Did you ever have a teacher who changed your course of your life? Someone whose habits, actions, insights and integrity made you want to follow in their footsteps? Members of Dell Medical School share personal stories of profound influencers in this blog series.
All members of the Dell Med community are welcome to submit stories of teachers or mentors whose character moved them and made a difference in their development.
In a Q&A below, Yvette Williams-Brown of Dell Med’s Department of Women’s Health discusses her influences in life and medicine.
How did you decide to become a physician? Why medicine?
I feel like I always wanted to become a physician. Even without there being doctors in my family, my parents said it’s something I always wanted to do. They didn’t graduate from college or have a connection to medicine, but they were my role models in this. The Cosby Show, too. It had a positive influence on me because it put being a physician on my radar.
When my cousin had a gynecological procedure, she said I looked like her doctor, and that sparked the idea that I could do it. The seeds were planted, and I had an ambition to take care of people. I initially thought I’d like to help women with reproductive and complex procedures, but I ended up in oncology too. When an opportunity comes up, I follow it. Now, there are so many pathways for younger women to pursue.
You cite your parents as role models. Can you elaborate on that?
Both of my parents had a strong influence on me. They knew the value of hard work and integrity, focusing efforts on doing the right thing and interacting with their community in a positive way.
In particular, my dad comes to mind. My dad was in the U.S. Army for 20 years, so we moved a lot, and at times he felt like he was missing our childhood. He was a tech and “fix it” guy, and we would do stuff around the house as a way of spending time together. My dad is smart and was valedictorian of his high school class, but as the oldest of nine kids, he didn’t have the opportunity to go to college and instead had to get a job and work. He made a lot out of a little, could stretch a dollar, and he could salvage things. I got my stubbornness and determination from him. My husband would say the same!
In what ways would you say those qualities helped you grow?
My dad and I butted heads. He was a hard-liner, and it was difficult to meet him in the middle. While my sister was more compliant, I would challenge him and say things like, “Why do we have to do it this way?”
My parents didn’t want me to go to New Orleans for college, but they didn’t stop me. I needed to go out on my own and figure things out for myself. My mom recently died at the age of 81. Now, my dad, who is in his late 70s, lives with me. It’s hard for him to ask for help. He’s had some surgeries, and he is getting better, but he wants to go back home to Alabama. It’s like me going to college — he’s determined to be independent and do things on his own. It’s flipped!
When I told my parents I wanted to buy them a house, they said not to focus on them, not to get good grades for them and so on, but to do things for myself because I wanted to. They did so much for me and my sister and gave us unwavering support, but they were tough with expectations, too, and that was instrumental. They always told us to be the best version of ourselves and reminded of us of the importance of family and people.
How do you carry these lessons in your everyday life?
I try to impart these perspectives in my students, too. I really want them to succeed. I try to help them understand to not be too hard on themselves. I ask them what their goal actually is and note that it shouldn’t be external validation. Improve yourself for yourself. Find the thing in you that makes you want to do it.
What’s your own lesson for others?
Your strength is how you contribute — love, service, doing for others — it’s good to help. It’s important to be emotionally generous and to support others. Contribution provides moments of happiness and pleasure.
As this relates to teaching and learning, I have high expectations, and that can be a positive or a negative. I think students see it as, “If you push me, you care about me and my success.” Teaching and learning are about contributing attentiveness and dedication. To foster that I might tell my students, “I know you can do better, and that is why I lean on you.” It’s nice to see them improve and reach their potential.
The Kern National Network for Caring & Character in Medicine (KNN) is a national network of seven medical schools dedicated to advance caring and character in medicine with the goal of promoting human flourishing. Guided by the principles of caring and character, the KNN provides a framework for training physicians, strengthening joy in medicine and improving health to promote human flourishing within, across and beyond the medical profession to positively impact individuals and communities in our society.
This initiative was made possible through support from the Kern National Network for Caring & Character in Medicine through an investment from the Kern Family Trust and Kern Family Foundation.