Wearing My "White Coat"
Updated: Jun 13, 2019
"I got hustle though, ambition flow inside my DNA..."--Kendrick Lamar
L: Mary Louise (1957); R: Marilouise (2015)
“How did you get your name?” is the inevitable question I am asked when introducing myself to a stranger. I must admit, Marilouise doesn’t exactly top the list of most popular baby names—at least not for the last several decades, anyway. But whenever presented with this question, I proudly recite my spiel that I have been rehearsing since around the time I could talk—“I am named after my grandma, Mary Louise”.
Both only-children, my grandma and I not only share a name, but many would agree we share similar personalities—on the outside, reserved, collected, and unassuming, yet inside, tenacious, witty, and passionate. And like my grandma, I followed in her footsteps toward the medical field.
My grandma spent much of her career working as nurse at a then-segregated Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. At a time when racial tension was high, the desire for Black women in the nursing field was low, and faces of color in medicine were infrequent, she stunned with her fearlessness as she shattered preconceived notions of the capabilities of Black women—despite the all too often outside infiltration of disrespect, criticism, and isolation.
The mother-of-six would often divulge to me how she had dreamed one day she would see a child of hers working at that same Duke University Hospital, only this time wearing a white coat—receiving the well-earned respect and dignity that she was often not afforded in the 1950s. While I wasn’t interested in becoming a medical doctor, years later, I found myself out-of-state in graduate school preparing for a career in medial Speech-Language Pathology. Every time I flew home to see my Grandma, she made sure to drill into me the importance of moving back to North Carolina, working at Duke, and “wearing that white coat”—to which, I must admit, listened passively.
Coincidentally, while in town for a Speech Pathology conference during my graduate school years, I was able to attend my grandma’s 87th birthday party. As the celebration came to end and I scurried out the door, I reached over to give her a hug—her eyes filled with tears—and she whispered to me “I want you to come back home, go to Duke, and wear that white coat.” It would be just days later that I received the call that my Grandma had suddenly passed away. And it would be exactly one year later that I received the call that I had been selected from many applicants to complete my speech pathology externship at, now, Duke University Medical Center. Dress code: white coat.
Everyday on my way to Duke University Medical Center, I drove past what was once my Grandma’s lively and laughter-filled home--proudly wearing my white coat. Her house now empty. My heart now full.
I am so thankful for my time at Duke University Medical Center, as it would propel me into this amazing field of medical Speech-Language Pathology. Most importantly, I am thankful for my Grandma and the sacrifices she made to create space for me in this field—which, believe it or not, is still riddled with some of the similar barriers she once faced in her career (that’s another topic for another time…le sigh).
Today, scrubs are my typical work attire, but I always maintain my “white coat” energy—empowered by the hopes and dreams of my ancestors. However, there are days when that energy grows dim. When I take a look around, I rarely see myself reflected in the field of Speech Pathology, which is what has led to the creation of M.E. the SLP. I hope that through M.E. the SLP, I am able to increase the visibility of Black women in speech pathology—specifically medical speech pathology—and empower and engage early career professionals and future speech pathologists who are hoping to find themselves in the field of Speech-Language Pathology.
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