As a child, it was always clear to me that my life was intended for meaningful work. After all, I was the tallest girl in my class; I knew that was a sign of my responsibility. Everyone told me I was smart. My social worker mother and nurse grandmothers showed me that women could care for people outside as well as inside the home. My family culture and community church told me that helping others was the highest good a person could do.
In addition, I could see for myself that other people needed help. I noticed the disheveled man rummaging through the sidewalk trash can for food as I held my mother’s hand. Later, my surprised parents wondered how my 8-year-old self was planning to get to the home of the blind church members to whom I had apparently volunteered to read. As I grew older, the earnest and philosophical young adult novels I favored told me the same thing—there was work to be done, and we owed the world our best effort. I considered training as a nurse, like my grandmothers or the ones in the Cherry Ames books. Then a beloved family friend, just home from delivering her son, proclaimed “There are lots of great nurses, but we need more female doctors,” and I heard my calling.