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A Letter to My Younger Self as a Woman in Medicine

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

In summer 2022, Doximity ran our Women in Medicine essay contest. We are happy to announce this as the winning essay.

Medicine was an elusive enigma of a profession but I sought after it like a lion seeks prey. I wish I knew then to tell myself it wasn’t too early. It wasn’t too early to start a family. It wasn’t too early to get married. It wasn’t too early to take that vacation. It wasn’t too early to visit my grandparents in Puerto Rico. It wasn’t as time-consuming or as career-breaking as I had imagined it to be. As a first-generation American woman from a family who had been academically disadvantaged, I wish I would have known that hard work pays off even without the sacrifice of family time, children, and self-love. 

At 35 years old I decided to get pregnant in residency and I hated the guilt I had for it. To my younger self: I want you to know that having a family is not something to have shame and guilt over. Residency programs have had to find ways to cover shifts and make it work. When I had pre-eclampsia and was admitted the day before a 24-hour shift, I wish I could tell you to have peace knowing you didn’t choose a career over a family. Working 80 hours a week didn’t mean you chose one over the other. Crystal, if your 20-year-old self could know this, I would tell you that the sacrifices you made were shrouded in self-doubt and an ever-present sense of impostor syndrome; a desire to keep up with the rest because surely, they would see we were too weak to continue. I wish you knew that you had time to study and take time to be your whole self. 

I want you to know that even with training in the Bronx during the height of a pandemic you found comfort in your community of residents. You had two coworkers who you shared pregnancy journeys with and who are now lifelong friends. You have come to value your contribution to medicine, as well as your life as a mother and wife. I would tell you to let your tears fall but to wipe them swiftly because your partner is stronger than you think, and he loves you for who you are — not because you are a doctor. Your worry that he would leave you because you chose a profession that was time-consuming is an empty fear. I would also tell you that if that had been the case, it would have been for the better because after having been an ICU patient yourself, you came to realize the value of life and the value of happiness, which can’t be forced. Ultimately, I would want you to know that if he had left, you couldn’t have forced him to stay, and you wouldn’t have been the one who made him leave simply because you chose a profession. 

You should know that although you told people you didn’t want any children, I know you said that because you knew of the challenges you would face; both professionally and medically. You don’t have to hide behind the fear of a miscarriage or infertility because you do become a mom to a beautiful little boy who made you cry when he first called you momma. I want you to know that even if that had not happened, you would have been a great foster mom, as your own mother was raised in foster care, and you have so much love to give. You don’t have to feel guilt or self-blame thinking that if you had started earlier maybe you could have had three or four kids because this is the life you love and you are happy. 

Crystal, I want you to know that you are a great physician with patience and compassion. Your patients love you and your coworkers value you because you are a person first and that makes you approachable. It helps that you know the nuances of medicine; however, it matters more that you know how to talk through the medicine to patients. Please remember that the best part of Dr. Romero isn’t that she went to medical school, but that she is Crystal — and Crystal is just a person with knowledge to help people bridge the gap in medicine.

Dr. Romero is a family medicine physician in Florida. She is a mother of one child and a happy spouse to her lifelong partner. When not painting or hiking with her family, she enjoys cooking home cooked meals. She is currently working on making a suitable aquarium as this is a new hobby.

Animation by Diana Connolly

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