The Med Sisters Series is a series of interviews of women in various stages of their careers in medicine: pre-med, medical school, residency, fellowship and attending physicians. As women, I believe we face unique challenges within any field, medicine included. As I’ve moved along on this journey, I truly believe one of the biggest support systems we have is each other. Society works so hard to pit women against each other in every situation you can think of but, as feminists, I think it’s so important to combat that urge to try to ‘beat each other out.’ There’s room for all of us on the other side of the glass ceiling. The goal of this series is to shed light on the challenges women face in the field of medicine and how they achieve a work-life balance that works for them. This blog has always been a place for me to share the realities of this journey, both the highs and lows. I thought of this series as a way to share the perspectives of the other extraordinary women on this journey too.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career?
A: I’ve wanted to be a physician as long as I can remember, ever since I’ve known that was something a person could do. Of course that passion is something that has matured with a number of personal experiences throughout the years. I’ve been able to see how an individual’s health affects all aspects of their life and their relationships. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than being able to help people prevent and manage illness, partnering with them to help them maintain good health and wellness the best they can.
Q: How do you stay motivated on the difficult days?
A: I’ll have someone’s life in my hands in just a few short years. It’s scary yet motivating enough to help me push through. Someone’s life may depend on what I don’t know or understand; that may be the difference between me catching something wrong early, rather than too late. This is what keeps me going. On the days where it doesn’t feel like the information is sticking or when I think about the exams that didn’t go so well, I remind myself that this is a journey. It’s okay if I don’t get something the first time! Consistency is necessary for progress. It also helps that the body is designed in a way that certain themes and concepts are repeated; one organ affects the others, so things I may have missed the first time around, I pick up the second or third. It’s all very interconnected, so that as I study for each course, boards, and begin clinicals all the information will be reinforced as it’s repeated in different contexts and situations. It really comes together the more experience you get.
Q: What has been the most emotionally difficult aspect of medical school so far? How did you cope with it?
A: The reality that there is so much to know. You cover such a large volume in a short period. There are things I’ve missed along the way, but there’s no time to stop and catch up being that the train is constantly moving and new information is constantly being added. At times I’ve questioned myself, especially in the beginning. Having such a rough start academically really shook my confidence. However, my reason for choosing this path, or rather it choosing me!, my Christian faith, prayer and having such a great support system helped me through these tough times. Choosing to have a positive mindset has also helped tremendously; the body follows the mind. Your “self talk” is very important. How you see yourself determines your performance. You have to tell yourself that you’ll get it no matter how long it takes, and keep going. When I made a conscious decision to break myself out of the struggle mindset of “I hope I pass this exam,” “there’s so much to know,” “I don’t have enough time. I can’t remember all of this,” I saw the greatest change. Speak positive affirmations over yourself, and no matter what’s going on around you take one day at a time. You also have to let go of the past and stop worrying about the future; focusing on all these things rob you of the energy you need to focus on the task at hand.
Q: How do you balance being in a relationship and medical school?
A: It helps that my boyfriend and I have a lot of the same goals. He is also pursing a career in medicine, so he has a better understanding of the commitment it requires. It also helps that we were and are friends first, which has also helped us maintain a long distance relationship for the last few years. Flexibility really is key. It’s not always easy, and we don’t spend as much time together as we would like; however, because of this I’m very intentional about being present when we are together. We do our best to schedule fun dates post exams, so there’s always something to look forward to. We also remind ourselves that are present arrangement isn’t permanent; it’s just part of our story for right now.
Q: If you could go back and be a premed student again, what would you do differently?
A: Nothing, because every twist and turn has helped me become who I am today. But there is plenty of advice I’d share with others based on my mistakes. The biggest piece of advice I would give is to really consider how you spend your time. It’s easy to get swept into that premed race of joining as many clubs, organizations, taking on as many positions as possible, etc. to build that ideal student profile; however, It’s more important to pursue what you’re really passionate about. If you don’t know what that is explore opportunities in areas you may be interested in. Even if it doesn’t yield the lengthiest resume, think quality over quantity. Focus on developing yourself as a person, skills you may lack, building relationships, and seeking mentorship. You also want to find your creative outlet, or what you need for stress relief. It’s important to learn how to find this balance early on. And get a job in retail (preferably during the holidays!), even if it’s just for a couple of months. Customer service is a huge part of medicine. No matter how much volunteering or leadership roles you take on, few things prepare you for the unpredictability of working with the public, addressing the needs of complete strangers, and dealing with all kinds of personalities and backgrounds quite like it.
Q: You have such a great sense of style! How do you maintain such a fun wardrobe on a student budget?
A: Thank you! I come from a long line of thrifters, so I’ve grown up learning how to spot of good deal. I use a combination of thrifted items and sale pieces with the occasional splurge (though the vast majority of my “nicer” items are gifts!). My style has definitely evolved, but these days I try to focus on purchasing more classic pieces that can be worn many different ways for the best quality I can get right now. For me versatility is key. The Loft is definitely at the top of my list for long lasting clothes that can be easily worn for work or causally. J.Crew, Gap, and Old Navy are also favorites…using rewards, promos, and sales of course! And again, focus on quality not quantity.
Q: Who is a woman in medicine you look up to and why?
A: I look up to many women in medicine. Every practicing physician who manages to also be a wife, a mother, run a business, etc. all at the same time. It’s been inspiring watching Laura’s (“A Little Bit of Lacquer” blog) journey over the last few years and how she manages to do all the above. Also all the amazing ladies I’ve met through Instagram. You, Farrah (@thevoguemd), and Fran (“Franish” blog). Despite all this field requires, they continue to find time to create, express their passions, and enjoy all that life has to offer in the process. Your honesty uplifts, encourages, and inspires me as well. It’s so easy to share the “best” parts of our life, but even more beautiful when someone is transparent enough to share all the challenging moments in between. I admire all of these ladies who share bits of their life and the lessons they’ve learned to help others.
Q: As a woman in medicine, specifically a woman of color, have you faced any discrimination (either blatant or more subtle)? What advice do you have for women who go through similar challenges?
A: Luckily I haven’t faced any blatant discrimination, but I’m certainly aware that it’s out there and may very well come my way. That being said there have been times when people were surprised when I didn’t live up to certain stereotypes in terms of personality, interest, or background. There is definitely a discrimination that comes in the form of expectations. Some people are surprised or uncomfortable when you demonstrate a certain level of skill or proficiency; however, I choose not to let those opinions or expectations define me. While I am very much aware of discrimination, racism, sexism, my parents raised me with the belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. I don’t let other people’s attitudes, fears and beliefs dictate what I choose to do in my life and with my life. It is very easy to become outraged in the face of discrimination, whether it be personal or observed with someone else. As integrated as our country is, inequality and injustice continues; however, I choose not to hold on to it with anger. Instead, I use it as motivation. I choose to take the power back in these situations by exceeding expectations and defying stereotypes by educating others, remaining true to myself, and being a support for those who will experience the same challenges the best I can.
Thanks Ele for stopping by our little corner of the internet! So grateful to have the opportunity to hear a bit about your journey.