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Women's Week

This is my tribute to women— who have shaped me, made me who I am, and aided my success. As a man, I feel a great debt to them. Here’s why:

The first influential woman in my career is my birth mother.  A fantastically driven woman, there is nothing that she cannot do, and very few things that she won’t try to do.  She has not known an obstacle that she has not overcome. Even with all her grit, she always knew what to say. I’ll be 50 soon and I could share with you many such examples but I will share this one. After a bad experience in camp, where I was incessantly picked on, I told my mother about it. She said, “José, they are just jealous.  We are achievers, and you are an achiever. People hate achievers.”  She turned bullying into fuel for success for me. However, looking back, there is no way she didn’t know that the other boys were simply racist, and mom did not want me to feel hopeless.

The second influential woman in my career is the mother of my four children, my wife of 23 years.  After 4 years of dating, we were married on spring break of my first year of medical school.  For some reason, she always believed in me—even when I did not believe in myself.  During medical school, I forgot to cite a quotation, and I was threatened by a preceptor with expulsion from medical school.  I was terrified. I went home and broke the news to my wife who said, “We will get through this….” And we did.  This is only one of many episodes where my untreated ADHD had gotten me into academic hot water.  Each time she saw me through to academic success.  She did this while raising our 4 kids, and in effect, she was raising me.

During medical school I had another influential woman help me: Dr. Elizabeth Wilson Anstey.  A remarkable woman, she was serving at the time as the executive assistant in the Minority Affairs Office.   She washed my tears and listened to my incessant complaining about perceived injustices I was living.  She never interrupted, and she made sure my concerns got to the ears of the Dean for Minority Affairs.  Now that I am a faculty member, I can see how she worked behind the scenes to smooth my ride and make my medical school experience more pleasant.

My residency program director, Dr. Victoria Gorski, who told me something that I will never forget, true words to live by.  While seeking her advice about a post-residency attending job, she said, “José, I never met anyone who wished they spent more time at work while their kids were growing up.”

Dr. Jean Burg, my first boss as an attending, whose patience was career sustaining.  She gave me a second chance; I was so indecisive when graduating from residency that I rejected her job offer, which was by far the best offer I ever had.  She forgave my initial decision, and we worked together for many years.  She also gave me my start in academics, allowing me to teach at the medical school during clinic hours.

Dr. Janet Townsend, noticed early on that I was interested in progressing in academic medicine.  She had a presentation at a “Minority and Women Faculty Day,” where she asked me to present with her.  She worked an academic roadmap for me, and I have stuck with that map ever since.  It has been 15 years since she taught me how to shape my career.

Dr. Janet South-Paul, who at every academic conference we attend, wants to know how I am, where I am going, and is always willing to lead the way.  She has given fantastic advice on how to be a better ally to women in medicine, how to deal with the racism of academic medicine, and importantly, what I could expect from an academic career as a senior leader.

These women have forwarded my career in ways that I could not on my own.  They preferred to stay behind the scenes, but today I bring their efforts to the forefront.  In this month of the woman, may we remember the influential women that have served all of us.  They that have sacrificed everything so that we could have a better life, a more successful career.  And while we remember them, let us fight against all injustice that affects women—from intimate partner violence to pay inequities, from pregnancy tax to sexism.  It is everyone’s responsibility to see these injustices and correct them. We here at the Associate Vice President’s Office of Health Equity and Inclusion, will be with you all the way.

José E. Rodríguez, MD, FAAFP
Interim Associate Vice President, Health Equity & Inclusion
Professor, Family & Preventive Medicine
Family Medicine, Redwood Health Center