Becoming Dr Em
I’m often asked how I knew that I wanted to be a doctor. The answer is that I don’t know how - I just always wanted to be one, for as long as I can remember. There were definitely memories of experiences that may have helped to confirm my aspiration, but also plenty that could have turned me away from that path.
There was an exercise in 3rd grade where we were each given a cut-out photo of our face, and were told to draw what we wanted to be - these pictures were later compiled for the school yearbook. I drew a picture of a nurse because back then even though I actually wanted to be a doctor because I didn’t believe that girls could be doctors. Any kind of doctor.
I didn’t believe that girls could be doctors
In 6th grade, I had a chance to see the inside of a hospital when my mom was having gallbladder surgery. I distinctly recall waiting in the hallways with the strong smell of lysol disinfectant, and being impressed by the sterile and hygienic environment. I approved of the orderly distribution of food trays and medication, and was fascinated by the tiny vial full of marble sized gallstones that the surgeon showed me.
I remember watching this TV series called Trapper John MD, which featured a young renegade surgeon named Gonzo who flouted the formality and conventions of medicine. It was a spin-off from the popular series MASH, which was famously full of sexist humor, and both shows stuck firmly to the male doctor and female nurse stereotypes. Nonetheless, somehow by then I no longer believed that women couldn’t be doctors.
The only family support for this dream came from my maternal grandmother, who had largely raised me. My father was frankly dubious of my academic ability and my mom simply advised me to marry a doctor instead. But my grandma Nei Nei staunchly believed that I could do anything that I wanted.
I wish I could say that it was an easy path. The truth is that I stumbled many times, and while I doubted and second guessed myself so many times along the way, I never wavered in my conviction that it was what I wanted - I had simply believed for so long that I was meant to be a doctor, and I knew that I was willing to keep trying no matter what.
It has been my privilege to have known and worked with so many amazing and accomplished women doctors, professionals, executives. We have all experienced the questioning, the self-doubt, the imposter syndrome. We have believed that our self worth must be measured by how much others value us, and that we must keep giving.
I am enough, and I always have been
After every stage of training, I looked for the affirmation of my identity - expecting that it would come after graduating from medical school, residency, fellowship, But even after rising up through the ranks of academic medicine leadership with all the prestigious-sounding titles like Associate Chair, Associate Medical Director and Chief of Medical Staff, it still felt like something was missing.
It’s taken me years to recognize that I can be proud of my accomplishments, but ultimately my worthiness does not come from external validation. I am enough, and I always have been. My work now to connect more deeply with the inner child who knew she wanted to be a doctor, before I acquired any limiting beliefs. I can’t wait to find out what she can do.
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