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Pearls from Yale's 100 Years of Women in Medicine: Wrap of East Coast Visit


As if my East Coast week wasn’t packed enough! Yale Medical School held a daylong Celebration and Reflection of 100 Years of Women, so hopped the train for New Haven.

Wasn’t in my med school note-taking mode, so, rather than insightful commentary or musing reflections, shar

ing the best take away pearls from the conference. (Not sure if pearls is a general term, but in medicine, "pearls are best defined as small bits of free standing, clinically relevant information based on experience or observation". And apologies to both you and the speakers, attributions and precise context lacking.)

In no particular order:

“Aim high.

Always ask for what you want.

When a piece of luck falls in your lap, take it.

And take a flying leap of faith.”

“Don’t learn what you don’t want to do!” Advice totally counter to “have something to fall back on!" Might be the only way to spend your life in fallback position!

“Want an interesting career? Follow the questions.”

“I gave you the worst project because I didn’t think you’d stay with it.” Harvard post doc advisor to his female mentee, after she successfully completed it.

“Greater than 40% women in a space changes the climate.” Until then…

“When one is in the minority, one undervalues one’s self.”

Lunch highlight, Panel Discussion: What is it like to be a woman in medicine from an underrepresented minority? YES! Wondering how things have changed since my training years, anticipate cross-generational, multiple minority perspective. WRONG! Three of the four panelists were white! Their under represented minorities? Two of the four were surgeons, one Ob-Gyn and Therapeutic Radiology! Yes, women are underrepresented in many medical specialties, particularly surgery, but reminded, majority of affirmative action gains have been for white women. The 4th was an African American Psychiatrist.By noon, I was dialed in.

Kid you not. No Asians, South Asians, Native Americans or Latinas, one African American, when the topic is underrepresented minorities!!!

Planners and panel took some serious heat, mainly from minority medical students who, as I, attended in hopes of hearing our stories. Worst thing is, no one on the planning committee or whatever forums vet these things, picked that up!

When we don't have a seat at the table, we are unseen. Though we can claim progress, the dilemma is visually illustrated by USA soap advertisements a century apart, below.

Not so much difference between the Dove commercial pulled in recent memory and the old Fairy Soap ad in terms of implications, bias and judgement.

About the panel, I was stunned, though not shocked. Apologies were made. But perhaps we need greater than 40% minority at the table to change that climate!

On isolation and discrimination in medical school:

One of Virginia Alexander’s (an African American woman who won a scholarship to University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine 1899-1949) professors at Women’s Medical College “took especial delight in retelling to his classes, where there were colored students, every discreditable, dirty and insulting story about colored people he could think of.” W.E.B. DuBois “Can a Woman Be A Physician?” 1933

“Humankind might be divided into three groups: Men, women, and women physicians.” William Osler, MD c.1900

“It wasn’t a very big deal to be and African American at Yale, but it was much more of a challenge to be a woman…a woman, when a question was tossed out, would answer it, and it would be as if (it)…hadn’t happened. Later on a man would say the same thing – the same thing - and they’d say, God John, that was so fabulous.” Beatrix Ann (McCleary) Hamburg (1923-2018) First African American woman to graduate from Yale School of Medicine

Juanita L. Merchant, M.D., PhD, an African American whose research contributed to the understanding of the gastric response to chronic inflammation, was asked, after her keynote address in the Science Section describing her research, “How do you deal with unconscious bias?”

“Keep moving forward. Put blinders on. Reduce your stress.”

Some random pearls:

“Women of color tend to be casualties of other people’s blind spots. Structures and facilities that accommodate us are often afterthoughts. We have to fight for what we need.”

“Success is not Final, Failure is not Fatal: it is the Courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill.

“Make decisions that maximize the joy in your life.”

“Knowledge is our passport to realize our dreams.”

“Kindness matters.”

And from a final slide, Things I Learned Along The Way

“It takes time to live.” Albert Camus

”Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

”Think like a queen a queen is not afraid to fail.” Oprah Winfrey

And this one is my favorite:

“I don’t like to gamble but if there’s one thing I’m willing to bet on, it's myself.” Beyoncé

Taking the summer to write. (And stretch out in and re-feather my now empty nest! Performances resume in the fall. Details to follow.

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