Making History: Leading the Way

Feb 27, 2021
Dr. Shelly Dev

Shelly DevShelly Dev When I was pregnant with my first kid, between the fear of the unknown and the eager anticipation, I hadn’t anticipated confronting a milestone in my workplace: That I would be the first woman in the history of my department to take maternity leave. In 2008. How could that be true? I can’t be a “first,” not at this point in time, can I? I don’t feel like a first, so why has this taken so long? How many more invisible milestones were still unmet? 

When we think of progress in medicine, our minds wander too quickly to innovation, technology and stature. The gadgets are slicker, more reliable, the spaces are more plentiful and vast. It’s far too complacent to rest our notions of medical evolution here. We need to take more time, look more carefully and look at one another. When we do this, we see who is right in front of us. And then, importantly, we must take a step further and see who isn’t.

The Department of Medicine as we now know it to be, a fertile ground for the growth and thriving of clinicians, scientists, educators and innovators, truly began in 1919 with the appointment of the first Chair of Medicine, Dr. Duncan Graham, and his creation of the first of the now preeminent clinical teaching grounds, the clinical teaching unit. Crucially, a few select residents would shepherd their junior residents through this new and revolutionary system as guides, advisors, interpreters and, most impactfully, teachers. These were our first Chief Medical Residents (CMRs).

The significance of these firsts was in how profoundly they changed the landscape of becoming. It was a new way for trainees become professionals, to be formed as physicians. Those firsts changed medical culture. Culture is notoriously resistant to change; it stubbornly holds on “how it’s always been” or “this is how we’ve always done it.” The evolution can be glacial. Perhaps because of that, when we do move forward, those moments feel weightier, harder won, of greater consequence. Today, more than 100 years later, another cultural milestone that, this time, compels us to look beyond our personal growth as physicians, to our growth as a diverse community of colleagues and friends.

For the first time in the history of the Department of Medicine, all six of our 2022-2023 Chief Medical Residents will be women. We congratulate our bright, talented, visionary and inspiring trailblazers, Dr. Celine Allen, Dr. Emily Bartsch, Dr. Emily Hughes, Dr. Danielle Meschino, Dr. Nikita-Kiran Singh and Dr. Grace Wang. 

At a time when we needed it most, a truly significant reason to celebrate has arrived. A “first” our community should be proud of and celebrate. Because we not only live within our culture, we are responsible for creating it. We are the determinants of how much more we can grow. I urge us all to look around and pay attention to the other firsts waiting to happen, hiding in plain sight. It’s only when we choose to take notice of what is that we can then imagine what can be.

I had the opportunity to sit down with all six of the trailblazing CMRs to discuss how it feels to be the first all women cohort, what they hope to achieve and who their role models were that paved the way.

This is their story.