There are people who inspire you from afar. I first met Dr. Terri Major-Kincade in 2002 when she was featured on a Lifetime tv series, ‘Women docs.’ I was a twenty-one year old mom with two small children and had a dream of becoming a physician. At the time it seemed like a huge feat. I remember watching one particular episode where they followed her and I was motivated to continue pursuing my dream. It’s a great pleasure for me to introduce her to you all these years later!
What made you choose medicine and why Neonatology specifically?
My sister was a 1 ½ pound preterm infant born in 1968 at 24-26 wks. She was born at a time when most infant’s that size died because we didn’t have the technology or meds to save them. In fact, she was born just 3 years after President Kennedy lost his son to preterm birth. I was fascinated by the fact that she was small enough to fit into the palm of your hand and that she began her early days growing in a plastic box called an incubator. I decided then I wanted to be the kind of doctor who took care of the baby’s that could fit in your hand. The baby’s that fit in the plastic boxes. I later learned that those doctors were called neonatologists and that neonatologists were pediatricians who specialized in the care of preterm infants and sick term infants.
As a black woman in medicine, what have been your biggest challenges?
I’ve had many challenges as a black woman in medicine. As a pediatric resident I was told by a family that they didn’t want a “N” word taking care of their baby. You may meet people like that..but you have to take care of them anyway. I have been in clinical rounds where disparaging comments/assumptions were made about patients of color and felt that I could not speak up. But the hardest challenge has been being comfortable being the only one that looks like me at the table. Presence being the only one at the table. Being comfortable at the table in my skin, my hair, my body and my being comfortable with being labeled an angry black woman because I chose to advocate for a patient as well as myself. Expecting that I will have to work twice as hard ….and sometimes still not be acknowledged for the work that I do but staying the course because at the end of the day it’s about the patients and knowing that my mere presence may make it easier for the next generation.
What 3 lessons would you impart to the up and coming young black female physician that you wish you had known earlier on in your training and your first few of years as an attending?
One of the main things I would like to be able to say to my younger self and to those behind me is that it is going to be okay. Often things seem bleak, hard, impossible as a medical student/resident/junior faculty and you are just trying to survive…but it will get better… and you will be fine. Even if there are challenges with board exams or specific rotations you will be fine. I would also remind myself to learn early to protect my off time. Medicine is a jealous mistress and all encompassing …its so easy to lose track of the days, weeks, and months. Finally I would encourage myself to network…expand beyond my comfort zone..you never know when those connections will open new doors.
What is a typical day like for you?
I am currently working locums tenens as a travel neonatologist and my schedule varies quite a bit. I primarily work 24/7 2-4 days at a time from 7am to 7pm. My day typically starts with attending a few scheduled C-Sections for routine deliveries. Following that I round in the ICU Nursery on the sick babies…both preterm babies or term babies with significant illness. Once I have examined the patients and updated family I enter the orders for the day into the computer and complete the electronic notes for care which may take several hours. Following rounds on the sick infants I will do rounds on the normal newborns and discharge those patients that are scheduled to go home. Throughout the day at any given time there may be emergency deliveries to attend and new sick babies that are admitted to the ICU nursery. I typically am able to lie down between Midnight and 5 am but this is variable. I work primarily nights so I am used to making sure I can go into REM sleep almost immediately!! You never know when you will be called to a delivery! 😊
What is your biggest accomplishment?
I would say my biggest professional accomplishment is wining Physician of the Year as a Junior Faculty and most recently writing a bestselling book for parents of preemies, Early Arrival: 9 Things Parents need to know about Life in the ICU Nursery.. But along the way I’ve had many accomplishments both professionally and personally and I treasure them all. On a personal note my biggest accomplishment is being happily married for almost 24 years despite all that a career in medicine has challenged me with…I have many friends who cannot say the same and I am grateful.
What is your greatest or proudest moment?
My proudest moment without a doubt has been the birth of my two amazing children. They are the loves of my life and my reason for being. My daughter was born during my fellowship training for neonatology …it was the hardest year of my training for sure and I spent the night at the hospital every 3rd night. My husband is the main reason I saw her at all and would bring her to the hospital often…having a supportive spouse is so important to balancing being a wife, a mother and a physician.She is now a Junior in college pursuing a pre-vet career..she is an amazing child! My son was born immediately after fellowship ended and added a new challenge to being a junior attending. He was born with some special needs and is doing wonderfully now…when I look at his success and all that he has overcome I am very proud of him.
What is the best advice you have received?
The best advice that I have ever received was from my mother. ..her advice for overcoming adversity. What is the worst thing that could happen? Can you overcome that? What tools would help you to overcome that? How can you get those tools? There have been many challenges in my medical career. Those who didn’t believe I could become a physician. Challenges with board exams. Those who dismissed me for changing career paths to make my family first…but through it all I’ve only become stronger. I wouldn’t trade anything for my journey and am grateful for it all. On a personal note my personal mantra is based on my life verse, Galatians 6:9: Do not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a reward if we do not give up!”
How do you find balance?
Ha…Ha…Ha. This question makes me laugh. I have had many periods over my 20 year career where it was clear that I had no idea how to find balance. Times were work took precedence over my marriage, my children, my life. At one point my children were in a 24hr daycare because of challenges with balancing work life balance. I have had times where sleep, exercise, relaxation, church, vacations were all rare and at a premium and I believe that was okay. It was not and I experienced depression. I now understand what my life looks like when it’s out of balance and I quickly take steps to overcome that. My husband is the primary reason I am able to stay grounded. He is not in the medical field and he keeps me sane.. When my children were younger and I made the decision to leave academia I only worked weekend nights which allowed me weekdays to spend time with the children, do homework and do family dinner time. I make it a point to get at least 5-6 hours a sleep a night, naps and bubble baths. . I have a date night with my husband at least once a week. I read constantly…averaging a new book every 2 weeks and my favorite past time is listening to music, watching movies or board games and jigsaw puzzles. I try to keep them around. I find for me my life is ideally balanced when I am only working every other week.