Industry Voices—Doctors reveal the women in their lives who inspired them to pursue a career in medicine

Doctor with patient
Doximity asked its network of female doctors to highlight the women who have inspired them to pursue a career in medicine. (Getty/isayildiz)

International Women’s Day happens to fall within the same month as National Doctor’s Day and Residency Match Day.

While this is a coincidence, we can’t help but look back on the healthcare industry’s complicated history with female physicians and how far it has come in terms of gender equality.

Today, data shows that the majority of young physicians are female, but this has not always been the case. In 1965, only one in 10 U.S. medical students were women. There are now more female physicians in the field than ever and our studies show that the wage gap between male and female physicians is steadily closing.

But it still takes immense amounts of courage, patience and drive to become a physician. Having a mentor or role model can be essential when choosing this career path, particularly for women, who may not have grown up seeing as many female physicians in the doctor’s office. 

Photo of woman
Shari Buck (Doximity)

In recognition of International Women’s Day—celebrated on the 8th of March every year around the world as a focal point in the movement for women’s rights—we asked our network of female doctors to highlight the women who have inspired them to pursue a career in medicine.

RELATED: Report—Gender pay gap narrows, but physician wages plateau

Here are some of their stories:

  • “My mother, Ruth McDavid, a black woman who graduated from college in 1931, encouraged me to be all that I am today. She taught in a coal mining town in East Tennessee, got married, raised a family and then went back to work when I was three. She ended her career in the Defense Department with high-security clearance, traveled the world, was a Senior Life Master in bridge, and learned to drive at 50. Her passion for life has driven me to strive for excellence as a physician.” – Lolita McDavid, M.D.
     
  • “My mother was one of two women in her medical school class in Tehran. Strong, smart, reliable, maternal and just the best mom ever. I am so lucky and blessed to have her as not just my mom, but also a role model. She inspires me to be the best mom and physician I can be.” – Cyma Khalily, M.D.
     
  • “Hedda Acs, a diminutive Hungarian Holocaust survivor, was inspired to become a pediatrician and neonatologist after taking care of children in hiding. She was gifted, and with her gentle demeanor, managed to keep many tough doctors in line and teach them her wonderful ways of caring for babies. Her tutelage is what inspired me to make neonatology my first career.”– Faye Teichman, M.D.

RELATED: Salary negotiations—Advice for female physicians who want equitable pay

  • “Dr. Bickel, a pediatrician in 1940’s Houston, Texas cared for me when I had rheumatic fever at age four. She likely saved me from severe complications and inspired me to become a pediatric radiologist. I still think of her and remember how great of a doctor she was.” –Gayle Bickers, M.D.
     
  • "My two grandmothers were very different but both very influential in my life. My grandmother Celia, who immigrated from Poland as a teen, raised four children and never had an opportunity to go to school. She learned to read and write in her 60s by attending a kindergarten class, as no adult education was available. She always encouraged me to work hard in school so that I would have opportunities that she did not have. My step-grandmother Louise became an osteopathic physician in the 1930s and had to fight to get an internship as she was a woman. She went on to practice medicine and delivered me when I was born. She always talked about treating patients even if they could not pay, inspiring me with her devotion. She practiced until she died during my first year of medical school." – Barbara Silver, M.D.

Medicine is one of the hardest career paths someone can choose. Luckily, there appear to be a number of mothers, physicians, teachers, friends, and family members who are inspiring the next generation to take on the challenge. As the wage gap continues to close and more women enroll in medical school, the industry should take a moment to thank the women who have helped to make healthcare what it is today.

Shari Buck is co-founder of Doximity, the professional medical network.

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