What was my biggest obstacle?
The greatest obstacle was getting to a point in my life that I did not depend on the advice of others to tell me what I could/should or could not/should not do with my life. Once that was accomplished, finding the support to make my dream a reality was nowhere near as difficult as I had imagined. My first question should not have been what should I do with my life, but how do I go about accomplishing what I intend to do with my life.
As the first in my family to have the privilege of attending college, I was dependent upon the advice of guidance counselors. Having been discouraged at the age of 16 from pursuing a medical education, I took quite a circuitous route to becoming a physician. I attempted to find an alternate profession that would satisfy my desire to interact with people in a meaningful way. Although I succeeded in several ventures, none provided the personal or professional satisfaction I desired. While pregnant with our fifth child, I went back to school to obtain the necessary premedical education required for admission to medical school and to prepare for the MCAT.
On the day our youngest child entered kindergarten, I attended my first day of medical school. being fortunate to be accepted to the University of Minnesota Medical School I did not hesitate in moving from Tennessee to Minneapolis for my training. At the last moment, however, my wonderful, supportive husband was unable to move with me. Thinking it would only be 2-3 months until he would join us, I moved 1000 miles away with the younger 4 children in tow. Unfortunately, for unavaoidable reasons, it turned out to be three years before he could join us. Being so far away from home with four children and not knowing a soul in a large city was quite intimidating. Fortunately, the support of Dr. Gerald Hill and the staff members of the Center of Excellence at the University of Minnesota Medical School was strong. The prayers of my family and friends back in Tennessee and the continued support of my husband and children kept me going. Together, we made it through a grueling four years intact.
How do you make a difference?
Every day each of us makes a difference in the lives of others; some in a positive fashion, others in a negative manner. None of our interactions with one another is inert. As physicians, we are uniquely allowed into the lives of others on both individual and community levels. For those of us in an academic setting, we also have the opportunity to teach young physicians to be culturally, as well as medically, competent. We teach the art, as well as the science, of medicine by the very way we practice medicine ourselves. As the medical director of Project HEROA (health, education, research, outreach and advocacy), I have enjoyed the opportunity to provide medical care for women who would otherwise have not been able to afford pap smears, mammograms, etc., and thus, saving lives. Participation in the Pre-Admission Workshops for minority students wishing to obtain entrance into medical school has allowed me to support others who may have otherwise been deterred from becoming physicians. Speaking at the National Assembly of Minority Medical Educators regarding the areas of recruiting and retaining minority students in medical school was instrumental in making medical schools aware of the need for cultural and academic supportneeded and often neglected. Hopefully, this will increase the number of qualified minority medical students actually graduating from medical school and returning to their communities to encourage others to pursue their dreams as well as providing excellent medical care. Volunteering to speak at local public schools, half-way houses, and other community forums enables me to educate the public regarding various health-related topics. And as a Board member of the Elizabeth Freeman Centerproviding counseling and shelter for abused women and their families.
Who was your mentor?
The most critical mentors in my life were my parents who taught me from an early age that there was little I could not do if I was willing to go the distance. Their unconditional love and support, as well as that of my husband and children, provided the foundation on which my entire life is built.
My first mentor at the University of Minnesota Medical School was Dr. Gerald Hill, an Indian physician of excellence who has devoted much of his professional career to enabling others to achieve their goals. Other mentors at the University of Minnesota include Dr. Don Robertson, one of the medical school deans who encouraged me on an almost daily basis through all four years of medical school. Finally, Dr. Nicole Lurie, an accomplished attending physician on staff at the University of Minnesota was my personal and professional mentor. She was tireless in her devotion to both patients and students and demonstrated the ideal role model for any physician, male or female. Her ability to balance family and professional life was inspiring. From her I learned, among other things, that you may have it all, but not all at the same time and that is o.k.