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.
Brittany is a fourth year medical student (and will be an MD in days!) in Kansas City. You can follow her journey, as she starts her intern year in pediatrics, at her Instagram.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career? How do you stay motivated on the difficult days?
A: Deciding on medicine was sort of a natural choice for me. I was infatuated by science growing up and was fascinated by my first anatomy and physiology class in high school. There are no physicians in my family, but it was my parents that really gave me the confidence that I could pursue such a career. They both have had careers in healthcare and I loved the thought of being so intimately involved in other’s lives and being able to do what I love and help those who need it. What motivates me on the difficult days is that I absolutely cannot imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life. There are days I walk out of the hospital with such satisfaction, such a sense of calling, that I know this is where I was born to be.
Q: How do you balance being in a relationship, planning a wedding and medical school?
A: It’s quite the task! I live in Kansas City and my fiancé lives in Ft. Worth, Texas so there’s a lot of plane flights and traveling when we get free time. Fourth year of medical school provides lots of flexibility with your time so I’ve gotten to come down to Texas for a few months which has been such a blessing. I am very lucky to have a man that supports me 100% in whatever I decide to do and is continually my biggest cheerleader. He understands my hectic schedule, can tell when I’m a little stressed, and knows when he needs to remind me to breathe! He’s not something I have to worry about balancing… he adds balance to my life. I think that’s how it should be. With Match Day coming up in March 2016, we currently have no idea where I’ll be located for residency. For that reason, we’ve decided to postpone wedding planning until we at least have a city to plan around! I have started looking at dresses though, which of course is the most fun part! 🙂
Update: Brittany matched to her top choice pediatrics program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersberg, FL!
Q: What has been the most emotionally difficult part of your journey in medicine? How have you coped?
A: The most emotionally difficult part of the journey has been seeing first-hand the heartbreak in medicine. The look on your patient’s face when they find out they have cancer or when the 6 year old finds out his mom has passed away are images that never quite go away. As physicians, we will be constantly immersed in the most difficult parts of people’s lives. They will never forget moments like this. But, the beauty of my journey in medicine has been seeing how people respond and recover from these types of events. Sickness and death have a startling effect on people. They quickly realize what is truly important to them. The love shown by family has often brought tears to my eyes. Our society focuses so much on the negative. I wish the cameras would come into the hospital to see the incredible love, the undying faith, the unwavering will to live that I have the blessing to see each day. The difficult parts of our lives really provide us the opportunity to grasp on hard to what means the most to us. Witnessing this has been incredible and is one of the many reasons why I love medicine.
Q: What drew you to pediatrics?
A: Come on…kids are so much better than adults 🙂 ! When I got to dress up in costume for Halloween, play with toddlers on a daily basis, and help walk new parents through both the scariest and most exciting part of their life (new parenthood), the decision became pretty easy for me. It was the only rotation I had in medical school that I would work 12 hour days, work nights, but when I went home each day, I was genuinely happy and couldn’t wait to go back! Kids bring me so much joy. They’re resilient, they’re honest, they’re always wanting to get better…. and most of the time, they do! I also had a great pediatric allergist that helped me control my asthma as a kid and that allowed me to go on to eventually becoming an All-American track athlete at Baylor! The world is yours when you’re a kid, the possibilities are endless. I’m thrilled to be apart of their ever-changing lives. The field of pediatrics isn’t for everyone. You’ll get spit up on, sneezed on, temper tantrums, and adolescent mood swings. But, there’s nothing else in this world I’d rather be doing.
Q: If you could go back and be a premed student again, what would you do differently
A: This is a tough one. I don’t think I’d do anything differently honestly. I was a premed student-athlete so my experience was a little different. I was a Health Science Studies major with a minor in Medical Humanities. I took all the core science courses required for the MCAT along with courses that showed me the ethical dilemmas of medicine. I took a mission trip to Mexico where I got to work with a physician to provide care to underserved villages and created hypertension screening clinics in my hometown of Kansas City. My best advice would be to get a well-rounded idea of what medicine is like. Volunteer at your nearby hospital. Get out in your community. If you can, get out of the country and view how healthcare is done there. This will help you form your own ideas and opinions about how you’d like to provide care. Also, have fun!!! Medical school is a full-time job and you’ll find yourself reminiscing on your fun “college days” while you’re stuck on night shift lol.
Q: Who is a woman in medicine you look up to and why?
A: Although not a physician, I have always looked up to my mother. She is a chief radiation therapist for cancer patients and has a way with her patients that I strive for on a daily basis. She is personable, intelligent, and her spirit is so incredibly contagious. She’s a multi-tasker, a leader, and always finds a way to get the job done with a smile on her face. She has worked so hard to get where she’s at and both her and my dad have provided me with all of the love, support, and motivation a daughter could ask for.
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: Being a minority woman in medicine, you often will be either the only woman in the room or the only minority in the room. Sometimes, both. Towards the beginning of my medical education, this was a little daunting. But, as I progressed though medical school I realized I am more than capable, equally intelligent, and just as deserving to be here! Now, I don’t think twice. I am no longer focused on myself, but on the care of my patient. Many times, minority patients will pull me aside or while I’m alone in the room with them tell me how proud they are or how they want to go to medical school one day. No matter what discrimination we may face, we must realize that the picture is so much bigger than that. We must continue to climb, to motivate, and to care for others the only way we know how. There’s should be no room for negativity in our minds. There will always be those who discriminate whether it be race, gender, body size, social class, anything! Unfortunately, that’s not going away anytime soon. We can either let it bring us down or continue to fight in pursuit of our dreams. I choose the latter.