Standing on Strong Shoulders of Women

Celebrating the first woman MD and a woman MD's 1st book birthday

Today is National Women Physicians Day in the US and the first birthday of Creative Courage Press’ first book—written by a wise woman physician—Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being by Mukta Panda, MD.

The holiday was chosen for February 3 because that’s the birthday of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to earn the M.D. degree (in 1849). It takes courage to be a trailblazer, and woman are good at doing that! Those who go first create the conditions for those who follow in their footsteps, and for that we’re grateful.

Mukta Panda was inspired to become a physician in large part because her mother, Shashi Parashar, is also a physician/educator who practiced in India (she also wrote a memoir, Pillars of Strength: Five Generations of Extraordinary Women). Mukta’s father, Shyam Parashar, is a physician too (and he has a new book, My Tryst With Surgery).

I’m also a writing coach for another woman physician whose grandmother was the first woman in Vermont to receive a medical degree. But Sarah’s mother had to go to medical school in Mexico because married women with children had a hard time getting into U.S. medical schools in the 1970s. Those two strong woman blazed a trail of aspiration, inspiration and expectations for Sarah.

Today I saw an article in Publisher’s Weekly asking “Is Women’s Empowerment Coming to Publishing?” A range of adult and children’s book publishers answered this question: “Have recent public events surrounding the #MeToo movement impacted the kinds of books you acquire?

Here’s how the article starts:

Long before the #MeToo movement gave voice to women fed up with a culture of sexual predation and harassment, titles focused on the real issues facing women were finding publishers and readers. That movement’s uncompromising demand for social justice is echoed in a wave of new titles focused on women’s and girl’s empowerment, feminism, and the connection between those issues and the distinct problems faced by women of color.

I love that many editors said they’ve been devoted to empowering women long before #MeToo, and also that they’re taking bigger risks these days with books that shine a light on subjects previously considered taboo or too dark. Margaret O’Neill Marbury, V-P, editorial, Harlequin, was quoted saying, “We’ve always looked for books with strong female characters, but yes, we have wanted to acquire more books that support women’s freedoms or highlight female pioneers. A great example is Women in White Coats by Olivia Campbell, a nonfiction account of America’s first female doctors.” [Coming March 21, 2021.]

I looked up the book and guess what? It tells the story of three women pioneers: “Motivated by personal loss and frustration over inadequate medical care, Elizabeth Blackwell, Lizzie Garret Anderson and Sophie Jex-Blake fought for a woman’s place in the male-dominated medical field… With gripping storytelling based on extensive research and access to archival documents, Women in White Coats tells the courageous history these women made by becoming doctors, detailing the boundaries they broke of gender and science to reshape how we receive medical care today.”

Resilient Threads is an inspiring memoir that shines a light on issues like the epidemic of physician burnout, depression, suicide, as well as challenges of being an immigrant from India who has at times experienced overt and subtle discrimination. It’s also the story of a mother struggling to wear the multiple hats that working women juggle. That makes it a story of women’s empowerment—of soul deep, system-wide self-care. I bet you’ll find it inspiring whether you’re a physician or not, or the parent of a medical student or resident, or the patient cared for by a female physician.

The women doctors I know do not want to be called heroes, and they’re too humble to call themselves trailblazers or pioneers, but they are inspiring and encouraging not only to me but to the generations of young women to follow!

On this National Women Physicians Day, I hope you’ll reach out to a woman doctor you know to say THANK YOU! and YOU GO, GIRL! If you’d like to gift her a copy of Resilient Threads, you can order a copy from your favorite bookseller. See links here.

I’m also excited to share that Mukta and I are co-facilitating a retreat in March based on Resilient Threads and The Courage Way (the book I wrote for the Center for Courage & Renewal, which launched three years ago this week).  Our retreat is called Reframing Resilience, Renewing Leadership and is open to people of any profession. See details here if you’d like to join us!