I vividly remember shadowing my attending as he worked through the afternoon’s patient list in his private Obstetrical/Gynecology clinic that dreary and cold March afternoon in the suburbs of Chicago. I was nearing the end of my third year of medical school and I was all set. I just had a few mandatory rotations to complete, like this one, and then I was free to pursue the specialty where I wanted to be – neurosurgery.
It sounded so cool, right? Dr. Bridget Hogan, Brain Surgeon. I loved surgery, loved caring for patients and their family in the throes of challenging circumstances, and I had been intrigued by the complicated anatomy of the neurological system. It was where I was headed… so I thought.
So there I was standing beside Dr. Karlman as he reviewed the manila chart of our last patient for the day; her chart was thick with a neon orange label reading “Recurrent Aborter” at the top of her Problem List. I jotted that term down in my pocket notebook so I could look that up later. I still had so much to learn.
Into the room we went. Room 3, second on the left, and the scene was UNFORGETTABLE. Sitting there was Ms. Recurrent Aborter, with her husband at her side in the scotch-guarded, late 90s fabric office chairs. They held hands awkwardly as they had to navigate the stiff, wooden armrests of one chair and the next. I was immediately aware of her blotchy and red-cheeked complexion and my heart sank as I saw the tear-stains on her shirt’s neckline from news she either already heard or had somehow suspected.
“Well,” Dr. Karlman began. “It looks like yes, indeed, you have miscarried again. Seven is not your lucky number I should say. But, don’t worry ma’am. Better luck next time.”
BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME?!
I was nauseated. I wanted to scream, cry, and collapse all at once. I reasoned I must have not heard him correctly. I bent my knees a little and cleared my throat to be sure I didn’t collapse or vomit amidst the tangible tension of the room, but without even pausing to sit down, my attending physician turned his back on the couple and put his hand on the sterile office doorknob.
Turning his head he added, “I will send in my nurse to go over the medications we want you to take and I will see you in 3-4 weeks. Have a nice weekend and try to stay dry out there.”
Exit Dr. Karlman.
This was my mandatory Ob/Gyn rotation. I wanted to get high marks, learn some things along the way, and then truly just get it over with. But this exchange gripped my heart more than anything else had to date.
I reached my hand to the couple’s interlocked embrace, sheepishly whispered a heartfelt, “I am so very sorry,” and then obediently followed Dr. Karlman’s grand exit.
It was there and then that I decided to change my residency applications to Ob/Gyn. My academic advisor was against it. With only one rotation left and my last year of medical school just around the corner, he reminded me it was too risky, irresponsible, and could possibly ruin my chances for any residency acceptance.
His advice was heard but you see, there was only ONE thing I was concerned about on that pivotal day, I knew then and there that DIVERSITY was of paramount importance in the workplace. In the early 2000s (when I was in medical school), women made up 32.4% of the medical workforce (www.thinkprogress.com). 75% of all US physicians were white (www.aamc.org). In Obstetrics/Gynecology, 64% of the practicing physicians were men (www.nytimes.com). With the presence of more women in medicine, I reasoned, we could only make the practice of medicine better. We needed women to hold the hands of patients and their families, in order to model compassion and empathy so that our medical arena could become more complete, more whole.
And this, my dear Hopers, is where my personal conviction for more diversity in the workplace began.
Women are critical for complete care of patients to take place in our healthcare system.
Doctors of different ethnicity and experience are vital for comprehensive patient care.
Disabled physicians are imperative if our spectrum of patient care and understanding is going to improve.
Same-sex oriented healthcare leaders are essential for attaining holistic care of our ever-changing patient population.
A workforce comprised of individuals who have learned to accept others’ backgrounds and experiences will be better prepared to care for the specific health concerns affecting our widely varied populations.
And this, my friends, should not be restricted to our healthcare system alone. Can you imagine our schools, restaurants, libraries, and workout facilities if the common good of every person was embraced, no matter what shade of skin tone or story they bear?
In fact, I can promise you it will only prepare us all for heaven.
“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth- to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of judgement has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’” Revelations 14:6-7