What made you choose medicine and why Geriatrics specifically?
I always say that you don’t choose medicine, it chooses you. People will try to talk you out of medicine. They tell you how hard it is but most physicians know that going in and welcome the challenge. I have always loved science and I love learning so I took on the challenge to become a physician. Why do I stay in medicine may be a better question. I really enjoy making a difference in my patients’ lives and in my community.
Geriatrics also chose me. I remember being in Family Medicine residency and just loving spending time with older patients. I really appreciated their outlook on life having gone through WWI, WWII, the Great Depression, Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and so many other historical events and their ability to survive these periods and still have such vibrancy is fascinating. I am working on resilience research and I guess that would be the word to describe them: resilient. It is also an interesting field with many patients having complex medical problems and memory concerns. But there are also completely healthy 100 year olds. I love the diversity and complexity of working with older adults.
As a black woman in medicine, what have been your biggest challenges?
One of the struggles with being black in America is that you never feel like you fit in. The problem with America though is that we undervalue diversity. People should not have to feel like they need to fit into a certain box. I think that I have always embraced my differences when it comes to certain things but struggled with others. For example, since high school I have loved wearing interesting earrings and I still do that now. For many black women our struggle has been our hair and what to do with it. I used relaxers from childhood until I started residency. I love that natural hair is so common now that many people appreciate the diversity of hair textures and styles. But of course sometimes you get negative comments. I am just saying that it is a journey every day as a black professional to be who we want to be and educate people that our differences are what attract patients to us. So be yourself.
What 3 lessons would you impart to the up and coming young black female physician that you wish you had known in your training or first few years as an attending?
- Be yourself and continuously explore what that means to you
- Stay active. Exercise will help you maintain your mind, patience, and health
- Find your tribe. A lot of black women are alone in their departments so it is important to network and choose your tribe wisely so that you may call on them in the hard times and spend time together sharing experiences in the good times.
What is a typical day like for you?
Currently I work in an outpatient clinic so I work business hours. Last year I was doing nursing home work so I will give an example of a typical day in an academic nursing home:
9 am-1 pm go into the nursing home and spend time on the dementia or hospice or long term care units addressing the acute or chronic needs of these patients.
2-6 pm go to the skilled rehabilitation unit to round on the patients who have been transferred from the hospital for a short stay with the fellows, nurses, and physical/occupational therapists. After rounds we work on admissions orders and reports for people being transferred to us from the hospital. We also work on discharging patients to home and making sure that their needs for this transition are met.
What is your biggest accomplishment? Being a part of the team that started that first Skilled Rehabilitation SIBR Rounds in the US.
What is your greatest or proudest moment? Seeing my picture on the nursing home wall and people actually recognizing me from that photo
What is the best advice you have received on this journey? Even when things seem unfair in your training programs or career. Work hard and look at the bigger picture to move on.
How do you find balance? I take time to exercise and spend time with my husband. I go on vacation often. You just have to prioritize things and have your non-negotiables.