I WANT HER JOB: OB/Gyn Dr. Afriye Amerson Shares Her Career Journey

My name, Afriye, means "child born at the right time"; and I arrived into this world on my father's birthday!  My parents chose this Ghanaian name because they believed in choosing names that build up a child's self image, identity and esteem. 

At the age of five, I announced that I wanted to be a doctor; but, during my childhood, I excelled at oratory competitions, sought out leadership positions, loved the debate team, and public speaking. So, everyone actually thought I would become a lawyer. I majored in Public Policy Studies (combination of political science & economics) at Duke, while completing the prerequisites for medical school. As I studied both dance & theater throughout childhood, I continued in college as a Duke Dancing Devil (like the new show "Hit the Floor", which I love!). 

My high school required a certain number of volunteer hours for graduation, so my first job was not paid.  I interned in a variety of places - from a radio station to the pediatric ward of a Childrens' Hospital. As I stayed in school until becoming a physician, I never really had any long-term job until my career.  I did work-study for money in college. Overall, my pre-career job experiences served mostly in developing my ability to engage people (from a variety of ages, cultures, and backgrounds); and, it shaped my ability to adapt and learn new skills quickly.  Like many experiences before the age of 30, these shaped my character more than provide direct training for my career. I believe that diversity and well-roundedness early in life favors a woman's maintenance of balance later in life.

I have always had mentors at each life stage.  The first were the circle of community "mothers" who loved me, aided my development, and (just prior to puberty) took me through my Rites of Passage into womanhood (a tradition from African culture, which is the model used in the pledge process of Black Greek-lettered Sororities/Fraternities). The key medical mentors were Dr. Brenda Armstrong, who I met during college, and Dr. Yvonne Thornton (author of "The Ditchdigger's Daughters"), who actually trained me during my residency in OB/Gyn.  They allowed me to absorb their life experiences, as personal and professional interrelate.  In taking me under their wing, they allowed me to bounce critical thoughts about shaping my career off them. And, for me, this was the proverbial "inside scoop"!

I became an obstetrician/gynecologist because of my passion for Women's Health.  It is hard to name a single greatest career accomplishment because the most rewarding experience is impacting the lives of others. I have developed over 10 year relationships with some patients, and the bond grows with time, as in any relationship.  While bringing a child into this world is extraordinary, the reward is greater when I have followed the entire pregnancy, and watch all of the children of the family as they grow.  It is rewarding to see a young woman in the office who is seeing a gynecologist for the first time because I can empower her journey of self-awareness. Our femininity, our comfort with ourselves, is the core of our self image.  When we are confused or worried about our well-being, we are less than our most radiant selves. It is this premise which allows me career gratification outside of the "white coat". 

I have done many speaking engagements, health fairs, and panel discussions in which the gratification comes from captivating and inspiring others about individual and community health.

If I had access to "Back to the Future", there is not much about my life that I would change.  I am more than content with the outcome to present. I do have a greater appreciation for the "life permanency" that often comes with career (i.e. great accomplishments are like building an Egyptian pyramid- they require discipline, persistence, and evolving enthusiasm).  Therefore, I believe (more with each year of my life) that youth is a critical time to experience diversity, while cultivating discipline.  I studied abroad in Spain for a summer in college, and I speak Spanish.  I do not think one can travel to too many countries or speak too many languages.  Were I eighteen today, I would travel EVERY summer at least 1 month through some educational program, and learn more languages. I will still accomplish these things in  my lifetime, but I have far less "free time" due to the realities of career devotion.

The personality traits that I have which best suit my chosen medical specialty include compassion, endurance, stamina, leadership, trustworthiness, decisiveness, and sincerity.  During medical school, doctors rotate through all specialties; and in this journey, you learn what you do not like faster than you figure out what best suits you.  I immediately knew that I loved the operating room and surgery, yet I needed to form relationships with those I treated and I wanted to see their health evolve over time.  I knew that I loved "flying in on my cape & saving someone's life", yet I also loved more long-term gratification, like seeing a woman as she brings all of her children into this world. 

I would advise young women seeking medical careers to firstly develop the character befitting a leader, because you are responsible for people's lives.  Try to experience many, diverse learning opportunities from your local community to the global diaspora.  Learn to get along with everyone.  Meet people from varying ethnicities and cultures, & develop an earnest appreciation of their lives and histories.  Surround yourself with people with whom you can share mutual respect, learning, and appreciation. And lastly, to quote another of my mentors: " Honor what you feel. Never be afraid to make a mistake, because mistakes (when evaluated) make masters. A woman who cannot laugh at herself is a danger to herself and others.

Each day is a blessing, what you do with that blessing determines how you will be blessed.  The accumulation of material possessions is not a measure of success. Always give your best and never doubt that it was good enough. A woman is what she thinks, and what she thinks is a reflection of what she holds in her heart." excerpts by Iyanla Vanzant

And on that note, let's kick off this candid, open forum for the cool chicks from Teen Diaries to express their feelings, questions, & concerns! Your very own Ask Dr A column begins now. Submit any and all health related questions to info@teendiaries.net, put Ask Dr A in your email's subject line, and I'll respond to your questions anonymously on the site!


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Dr. Afriye Amerson is a member of the American Medical Association and the Medical Society of New Jersey. She is currently the assistant attending at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Hackensack University Medical Center, and the founder of La Doctora’s Angels, an awareness campaign on umbilical cord blood banking. Since 2001 she has also been in private practice at Prospect Women’s Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey.