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Q&A / YASHICA ROBINSON WHITE: Earning an M.D. against the odds
S.A. Reid - Staff
Sunday, May 16, 2004
Yashica Robinson White graduated Saturday from Atlanta's Morehouse School of Medicine, fulfilling a dream that wouldn't die amid seemingly insuperable challenges.
She was 2 when a family friend killed her father. By the time she graduated from high school, White had given birth to boys, lost her 36-year-old mother to heart complications, and had to care for her grandmother, who can't read.
Her place among 40 four-year students who earned a Doctor of Medicine on Saturday is the latest chapter for White, who lives in Decatur with husband Dexter and her two sons, Jamauri, 10, and Quintavious, 13. She has a baby girl due in July, and despite the fact her residency starts in June, she says she everything will be OK.
White, 28, now heads to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she will spend the next four years completing a residency in obstetrics and gynecology. She'll then spend four years with the National Health Service Corp., practicing in medically underserved communities.
Q: When your mother died, you became head of the family. How much of a role did fear play in your early days as a teen mom and the main caregiver with professional ambitions?
A: I don't think I was ever really scared of the responsibility because I always felt I had that responsibility. I've worked since I was 12 and helped take care of bills and other things that needed to be taken care of. It was just a little bit more than my mother could handle alone, and I felt it was my responsibility to do it.
Q: What would your mother think of your accomplishments?
A: I think that she would be very proud. I don't think she would be surprised. I've always known she expected a lot from me.
Q: How exactly did you find time to study with all the juggling you had to do?
A: I would always study at night. Even my study time was a family time. I would sit in the middle of the floor with my books and my work. He [Quintavious] would have his crayons and whatever activity he was working on. We all worked on it together. If I had a reading material to cover, I read it to them, no matter how boring. I tried to make it sound interesting.
Q: Describe a typical day.
A: All of us are up by 5:30 a.m. We usually drop Jamauri off [at school] by 7:30 a.m. and Quintavious by 8:15 a.m. I'm at school from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The children go to tutoring after school. I pick them up no later than 6:30 p.m. I come home. They finish their homework. I cook and do whatever needs to be done around the house. We always eat late. It's really busy around here. I'm usually in bed by 11:30 or 12 --- on a good night.
Q: What about your husband, did he help you study or prepare for classes?
A: What he would do early on is he would quiz me on things . . . to see if I could explain them clearly. I feel like if you can teach it to someone else, then you know it. We'd use flash cards. As we got into the clinical years, all of them allowed me to come home and practice on them.
Q: Mind elaborating on those practice sessions?
A: I'd do ear exams and looking at their eyes through a ophthalmoscope. They would let me do a full physical exam so I would get use to knowing what the heart sounds like during cardiac exams. After a while, my husband got tired of it. One night . . . I kept doing the exams over and over and had him look at the list to see if I missed anything. He was falling over and wouldn't sit up straight for me.
Q: Coming from your background, the notion of becoming a doctor must have seemed out of reach.
A: Absolutely. I don't think early on I even considered becoming a doctor. I'm from a small town, Notasulga, Ala., which has a population of a little over 3,000. Most people from there do the same thing as their parents and grandparents did. So I didn't have doctors as role models around me. It seemed totally beyond my reach. It took my mom getting sick and spending at lot of time at the hospital [Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital] and seeing what the physicians do that really sparked my interest. I always said I was going back and work at Grady.
Q: Ob-gyn is your specialty of choice?
A: Mainly because of the beauty of bringing children into the world and being a part of that experience. Also, I enjoy women's health. I feel that's important, especially because of my background. Because women are usually the head of the household, my main objective is to touch as many lives as I can. And I feel if I can change women's attitudes towards health, [I can] affect the greater population.