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From Teacher to Psychiatrist With Family

From Teacher to Psychiatrist With Family

By Leah J. Dickstein, MD, AMWA Past President

I don’t know why, but I recall wanting to become a psychiatrist since the age of eight. Only as an adult did I discover two male psychiatrist and male psychologist cousins. Raised in a happy nuclear and extended family, I also hoped to marry and have a family.

As a 17-year old first-year Brooklyn College student, I was told by noted psychologist and irst year adviser that I had no scientific ability. So I became an elementary school teacher and, instead, supported my husband through his medical training. Then we agreed it was my turn, and I completed the prerequisites as we joyfully welcomed our first child. After a series of applications, I enrolled at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, an institution with a family-friendly curriculum suitable for my unique situation.

In medical school, I was one of six women; two of us were mothers. During the academic year, Stuart was cared for by a wonderful baby-sitter and later at a day care center. I studied early and late, reserving most Saturdays for leisurely excursions to the park. I also took summers off to be a full-time mother, well aware that my classmates were meanwhile gaining useful research experience. My priorities were clear. My goal was to rank in the middle of the class, and I avoided leadership opportunities in order to spend more time at home. I accepted my position as a nontraditional student despite the lack of role models.

My family grew during my internship and residency years, and by the time I joined the University of Louisville psychiatry department as a faculty member, I was the mother of three. During those early years, much of my time and energy were focused on the children. Although I did not neglect my professional responsibilities, my full-time academic career did not begin until much later. In the meantime, I developed education programs in response to the clinical needs I observed in students, one program being the University Student Mental Health Service. As my children grew, I involved them in my work. All three young men are in their own careers now, the younger two completing residency training in pediatrics and adult and child psychiatry, yet they still remain close-knit as brothers and close to us.

Of paramount importance, we as women physicians must first know ourselves honestly. We must recognize life’s different stages and that goals may and should change with time. Don’t make life choices that will result in life regrets. Respect yourself, your values and decisions. Don’t hide from yourself. Being a wife, mother, and physician have all been extraordinary experiences. I would not have wanted to miss any.

Reprinted from This Side of Doctoring:  Reflections from Women in Medicine with permission of the author. Meet Dr. Dickstein at the AMWA Annual Meeting in Miami where she will be speaking on the panel – Women in Medicine: Then and Now.

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