March 10, 2021

Women’s History Month, Part 2: "Women Making History" in teaching and education

Written by

Danielle Powell2Danielle Powell, M.D., MSPHContributing authors: 
Jessica Martindale, Dean's Office
Jessica Jernigan,  Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine
Shawna Masters, OB/GYN

For Women’s History Month, the School of Medicine is showcasing the intelligence, compassion, and creativity of women who have come before us and who are currently paving the way for the next generation. The school is home to the brilliant minds of women educators, researchers, community-engaged scholars, and leaders in administration.

This week, we are highlighting a few of the women making history in the mission area of teaching.

The School of Medicine communications staff sat down with a few leaders in medical education and teaching to ask them about women who’ve inspired their careers, the biggest barriers they’ve faced in their profession, and what advice they would give to the next generation.

Danielle Powell, M.D., MSPH, associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, is the Hill learning community lead mentor. As a mentor, her goal is to help promote personal wellness and professional development for UAB’s medical students.

On her role, Powell says, “I am available to help my assigned medical students proactively address problems and also serve as a sounding board as they navigate through medical school. The goal of learning communities is to create mentally and physically healthy people who will develop into effective physician leaders.”

Q: Who is one woman that inspired you and your career?

I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Velma Scantlebury while I was a medical student at the University of South Alabama. Dr. Scantleberry was the first Black/African American transplant surgeon in the United States. She made time to mentor URiM medical students and created opportunities for students to educate the Mobile, Alabama community on the importance of organ donation. Her mentorship inspired me to pursue a career in academic medicine.

Q: What is the biggest barrier you’ve faced as a woman in your profession?

The biggest barrier I have faced has been myself, and feeling worthy of all the opportunities I have been afforded. Imposter syndrome affects even the most talented and academically prepared. Recognizing my expertise and strong work ethic helped me to overcome these barriers as I serve as a physician leader and mentor.

Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of women in your profession?

My advice to the next generation of women in my profession is to dream big and never give up. Always advocate for yourself. Find and use your voice. Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage you to be your best self. There will be challenges or barriers along the way which may change your plans, but they should never deter you from your purpose.

Catherine fuller2Cathy Fuller, Ph.D.Cathy Fuller, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology, grew up outside of London, England. Fuller received her Ph.D. from the University of Liverpool in the laboratory of O.H. Petersen, Ph.D., where she was the first woman graduate student in the laboratory.

Fuller’s work has focused on the physiology of ion channels, with particular reference to sodium and chloride channels in epithelial and glial cells. She has co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed papers, reviews, and book chapters. She also teaches extensively across campus and is a prior recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching. She currently serves as vice chair for Education in CDIB, and was recently appointed as co-faculty lead for the upcoming LCME Accreditation.

Q: Who is one woman that inspired you and your career?

Elizabeth I. She inherited the throne when she was 25 years old and overcame tremendous political, military, and social challenges, as well as a working environment dominated by older and powerful men, to establish peace and prosperity for the majority of her reign.

Additionally, the colleagues, neighbors, and friends who are also overcoming incredible obstacles just to manage the everyday challenges of taking care of themselves and their families in the face of a pandemic.

Q: What is the biggest barrier you’ve faced as a woman in your profession?

Certainly, when I was younger there were several barriers inherent to being a woman working in STEM; inequity in salary, opportunities, and so forth. It was very easy to rationalize those things when they happened, and so the issue was never raised. It was assumed that taking on a female graduate student was a risk and that in any case, she was unlikely to pursue an academic career.

There were also more subtle things that are important for a professional career, such as quality of mentoring and learning how to negotiate—things that were never considered as part of the training. Now, the picture is very different with lots of opportunities for graduate students and post-docs to learn these soft skills, and now, attention is paid to mentoring.

However, one issue that is still common for many people, including me, is imposter syndrome; I’m never quite convinced that I belong here doing the job I do. I’m fortunate to have a chair, a department, and colleagues who are so positive and supportive.

Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of women in your profession?

Love what you do, choose good mentors, and above all keep a sense of humor.

Carter TTekuila Carter, M.D.Tekuila Carter, M.D., associate professor and associate program director in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, was the first in her family to pursue a career in medicine and attend graduate school. A Tennessee native, she serves as the assistant director of the anesthesiology simulation program.

As a mentor, Carter views her role as not only an advisor but a motivator, confidante, and role model. "My mentors throughout my training have been critical to my success," Carter said. "I see it as an honor and obligation to do the same for as many individuals as possible."

Q: Who is one woman that inspired you and your career?

Thankfully, it is hard for me to pick only one woman that has inspired me, but I will discuss two. Dr. Susan Black is inspirational [to me]. Not only has she been an amazing program director and mentor to so many people, but she is also a relatable, humble, and compassionate person. Kamala Harris is the first African and Asian American female Vice President. She is an inspiration to so many people in the world, including my three daughters and me.

Q: What is the biggest barrier you’ve faced as a woman in your profession?

[The biggest barrier has been] being seen and treated as “different.”

Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of women in your profession?

Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do it. Your hard work will pay off, even for generations after you. Remember that every setback is a setup for your comeback.

AliceAlice Goepfert, M.D.Alice Goepfert, M.D., associate dean for Graduate Medical Education in the School of Medicine, is a long-time Blazer. Goepfert joined UAB as an obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) resident in 1991, and began her teaching career in 1997 as an assistant professor and OB/GYN clerkship director. Her passion for education has continued in many roles, from OB/GYN director of education and director of the OB/GYN residency program to heading the Patient, Doctor, and Society course.

Goepfert’s efforts regarding education have been pivotal. Not only is she paving the way for excellent educational programs and training, but she is also setting the example for future female physicians.

Who is one woman that inspired you and your career?

I have been fortunate to have many mentors who have inspired me at different stages in my career, including peer mentors. It is difficult to pick one person to highlight. As a resident, two of my upper level residents, Dr. Diane Bodurka and Dr. Melissa Ethier, were particularly inspiring to me as a young OB/GYN. I was fortunate to have Dr. Hughes Evans as an important mentor and advocate during my formative years as an educator at UAB. My family of female colleagues through APGO and the ACGME have been particularly inspiring and supportive during my career, many becoming lifelong friends. Dr. Mary D’Alton, MFM and Chair of the Department of OB/GYN at Columbia University, has always been a particular inspiration to me as a leader in my field and as a wonderful person.

What is the biggest barrier you’ve faced as a woman in your profession?

I think most women in medicine feel a lot of pressure to give enough or equal time and energy toward each of their many important roles—physician, teacher, wife/partner, mother, sister, daughter. Learning to balance it all while still trying to pay attention to your own health and wellbeing can be challenging. Understanding that there are times where you will need to focus on one area more than others and cannot truly do it all well all of the time—and being at peace with that—can be a barrier. Having a loving and supportive husband/partner who willingly shares the load in managing home and family life can be critical to success and happiness.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women in your profession?

Surround yourself with mentors, advocates, and peers who support you and open doors for you while also challenging you to be the best you can be in whatever you choose to focus on. Support and advocate for other women when you are in the position to do so. Take the time to nurture and maintain important relationships—with your spouse/partner, family, and friends. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Stay tuned next week for the third installment on Women’s History Month: Women Making History in Research and Clinics.