Giving Back as Women in Medicine

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An Rx for Personal Growth

Mary Guinan, MD, PhD, learned the concept of giving back at her mother’s knee.

“She gave the same message to all of us, ‘Make something of yourself, go out, do something,’’ she recalled. “And also to do public service. Do something to improve the lives of others. Look what you’ve been given. You’ve been born in the best country in the world. You have this freedom. You can do anything you want. You have to give back.”

Dr. Guinan is passionate about public health. She is the founding dean of the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. As a scientist and a physician she was among the first in American to identify the emerging AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, working to research sexually transmitted diseases.

But that wasn’t enough. She also championed educating the public about STDs and how to prevent spreading diseases.

Carola Eisenberg, MD, gave back because she was deeply concerned when she heard colleagues advise their children not to go into medicine.

“I heard it so many times that I got tired to hear those people were creating doubts,” she recalled. “I just felt that I had to tell, at the larger level, how I felt about medicine. And I felt and I feel and I will always feel that it is a privilege to be a physician.”

So she began sharing her thoughts to encourage talented, compassionate individuals to pursue medicine.

“I have experiences, so many, and many of them where I felt that an individual has opened their heart, and they were telling me things that they never told any human being; that they were trusting me,” she said. “They have hopes that I will be able to help them. They became individuals that were suffering, but gave me the opportunity to help them. And by helping them, I help myself in some ways, or reinforced my compassion in that way and my empathy for the suffering.”

She went on to become a leader in human rights work through Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which she co-founded.

Ellen Gritz, PhD, was deeply grateful for the lifesaving care her husband received for cancer. She showed her thanks in a tangible way, helping others deal with the devastating experience of having a loved one with cancer.

“I volunteered to run patient family groups in the community hospital where my husband had been treated, and I did that for about eight years,” she said. “I volunteered my time once a week; I ran a group. And anyone who came, anyone who wanted to could come, and it was a way I had of giving back to the community, and also in thankfulness for my husband’s life. “

That also impacted her work in cancer and diseases related to smoking. She became interested in the psychosocial aspects of cancer and how to help survivors.

“How cancer affected the patient, the family, the survivorship experience, and I met some colleagues at UCLA in psychiatry who were also deeply interested in that,” she said. “And we got, I think, one of the very first grants given by the American Cancer Society on testicular cancer, on a prospective study of testicular cancer, of couples and psychological issues, and survivorship. I think it was probably one of the first survivorship studies done.”

Women in medicine give back in ways large and small every day. Choose to support other women in medicine this year – donate to the Foundation.

Alicia Lazzaro