There are two women in my life that have shaped my desire to help others. The first birthed me, and the second taught me. Driven by passion and an unending desire to resolve the unparalleled health disparities facing the community from which she came; in 1983 my mother became the first African-American female epidemiologist in the country. She dedicated her life to serving the underrepresented population of this country addressing the high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer and cancer death in both national and local underserved communities. This same passion and ambition placed me on a track destined for service to others. As a young adult I was aware that I came from a community of access and opportunity, but I also realized that I wanted to forge connections with communities that were mirror opposites. In high school, my senior project explored a school in the poor & disadvantaged corridor where my parents grew up. Later on, I also seized the opportunity to travel to Africa and see up-close the consequences of limited access to education and healthcare. After graduating from Emory University, I dedicated a year to AmeriCorps as a mentor, tutor and teaching assistant in a DC public high school.
I have known for a very long time that I wanted to be a clinical practitioner, yet I was unsure of which specialty. As I began the second rotation of my clinical years, my first surgical rotation was transplant surgery. I saw a petite woman, with curly hair speaking to the nursing staff as I walked onto the floor. I quickly introduced myself to which she responded, “Nice to meet you. I’m Latifa Sage-Silski, the transplant fellow.” Working with her throughout the week I observed the delicate yet determined manner in which she and the attending physicians operated on the patients. Reflecting on what I observed, I realized that I had watched more than an “operation.” I went home after a long day, noticing that Dr. Sage-Silski stayed. I came back the next morning and she was still there. After a week on the service, I got to scrub into my first liver transplantation. After the procedure, my classmate and I inquired why the patient was heading to the ICU instead of back to the floor in the same fashion the renal transplant patients had for their post-operative recovery. With a smirk on her face Dr. Sage-Silski said, “You and Katie don’t get it. Without this procedure… this patient would have died.” That was a special moment. I visited this patient in the coming days and witnessed the postoperative transformation! A lady who was near death and accepting of her fatality had newfound vigor, laughter & charisma. Similarly, for the renal transplant patients, they had become accustomed to a life of dialysis, but with their new kidney they, too, received a new life.
My mother and Dr. Sage-Silski have shaped my desire to serve and teach those who come behind me, but most importantly they illuminated how a life in service is a life worth living.