February is Black History Month in Canada and African American History Month in the Unites States. If you're looking for an inspiring story, no matter your color, then I can recommend Dr. Yvonne Thornton's memoirs.
Dr. Yvonne Thornton is the best selling author of The Ditch Digger's Daughter: A Black Family's Astonishing Sucess Story and Inside Information for Women. Dr. Thornton is also the first African American woman in the United States to become a double-Board Certified specialist in obstetrics, gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine. Fans of Dr. Thornton's books and accomplishments include Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.
Yvonne's new memoir Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy picks up her story where The Ditchdigger's Daughter ended with the passing of Yvonne’s father, and the start of Yvonne’s career as an assistant professor at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. With her father’s dreams and her mother's encouragement fueling her career aspirations, Dr. Thornton inspired the family legacy to live on in her own son and daughter as they entered the fields of neurosurgery and reconstructive surgery.
Dr. Yvonne Thornton is a gifted storyteller and a wonderful role model for women of all cultures and colors. Dr. Thornton shares a message that you can reach for your dreams no matter how lofty they might seem. She managed to overcome the odds and break down the roadblocks that got in her way to attain professional heights and personal happiness. Dr. Thornton (aka Cookie) credits her parents, Donald Thornton and Itasker Thornton for inspiring her and all the Thornton sisters to strive for success.
"I couldn't ask for a better life for myself than this. And I wouldn't be living it if not for Daddy's faith in me, and in all my sisters." - Dr. Yvonne Thornton
Below is an excerpt from Something to Prove by Dr. Yvonne Thornton.
That first day at Cornell, I walked up to the reception desk in the Obstetrics and Gynecology department and introduced myself to one of the secretaries. “Hello, I’m Dr. Thornton. I have a meeting with Dr. Druzin.” I explained that I was the new staff doctor in maternal-fetal medicine and could see her do a double-take before she told me to have a seat and wait. Conversations around us stopped. Several other people walking by perked up as I announced myself. They weren’t rude but it was clear I’d caught everyone by surprise. It didn’t take much analysis to figure out why.
I was the only black person in sight.
This was 1982, when a woman obstetrician was still a rarity; a black woman obstetrician was even more unusual. A black woman with a subspecialty in maternal-fetal medicine was unique indeed. But the vibe I was getting had less to do with being a relatively exotic addition than with not belonging.
I felt uncomfortable, but I’d spent my younger years on stage with my sisters and mother. The Thornton Sisters played every weekend—that was how my parents were able to scrape together the money to put us all through college. I’d learned how to put on a happy face for the audience no matter what I was feeling inside, and that’s what I did as I awaited Dr. Druzin.
He came out a few minutes later. I didn’t know it then, but I learned later that Dr. Maurice Druzin was originally from South Africa, where apartheid was still very much the law of the land. I would guess, from the way he greeted me, that his assumptions about black people had been molded in his home country. He was about five-foot-four and I towered over him by several inches. That probably didn’t endear me to him, either.
Over lunch, he said that, at Cornell, even though I was a faculty member, I’d have to have a private practice, too, like any regular obstetrician.
“We’re academics,” I said, my expectations shaped by my years in medical school at Columbia and later, in the Navy. “We’re perinatal specialists. We don’t see private patients; we are consultants and do research.”
“Not here,” he replied. He told me that the salary I’d been offered in the letter from Cornell was only partly based on my duties as director of clinical services and a faculty member. I’d have to earn fully two-thirds of my pay by attracting private patients to the faculty practice that I was expected to establish within the hospital. In other words, two-thirds of what I believed was my salary was actually an advance against a share of the profits that my private practice was expected to bring to New York Hospital–Cornell Medical Center.
“If you don’t carry your own weight, we’re going to ask you to leave,” he announced, matter-of-factly.
Just as I was reeling from the thought of having to establish a private practice—exactly what I’d taken several extra years of postdoctoral training to avoid doing—he added one last bit of information.
He could not make space for me in the department’s offices, he said.
“We’ll give you an office in the sub-basement, near the clinic.”
Maybe they really had run out of space on the first floor, where the rest of the Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB-GYN) Department faculty had offices. Maybe the sub-basement really was the only other place they could put me. I couldn’t help wondering though, if he would have made certain there was room above ground if I’d been a different color.
I tried to put that out of my mind and instead, focus on learning how to establish a private practice. I’d gone from medical school to a residency at Roosevelt Hospital to a postdoctoral fellow¬ship and then into the military, always with academia rather than the business side of medicine in my sights. So now, I had to take a two-day crash course on how to set up a private practice to fill in the blanks of my knowledge about attracting paying patients. And I put on my best “show face” when I came to work.
About the Author
Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy
The Ditchdigger's Daughter: A Black Family's Astonishing Success Story
Inside Information for Women
- Amazon.com eBook
BOOKALICIOUS BOOK GRAB GIVEAWAY
I have a copy of Something to Prove to give to one lucky Bookalicious reader. To enter the giveaway enter a comment below. This giveaway is open to residents of Canada and the U.S.A.
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You must be a Yummy Mummy Club member to win. Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per member. Entries accepted until Monday, February 28, 2011. Contest open to Canadian and United States residents. Winners will be picked using www.random.org.
Wanda Lynne Young