I knew by age 9 that I wanted to become a doctor. My mother worked as the front desk manager at Boston Children’s Hospital, so I spent every school vacation in the emergency room or the operating room. I saw my first neurosurgery when I was 13. I never fainted. I was very committed to becoming a doctor. I was also inspired by what I saw on television. My favorite shows were Marcus Welby, M.D. and Medical Center. They saved every life. It was always a good news story.
My West Indian parents were all about education, and they sacrificed so I could attend a fancy private school. I ultimately went to Harvard undergrad and then medical school at the University of Pittsburgh, where seven out of 170 of us were black. There were three men and four women, and we struggled mightily at times, but we stuck together and all survived.
I decided to pursue OB/GYN because so many patients experience happy endings. As a resident, I loved obstetrics! I decided to focus on maternal-fetal medicine, or high-risk obstetrics, because I really liked the complexity of cases that came before me. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the outcomes were good, even if they were high-risk.
I’m from Dorchester, the inner city of Boston, and had always intended to work in the community that I grew up in. By 1989 I was married to my husband, an attorney, and we moved back to the area. I did my fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and my first job was at Boston City Hospital. It was the early days of the HIV epidemic, and I really wanted to work with HIV-positive patients. I started the hospital’s first HIV clinic for women. By the time I left four years later, about 30 percent of our HIV-positive women had died. I was emotionally spent. I had picked this specialty because of their “happy endings,” and here these women were dying and, in the early years, we didn’t know what to do about it. Also, I was having my first of two daughters, now 26 and 22, and this was emotionally too much.
So I went to Massachusetts General Hospital, where I stayed for 23 years. Mass General Hospital didn’t deliver babies until the year I began, and I helped build the OB service from the ground up. That first year, we did around 800 deliveries. By the time I left, we did 3,800 deliveries with a staff of 20 general OB/GYNs, 10 high-risk maternal-fetal medicine specialists, and 11 midwives. It was a great place to be.