

Mentors and mentees of the BCAIA alumni chapter pose for a group photo.
Roberts partners with Alumni Chapters, like the Berkeley Chinese Alumni International Association (pictured), to connect with and mentor students. / Courtesy of Marsha Roberts

My experience, like many, is that it’s been challenging. One often feels like you are on your own and need to be in survival mode. And those who do survive will thrive and those who don’t unfortunately often don’t graduate and miss out on those connections and the networking. When I graduated, I don’t recall receiving any information to keep me connected to Cal, and I might have missed it, but there was really no connection. And being busy with med school training, there was really no need. Got into my first couple of jobs and just started working. It wasn’t until then that I asked myself, “Okay, what is my purpose?” I see it as an opportunity to discover how we all can connect with others. 

“So professionally, I have expanded my purpose at work. It’s all coming full circle and the central component is equity.”

Marsha Roberts ’90

In 2017, in association with CAA, I started a Cal Corporate Committee at Kaiser—similar to other large corporations like Google and Wells Fargo. The club started with a few physicians who were Cal alumni, for the purpose of networking, mentoring, and fundraising. It has morphed into a club with over 130 members who work in all segments of the organization including direct patient care, finance, tech, consulting, and management. Our members serve as mentors to Cal students and participate in health career panels. We now partner with the UCB-UCSF joint medical program to offer their students support as well.

Roberts poses with Oski at Kaiser Permanente's pediatric ward.
Roberts has found ways to bridge her work at Kaiser and Cal through initiatives like the Cal Corporate Committee at Kaiser. On one occasion, she invited Oski and his ambassador to the pediatric ward. / Courtesy of Marsha Roberts

CAA: As Vice President of the Board of Directors, what are your specific goals in supporting marginalized students?

MR: One of them is ensuring a sustainable mentorship program. In my first year as chair of the Alumni Engagement Committee, we launched the mentorship program. And it’s been successful in terms of the number of students enrolling. So the key is making sure that it’s sustainable and it targets low-income and marginalized students. The next step is making sure that we match them with mentors with similar experiences. So that’s something we need to figure out and get right, but that’s one focus.

A second would be creating an atmosphere where all alumni feel like they belong. How can we create a sense of community where people are naturally reaching back and being present and desiring to make those connections? The third is to ensure that any student, particularly in the Bay Area, but any student in California, has access to one of the greatest universities in the world.

Roberts and other CAA board members pose at the Lair of the Golden Bear.
Roberts (third from left) at a CAA board retreat at the Lair of the Golden Bear. / Courtesy of Marsha Roberts

CAA: Fantastic! What are you currently working on, both professionally and personally?

MR: So professionally, I have expanded my purpose at work. It’s all coming full circle and the central component is equity. When George Floyd was killed it struck me in a way that no other current event really has, in terms of talking about personal feelings and experiences in the workplace. I’ve always considered a kind of separation of church and state—go to work, be professional, stick to healthcare, and take care of patients. I was the chief of radiology at the time. We had a town hall and I decided to use my platform to talk about social injustice and people actually listened and appreciated my speaking up. I realized I had a platform. I created a leadership equity development series to help inspire physicians and administrators to focus on how we can deliver equitable healthcare. This year it’s going to launch across Northern California for all of our hospitals. It also inspired me to apply for an elected position on our board of directors for the physicians’ medical group. I’ve been on the board for two and a half years, being a voice at the table. We’re called the Permanente Medical Group. 

As we consider strategies, how are we being inclusive for our members? I ended up wanting to change the culture in my hospital. I applied for the chief of staff position and I got it. So I’m busy! What’s central to all of it is achieving health equity. How do we achieve both educational equity and health equity? 

Outside of my work, I’m a sports fan. I’m a huge, huge basketball fan. But the only sport I play now is bocce. I’m on my local bocce team in Danville. I love to travel. My two favorite places in the world are Maui and the entire country of Italy. I’ve taken Italian lessons, speak French and Spanish, and my mentee is teaching me Mandarin.

“I always say if I were ever to win the lottery, I would become a professional student at UC Berkeley. I love learning, just absolutely love it.”

Marsha Roberts ’90

Learn more about the Cal Alumni Mentors program

Learn more about CAA’s Alumni Chapters.

Bank of America