“My First ‘No’: I’ve been waiting 14 years to share this story. Please take the time to read.
At 31 years of age, today marks the completion of:
1. Four years of a medical magnet school
2. Four years as a Neuroscience Major (B.S.)
3. Four years of Medical School (M.D.)
4. Five years of Orthopedic Surgery Residency
5. One year of Fellowship in Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery
That is 18 years of training, 14 years post high school. It is interesting as a child when you tell someone you want to be a doctor when you grow up…they believe and encourage you. Mostly because it is so far in the future and no normal human would even think of crushing a child’s dream. But the closer you get to accomplishing your dreams, the easier it is for people to discourage you and marginalize your goals.
In elementary school, I was the little girl who wanted to be a doctor, it was cute. Middle school I excelled, scored high and when I told teachers I wanted to be a doctor, they were all for it. High school, I was in a medical magnet school, took AP classes and it was a no brainer. I said I wanted to be a doctor, the response was always positive.
Along this path I entered college at the University of Miami, the best school in Florida. I was accepted to the Neuroscience program. The real journey was about to begin. With this journey would come many people, teachers, advisors, professors who would tell me that I could not and would not make it to M.D. Up until college, the idea of becoming a doctor was entertained and encouraged. Like I said earlier, as a little Black child it’s only perceived as a dream, not as a journey that will actually manifest.
The road to me obtaining an M.D. and later becoming an Orthopaedic Hand Surgeon was riddled with ‘No’. But last week, after a long day of surgery, I sat back and reflected on the first time I heard ‘I don’t think you can make it,’ or in simpler terms, when I heard my first ‘No.’
My first ‘No’ came my freshman year of college. I completed my first semester and had to meet with my freshman advisor. I met with Dr. Victoria Noriega, a beautiful intelligent woman that as a freshman I looked up to. I reviewed my grades with her. I had a B in biology, the rest were A’s. I’ll never forget when she told me I would not get into medical school. My grades were not high enough. She then proceeded to say, minorities do better in health related psychology fields. This was my first semester of college. She was the first person to tell me, I couldn’t make it to M.D., but she wouldn’t be the last.
Imagine, at 17, if I had listened to this advice from my advisor. The resulting cascade:
1. Never going to medical school to obtain my M.D.
2. If I did not move to Atlanta to attend medical school, I would never have met my pastor Michael L. McCrimmon , who ultimately introduced me to my husband Correll Bilbrew.
3. I would never have completed 5 years of Orthopedic Surgery and become the second African American from the oldest Orthopedic Training program in Texas.
4. I would not be graduating today as the first African American Female Hand and Upper Extremity Fellow at The University of Florida.
I’ve heard many No’s. I would not get into medical school. I should not be a surgeon because then, ‘I couldn’t get manicures and my hands would be constantly dry from scrubbing my hands from surgery’ (real comment from a medical school professor). I was told, ‘I fit better as a Family Practice physician’, because I don’t have the demeanor of a physician. I was told when scrubbed in to a surgery with an Orthopaedic Surgeon during the time I was applying to residency that ‘I would never get into an orthopedic residency; he would never vote for me to get in.’
You see, there are many No’s along my journey. I can honestly say not once did any No deter me. It literally went in one ear, out the other and in the garbage can. It never stopped my grind and that is why 14 years after that incident I’m graduating.
Be careful when you tell someone No. Today I have at least a dozen minorities I am mentoring to also become an orthopedic surgeon. How sad would it be if I heeded that first No. Imagine if instead of no, I heard ‘how can I help you get there.’ The closer you get to accomplishing your dreams, the easier it is for people to discourage you and marginalize your goals. Keep Striving.” ~ Dr. Lattisha L. Bilbrew, Orthopedic Hand and Upper Extremity Surgeon.