What was my biggest obstacle?
My responses to childhood and adolescent experiences were influenced primarily by my deafness, and were focused on simply surviving as a deaf child in a hearing world, rather than on conforming to sex role expectations. While being a deaf girl was more of a handicap than being a deaf boy, the decrement due to sex was small compared to that due to deafness. Attributes such as initiative and assertiveness which I developed to cope with the handicap of deafness conflicted with expected female behavior of that time, but enabled sexist barriers to be ignored or relatively easier to overcome. I enjoyed a relative lack of exposure to sexist attitudes because of the communication barrier and also because I was not considered an eligible female.
It took me seventeen years from my first application to medical school to the time I was accepted, and along the way I earned a master's and a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology, and had a University academic career. Yet I never lost sight of my goal, better described as singleness of purpose. Once I made my commitment to medicine, there was no looking back, not just to stand on the frontier of the unheard-of, but to build a bridge for others to cross.
The biggest obstacle was in overcoming attitudinal barriers. In 1963 I met all the qualifications for medical school admission as I did in 1979. In 1977 I wrote Health Education and Welfare Secretary [Joseph] Califano, who was considering the provisions of Section 504: "I am a thirty-five year old deaf woman who has wanted to be a doctor of medicine since early childhood. I have encountered resistance and discrimination at every step from grade school through graduate work to a Ph.D...thus the enthusiasm, expertise, and dedication I could provide to health care...is denied...When will our equal educational opportunities be protected under the law? Fifteen yearshow much longer do I have to wait?" Secretary Califano signed Section 504 after concerted collective action, and I was accepted into medical school two years later. Other factors involved in becoming a physician include serendipity, technological advances (modification of an oscilloscope for auscultation of heart and lung sounds), mentors, and support services such as interpreters.
How do I make a difference?
As a pathologist and the transfusion service director of a major Los Angeles County medical center with a trauma center, I enjoy the best of both worldsthe practice of transfusion medicine directly benefiting patients, consulting other physicians in their practices, teaching medical residents in transfusion medicine (which impacts most specialties), diagnosing cancer, doing autopsies, serving on committees, and conducting varied research, using my research background. My Ph.D. dissertation in 1971 on the phylogeny [growth and development] of immunity, was dedicated "to my future patients" eight years before I was accepted into medical school.
Who was my mentor?
The support and encouragement of mentors was one of the many factors involved in becoming a scientist and physician. Professional development is as dependent on the actions of colleagues and superiors as on one's own efforts. Some mentors were powerful scientists. There was the assistant professor, the only female faculty member in the department, under whom I studied for my master's. There was the department chairman who invited me to work in his laboratory so I could finish my Ph.D. research. There was the eminent immunologist, on the cover of Time magazine, whose wife told him about my Ph.D. dissertation, who offered me one of his postdoctoral appointments, which were very competitive and highly prized. This smoothed my way for years afterward. Later as assistant professor I came full circle and myself became a mentor, with a young woman obtaining her master's under me, just two weeks before I entered medical school. During medical school, there were three clinicians who took extra time to teach auscultation with the oscilloscope I used, and an internist who trusted me with clinical care of all his in-house patients. There were two women physiciansone an assistant director of a family practice program; the other an obstetrician-gynecologistwho enabled me to gain clinical externship experience. All those mentors were in positions of power, and felt secure enough to feel unthreatened by a deaf woman who dared aspire to the same goals.
How has my career evolved over time?
My career has evolved from Ph.D. biological research in microbiology and immunology with two post-doctorate fellowships to being an university faculty member, then being a student again in medical school with a residency and chief residency of five years in pathology, to a fellowship in transfusion medicine and blood banking, to laboratory director of a small county laboratory, to my present position practicing as an hospital pathologist and transfusion service director and using my scientific and medical background in the practice of medicine, teaching, and research. As we become older and more mature, we pass into a stage where we give more community service, and I was glad to be medical director of the World Games for the Deaf in 1985, with the same venues as the 1984 Olympics, and supervise three hundred medical volunteers over ten sites.