Dr. Yvonne S. Thornton Speaks On Overcoming Adversity in The Medical Profession

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For years you were passed over for promotions and opportunities. What kept you there for so long and what was the tipping point that made you leave?

I will never know the true number of times that I was passed over. But there were two that I’m sure about. The last one was so blatant that I moved on. I stayed as long as I did because I didn’t want to leave my patients. They gave me the strength to [endure] the nonsense.

In the book you tell a lot of stories that kind of make you cringe about how you were treated in the profession. How did you keep it together?

My dad; I would tell him how I was thrown to the wolves and he would say, “it is what it is, Cookie. You’re not there to be loved, but to take care of sick patients.” So that would put things back in perspective.

With all that you went through in your career, all while raising two children, was it worth it?

I have no regrets. My mother and father prepared me for all the possibilities in my academic and professional career. When it came to being a wife and mother, my mother was my role model. She taught us that no amount of success at work would make up for failure at home.

How did you create a work-life balance?

I was like a lioness taking care of her cubs. I made sure I was in their lives. I never wanted to miss a school recital or a parent-teacher conference. I was at their chess tournaments and made time to do things like help make a Halloween costume. I will always be Dr. Thornton and Mrs. McClelland.

You’ve been married for 36 years. Your husband is also a doctor, an orthopedic surgeon.  What was the secret for keeping together a marriage with two high profile, demanding careers?

We have always been there for each other. We understand each other. There’s a lot of respect and love. He is my strength, my soul mate.

Your parent’s wisdom still guides you. What have you tried to pass on to your children?

We trained them and raised them like we were raised – to strive for the best, to never stop, to never give up, even in the dark times, just keep going. Nobody can stop you but you. Our son, Woody, won numerous national chess championships. He went to Harvard and received his M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and is a resident in neurosurgery. [Our daughter], Kimberly, was the first woman of color to win a national chess championship. She graduated from Stanford with a degree in studio art, got her master’s in socialmedical science at Columbia, and is a first-year medical student at Howard.

What do you think your parents would say about where you are in your life?

They are in heaven flapping their wings. My sisters and I were the “neighborhood joke.” They laughed at my dad for saying that we were going to be doctors. Well, Donald’s folly is now Donald’s legacy.

What do you want your legacy to be?

That I was one dark-skinned black woman who defied everyone, and that I would spend the hours, do whatever it took, to get the job done. I delivered more than 5,000 babies and have overseen 12,000 deliveries. I have my family. I have enjoyed my life.

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