“I always told my kids that they could be anything they wanted to be, as long as what they wanted to be came with an MD after their names.”
If you have read Yvonne Thornton’s first memoir, The Ditchdigger’s Daughters, this sentiment will be familiar. Thornton is one of five daughters born to Itasker and Donald and raised in the housing projects of New Jersey. Donald Thornton worked many jobs — at one point as a ditchdigger — to provide for his family. He wanted a better life for them. He wanted his daughters to be physicians.
Yvonne Thornton achieved her father’s dream. In fact, she became the first African-American woman in the US to be double-Board Certified in obstetrics, gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine.
In her latest memoir, Something to Prove, Thornton establishes herself as an exceptional doctor and formidable personality, often amidst blatant discrimination. Much of the story focuses on her rise from an assistant professor in the underfunded sub-basement of the New York Hospital through many promotions to full professor, vice-chair and Director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at NYC’s Jamaica Hospital. The path is not always easy and Thornton is as candid about her faults and defeats as she is about her considerable strengths and triumphs.
But Thornton does not want to succeed in medicine only. She has two children now, and is determined to excel at parenting too. She races from her duties in the operating room to school concerts, chess matches and graduation ceremonies.
….I refused to let my schedule interfere when my kids needed me…. Never mind hell or high water — come quintuplets or emergency cesarean, if my own babies needed their mom to show up, I’d find a way to be there.
It seems Thornton does, indeed, have something to prove and she aims to instill that drive in her children. More than that, she wants to fulfill her father’s legacy and ensure that both children will one day have that “MD after their names.”
Amy Chua made waves as a “Tiger Mother.” Yvonne Thornton, according to her website, prefers to be called a lioness.
Something to Prove is well-written and a pleasure to read. I can’t help wonder though, as I watch Thornton deliver one high-risk baby after another, follow her back to college for yet another qualification, applaud her promotions and ballroom dance competitions, and marvel as her children win national chess championships and, yes, become doctors themselves: How can one woman accomplish all of this?
Thornton returns again and again to her parents.
All my life they’d told me, keep going, just keep going. It doesn’t matter that you came from Long Branch. It doesn’t matter that you’re black. It doesn’t matter that you’re a woman. If this is the goal that you want to reach, this is the goal that you should aim for.
Thornton has clearly taken this advice to heart, and in Something to Prove she passes it along to her readers. “With hard work, determination, and education,” she says, “we can achieve anything.”
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