When I was growing up, it was common for women who wanted to work outside the home to pick traditional jobs such as teaching, nursing or social work.
So, I majored in sociology and earned a master’s degree. I loved learning about how people interacted and why.
I took my first “real job” working for the Virginia Center on Aging. This required me to go literally door to door in the hills of Virginia, to collect needs-assessment surveys from the elderly.
Did they use Meals on Wheels? Did they go to the Senior Center? Did they have any medical problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure?
Time and time again, the elderly folks would answer, “Well, I take a pink pill but I’m not too sure what it’s for . . . my doc is too busy to tell me.”
My heart sank every time I heard this response. I knew I could do better.
So, I decided to go back to school. I took three years of pre-medicine courses, followed by medical school, an internship, residency and a fellowship.
My parents thought I had lost my mind,. My dad even told me that it was the dumbest idea I had ever had. He was 100% against it.
I didn’t ask for my parents’ financial support. I was working part time and took out student loans. But, emotional support would’ve been nice.
Now, I look at their lack of support as a blessing in disguise. To this day, if someone tells me I can’t do something, I say, “Oh, yeah?”
And here I am today.
When I finally finished med school, I landed a job as the only woman doctor in a sea of male surgeons.
For a long time, I looked at this as a big disadvantage. I was trying to compete in the good ole boys’ club without the proper equipment. Women physicians, especially women surgeons, were still considered an oddity.
I was constantly put in situations where I felt I was an outsider. The Doctor’s Locker Room, for example, was presumed to be male only. Female doctors were expected to dress in the nursing staff’s locker room.
I wish I were kidding.
Over time, I came to realize, with the help of some wise business mentors, that there was no need to be “one of the boys.”
Those men were not my mirrors; they were only responding to the energy I was sending their way. And they had no idea what I could do when I set my mind to it.
I realized it was a huge advantage to be the only woman, where I could practice compassion and expertise on my own terms.
Instead of trying to prove I was just like them, I could set an example for my male counterparts, and take the lead in adding a humanistic approach to our practice.
Now, I feel blessed to be able to inject feminine warmth into my practice and my patients’ experiences.
Why “Love Medicine Again”?
Over the years, I have seen doctors and patients change in the way they interact with one another.
It used to be after a difficult surgical case, when I would go to the waiting room to talk with the family to let them know everything went well, the family would say, “Thank you.”
Nowadays, it’s more common to hear a family member just utter, “Okay.”
Their response made me wonder whether we were simply going through the motions, rather than connecting and communicating.
I looked inside myself and realized that I was not delivering what was truly in my heart to my patients and their families.
Since then, I have made some changes that help me, and my patients:
- I ask every member of the O.R. team to list three things they are grateful for at the beginning of each day.
- Before every surgery, I tell my patient I am setting my intention for the surgery to go smoothly and for them to have a great result.
- I pause to compliment my surgical team in front of my patients.
These may appear to be small, insignificant actions, but the results are enormous.
I am rewarded every day by comments from patients and staff. Patients are amazed at the level of caring our team delivers. They not only feel this on a gut level, but I strongly believe this enables them to heal better. They rest easier, are more relaxed during the recovery phase, and feel that their expectations have been met.
For my team, it takes our delivery of health care to another level: It becomes heart-centered care.
It helps each of us feel proud and honored to do what we do for a living, every day.
It isn’t always easy or automatic to take time to acknowledge and honor your team, your patients and your work, but it always makes a difference.
I believe if doctors can take a step in the direction of loving medicine again, we can help renew our own spirits while we renew our patients’ health.
It’s my hope that what I discovered will help you, too.
I hope you’ll join me on this path.