By Ashanda Saint Jean, MD, FACOG
As we move through Black History Month, I reflect on being a Black female physician in obstetrics and gynecology. I have built my career on the foundation of three words: vision, responsibility, and legacy.
I have envisioned becoming a physician since childhood. I would say I was around the age of 10 years old when I first answered, “I want to be a doctor,” when my maternal grandmother, who immigrated to the United States via Ellis Island from the small Caribbean island of Anegada for a better life, asked me what I wanted to be. At first it was to make my family proud. The eyes of the elders always brightened when I expressed my desire to become a doctor. There was a pride and immense joy that engulfed their spirits when they heard my future goal and all encouraged my journey and supported my vision. Many offered instructions like “study hard” or “if others can do it, you can too.” Other elder family members placed their early medical requests, saying, “when you become a doctor, fix my back or take care of my neck pain.” All were nurturing and supportive.
Perseverance in school and a strong work ethic that I inherited from my father made my dream possible, along with my family supporting me every step of the way. The tremendous responsibility to the practice of medicine and our patients was taught in medical school and embodied by my attending physicians during my residency years. I had such passionate teachers who taught the importance of judgement-free respectful care, a patient-centered approach, cultural sensitivity, empathy, and compassion, which together encompass our responsibility to all patients.
Lastly, legacy. My legacy will be one of creating systems that address racial disparities and social determinants of health, provide health care equity and access, and promote a prosperous life journey for all patients that is fulfilled by health care, not negatively impacted by it.
“Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” —Harriet Tubman