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For These 3 Women, Medical Careers Are A Family Affair

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At StoryCorps in New York City, Sharon Brangman shared with her daughter, Jenna Lester, some of her experiences in medical school and how her mother, Ruby, helped her become a doctor.
Image credit: Mia Warren

Sharon Brangman knew at a young age — around 10 years old — that she wanted to be a doctor one day.

So when a school guidance counselor put her in typing and home economics classes, her mother, Ruby Brangman, wouldn’t have it. Ruby made a trip to her daughter’s school to address the matter.

“Grandmother was like, ‘Oh, no way,’ ” Sharon tells her daughter, Jenna Lester, in a StoryCorps interview in New York City. “I remember she went up to the school and said, ‘I want my daughter transferred so she could go to college.’ ”

Ruby was one of the first black women nurse practitioners in the state of New York. She received her license from the University of Rochester in 1974, when the role of the profession was still being defined, according to the school’s medical center.

Sharon, now 62, recalls one of her medical school professors, a white man, holding up a picture of a Negro League baseball player while he talked about muscles in “black dialect.” The same professor showed Playboy centerfolds when discussing anatomy.

“When you were taking a really hard test, he would walk behind, linger over your shoulder,” Sharon says. “And he had this horrible pipe. You’d hear a little puff sound and smell this smoke come over you. And he would do that to all the black students.”

Looking back, Sharon says she remembers her mother telling her that it didn’t matter if her teacher liked her or not. Her job there was to learn.

“She didn’t go to college, but if she had come up in a different era, I think she would have been the first physician in the family,” Sharon says.

Instead, Ruby’s determination set Sharon on that path — the same one that paved the way for Sharon’s daughter, Jenna, who’s finishing up the final year of her dermatology residency in California.

Jenna, 29, recalls one of her more vivid memories that helped her gain a greater understanding of her mom’s profession. On a visit to Jenna’s first-grade classroom, her mother split open a cow’s heart and showed the class the different chambers and valves.

“The typical person who has a long line of doctors in their family are often white men that I sit next to in class, whose father, grandfather, great-grandfather were doctors,” Jenna says. “And it’s cool to be a part of the same thing, but it looks very different.”

“To realize all the things that you had to go through and that Grandma had to go through to get me to where I am today,” Sharon says, “I feel like I’m working for a little bit more than just myself.”

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Mia Warren and Danielle Roth.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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