Today is National Women Physicians Day. It is a day that is full of inspiring stories of the trailblazing women who are the reason I was able to attend medical school, the women who demonstrated bravery and courage to raise their hand, be heard and make many of the discoveries that have laid the foundation for medicine as we know it today.
Some of these women and their stories are known (please see this EXCELLENT post on our ID Division blog today authored by Dr. Marcelin for more https://blog.unmc.edu/infectious-disease/), yet so many stories have not been told. So many storied have been lost or silenced. So many stereotypes of what it means to be both a woman and a physician then, and now.
I have listened to many stories, shed tears, felt the anger and frustration and the elation and inspiration. I cannot honor the unnamed women whose stories are untold more than to share a part of my story. A part of how I became a physician.
I did not have a woman physician or scientist as a role model growing up, but I loved science. I still have the ancient books about medicine I bought at a garage sale as a child. I remember reading this book and what I remember the most is the description of a manual drill used for creation of a burr hole in the skull to evacuate a hematoma. This should have been the reading material of nightmares, but for me it was inspiring. The idea that you could save a life with the right skills. It still inspires me and brings some tears to my eyes as I think about it.
Why would I have even picked this book out? Not just a love for science, which truly could have been enough, but because I was heavily exposed to medicine as a child. I didn't have a single female physician that I can recall until adulthood, but I had kind men who cared for me, an orthopedic surgeon who in retrospect had suffered severe burnout, yet continued to inspire me to choose medicine (but was frank that there would be a cost far above the dollar amount - and I cannot thank him more for the honesty).
I kept going, one-step-at-a-time, setting a goal in high school of getting scholarships so I could attend college. I didn't care where, as long as I could go. The hours I put in, the extracurriculars, the work. The blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices I did not realize I was making at the time. I could have had more fun, I could have had more friends, but I pursued something I valued more. The burr hole. The chance to save a life.
College was not easier, I worked throughout all four years while hoping for a chance at medical school. I knew it would not be easy, but I did not realize how hard it would be. I did not have a mentor at my college who had successfully helped a student get into medical school. I didn't know enough. I was on my own. Then, I essentially failed the MCAT (the exam you must take to be a candidate for medical school).
I underestimated it, I was devastated and wavered. Self-doubt set in. I was simply not enough.
Then, with the love and support of family and friends, I no longer believed I was not enough. I did the terrifying - I registered again for that test. I started over and LEARNED from that failure. It was enough, I was enough. I started down that path of becoming a physician.
Since then, I have been told I will quit medicine as soon as I have kids, like all the other women. Two kids later, I am still here. Full-time.
I have been told I cannot be both a good mother and a good physician, they are mutually exclusive(said by a man in medical leadership with children). Proving that wrong EVERY DARN DAY. It may be hard, it is not perfect, but who is? But I CAN be good at both and I AM. IT IS POSSIBLE.
During an interview I was told I would regret my decisions because I chose a non-conventional career path that was doomed to fail. Has it been hard - YES. Have I ever wondered if they were right - YES. Have I regretted my choice to take the unconventional path - NO. Why? Because I stayed true to myself. My dreams. I would not be happy living out someone else's watered down version of my dream. So no, I do not regret it. NOT A SINGLE MINUTE. It has made me who I am today, that is NOTHING to regret.
Today I am sitting at Starbucks without my family, on a day off, working on research and writing. Why? Because I every minute I spend working is one minute closer to changing medicine, advancing the science and helping women thrive in science and leadership. I took a break to write this because after being moved and motivated ALL morning by the stories of the women physicians who came before me, the courage and dedication of those practicing today and the inspiring thought of those who come, I want you to know that it is not easy. But it is WORTH IT.
To all of the women physicians out there, I challenge you share you stories today. You never know who it will inspire to sign up to take that MCAT again. To follow that dream of being a physician. To change the world through medicine. To make the burr hole that saves a life.
To all of you still dreaming of a career in science, medicine, engineering, math, technology, LET THAT DREAM GROW!! For you are the giants of the future.
Happy National Women Physicians Day. May you shatter glass, save lives and remember to share you stories - you never know who you will inspire next.