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Making their mark

Women have always been an important part of healthcare, but their role and leadership are growing as the number of women physicians increases. Nationwide, medical school enrollment is about equal among men and women. With eight men and eight women making up its current roster of family practice residents, North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo is proud to be on the leading edge of this trend.

Amber McIlwain, M.D., is a member of that group and points out that 51 percent of her 2008 graduating class at the University of Mississippi Medical Center was female. It was the first year the Jackson school graduated a class with a majority women.

“Women are becoming more comfortable with it and I think it will continue to grow,” she said. “I love the state and will never leave it, but we’re in an environment that sometimes encourages us to put everyone ahead of ourselves. If a woman wants to go into medicine, there’s a way to make it happen. It takes encouragement and mentors. I was fortunate to have both and wonderful parents who sacrificed for me.”

Another resident, Shelli Coleman, D.O., said women are gaining ground but not yet dominating the medical field.

“In some ways, women can be more empathetic, and in women’s health we can be more understanding,” she said.
McIlwain, Coleman and fellow resident Allison Hailman-Doyle, D.O., all said they have been accepted by Mississippi patients, although the trend is still new in some areas.

“It’s not so much hesitancy but that it’s still new and not as prevalent as it is in large cities,” Coleman said. “We all joke about getting called nurse even though we’re wearing our medical coats and name tags.”

Hailman-Doyle made a good case for more women physicians.

“Women tend to be better listeners,” she said. “A national survey revealed that the average man interrupts every 15 seconds and finishes sentences for the person talking. Women interrupt every 30 seconds so patients get to talk more to women.”

McIlwain is from Waynesboro in South Mississippi and was the recipient of a scholarship for science majors given by Dr. Thad Waites of Hattiesburg. Spending lots of time with Waites while she was a student at the University of Southern Mississippi led to her decision to pursue medicine.

“Everything fell into place,” she said. “I loved the relationships he had with patients. He set me up to spend time with specialists, and I wanted to do something nurturing and hands on. I know it’s a cliché but I like to help people.”

Family practice is a natural for her nurturing personality. It sums up everything she hopes to do in medicine.
“I want to treat all ages and all backgrounds,” she said. “I couldn’t do the same thing every day.”

When her residency is finished in 2011, even though she’s fallen in love with Tupelo, McIlwain will probably return to South Mississippi where her family waits for her return. She said, laughingly, that her parents are saving up all their aches and pains for their doctor-daughter.

Coleman, who grew up in New Albany, was close to her grandmother, a science teacher who had wanted to go to medical school. That relationship and her mother’s illness influenced Coleman’s decision to enter medicine.

“I always wanted to be in family practice because it has a broader range of patient care,” she said, “and I love working with the elderly.”

After graduation from Mississippi State University, Coleman received her medical training at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. She and Hailman-Doyle earned doctor of osteopathy degrees instead of the more familiar doctor of medicine.

“People get confused about what D.O. means. Some think its optometry,” Hailman-Doyle said. “Then when you add being female to it, they don’t know what you do. It takes 11 years to complete this medical degree just like M.D. We take some extra massage therapy courses, too.”

The Oxford native was in her junior year at the University of Mississippi when she decided medicine was for her. After identifying with the work she saw her boy friend’s dad doing as an internist, she changed her major and took pre-med courses.

“I want to do family practice because I want to treat all ages and all complaints with a constant variety,” she said.

As a Navy scholar, she has a four-year naval commitment when her residency is complete. Her husband, an accountant, will accompany her. She has promised to return to Cleveland where she will be part of a family practice.

“This is a great residency program here in Tupelo,” she said. “They try hard to make us have a real world experience, and they make sure we get enough sleep.”

Other women in the residency program at North Mississippi Medical Center include: Dana James Chandler, D.O.; Kimberly Estes, M.D.; Jennifer Whiteside Lowery, M.D.; Christy Vowell, D.O.; and Grace Seecharan, M.D.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at lynn@lynnsdesk.com.


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