In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell, MD became the first women in America to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. She was inspired to pursue medicine by a dying friend who felt that her experience would have been better if a woman physician had treated her.
After having numerous medical schools reject her application because she was a woman, Dr. Blackwell was eventually allowed to attend New York’s Geneva Medical College ‘as a joke’ and graduated first in her class. She went on to open the Women’s Medical College in New York City and the New York Infirmary for Women and Children to provide jobs for female physicians. Dr. Blackwell paved the way for women in medicine and served as a role model for those who dreamed of becoming a doctor, including many here at Tri-City.
“In high school, I liked science, physiology and anatomy,” said Kristen Nassery, MD, a board-certified colorectal surgeon at Coastal Surgeons, which is affiliated with Tri-City Medical Center (TCMC). “I considered a career as a scientist to be like my uncle, but through work and school experience, I found that I preferred working with people. This ultimately led me down the path of becoming a physician.”
“During medical school, I realized that I liked working with my hands,” added Dr. Nassery. “I shadowed a surgeon and the first surgery I saw was an esophagectomy for a patient who had esophageal cancer. It was amazing to see that by removing this large tumor, you could really make a difference in a patient’s life. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.”
Reyzan Shali, MD, a board-certified internist at Tri-City Primary Care, believes it was her natural instinct to care for people and ease their pain that led her to become a doctor. “I attended medical school in Baghdad but felt that I was limited in what I could do, that I was boxed in. So, I took a leap of faith and came to the US, leaving behind my wonderful family and friends and started over in a foreign country, which was scary.”
“But it was my desire to do more that got me to America and I landed in Michigan, where I did my internship, residency and fellowship,” added Dr. Shali. “Here I am today, a mature Kurdish woman, who enjoys caring for older patients as they remind me of my parents and grandparents back in Iraq. I have the greatest respect for seniors as they have done so much for our families, communities and country during their lifetimes, and we owe it to them to take good care of them.”
Inspired by Dr. Blackwell, more and more women, like Drs. Nassery, Desadier and Shali have pursued a career in medicine over the past 200 years. Each was called to the profession for different reasons and took different paths to reach their goal. They, along with other women physicians, continue to inspire the next generation of women to follow in their footsteps. For the first time in 2017, there were more women than men enrolled in medical school and this trend continues today, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Today, 57% of applicants and 56% of enrollees are women – you go girls!