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Dr. Mom

Barbara Bensoussan

They’re frum mothers, dealing with children, Shabbos guests, and community obligations. They’re doctors, dealing with life-and-death decisions, and grueling hours. How do they balance both?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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“I think most MDs are Type-A people who want to do everything well,” says Jessica Triest, a fifth-year attending physician in emergency medicine at Beaumont Hospital in Detroit. “You want to be a good wife, mother, cook — but you’re working 80 hours a week! Something has to give”

A n old joke tells of a distraught Jewish mother who runs to a lifeguard. “Help!” she cries. “My son the doctor is drowning!”

Everyone laughs at this stereotypical mother, but historically, Jews have proudly counted medical experts among our midst, and the prestige has only increased as medicine has grown in complexity and effectiveness.

These days, however, “My daughter the doctor” is increasingly common in frum circles — not that it’s an easy path. Frum female doctors-to-be embark on this challenging training process at the same time that they’re negotiating shidduchim, marriage, pregnancy, and raising young children. How do they keep it all together and come out on top?

Lifelong Dream or Surprise Career?

“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was in elementary school,” says Shevie Kassai, a fourth-year general surgery resident at the University of Colorado in Denver. Shevie was exposed to the medical field from childhood: Her father owns and operates a long-term care management company, her mother is a registered nurse who used to bring her along to work, and her sister is a physician assistant. “Then I have another sister who’s an attorney, and my parents joke, ‘Where did we go wrong?’” Shevie says. She recalls her general studies principal at Bais Yaakov of Denver being particularly supportive of her dream. “Even when others discouraged me, looked down on my goals, or balked at them, she encouraged me.”

Similarly, Rivky Brown always felt drawn to medicine, even though she’s the first person in her family to become a doctor. (The closest thing to an MD in her family is her grandfather’s doctorate in chemical engineering.) Her father had learned in Lakewood until he took a position as rav of a shul in West Orange, New Jersey, at which point Rivky was sent to Bruriah High School. “I’ve always been inquisitive and liked math and science,” Rivky says. “I taught high school math and science while in college.” She wanted to marry a man who, like her father, would learn long-term, so she set her sights on a career that would allow her to support a family. (Her husband is still learning.)

After attending seminary at BJJ, she enrolled in engineering school on the premise that if medical school didn’t work out, she could always go into biomedical engineering. But she was accepted at Rutgers University, where she enrolled in an MD/PhD program. “It’s a long program — eight years,” she says. “But once you’re accepted, medical school is paid for, along with a stipend.

 

You sacrifice a couple years of working, but it’s a good way to make it through financially.” On the other hand, she cautions, “You really have to love research — which I do.” Rivky is currently doing her residency in dermatology in Miami, where she has about a year left, conducting research on inflammation and immunological diseases.

Miri Lieberman describes herself as a “regular girl from Flatbush,” who never dreamed she’d end up in medicine. “I went to high school at Masores Bais Yaakov, and medicine was not something girls were encouraged to go into,” she says. “Most were directed toward Touro College and professions like speech and occupational therapy.”

She went to Brooklyn College, where she found her core chemistry class extremely interesting. Her frum professor encouraged her to pursue more science. “I did very well, and another professor suggested I go into medicine,” she says. The idea took root. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 569)

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