Written by: Joanne Christy
Dr. Patricia Dawson is currently medical director of the Swedish Cancer Institute Breast Program in Seattle, Washington. She loves her career in medicine and would do it all over again if she could. Dr. Dawson started as a chemistry major before switching to sociology. She did not intend to practice medicine, and she was even accepted to New York University for a law degree. But her father, a general practitioner, had a friend in OB-GYN, and he encouraged her to go to medical school, especially as a person of color. Thus she went back to college and finished her premed requirements.
Dr. Dawson then graduated from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 1977 and was one of approximately 30 women. Women represented less than a quarter of her graduating class. A memorable moment in her career was during her internal medicine rotation in which she decided chronic disease management was not for her. However, when she started surgery, she fell in love with the instant gratification and found her calling at a time when only two women were on surgery faculty. She has particularly enjoyed the evolution of her practice from where she started as a general surgeon for 5-10 years, to focusing exclusively on breast surgery. Breast surgery has such an impact on all aspects of a woman’s life and she enjoys being a part of that journey. In addition, it is still a surgical specialty but has an aspect of continuity of care and building relationships with the patients as in medicine.
Dr. Dawson went back to graduate school to study Human Organizational Systems. For her degree (and for herself), she wrote her dissertation on surgery and women of color. Early in her career she was exhausted by her work and realized it was because she was thinking of her patients as empty vessels she needed to fill, and this was very draining. However, she learned that patients can also be resources, and medical care should be done together as a team, and not one sided. Dr. Dawson’s advice for all those pursuing a medical career is to keep an open mind and get exposure to different parts of medicine to find your passion. Even if it is difficult or not what you thought, you can make any specialty work if you are flexible and have the drive to do it.