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In Their Own Words

An inspirational book highlights the career journeys of female faculty

Jaclyn Kovach, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, recalls being inspired since childhood by the life stories of extraordinary women throughout history. “If they can accomplish great things against the odds,” she recalls thinking, “why can’t I?”

Looking back on her career to date, Kovach recently realized that successful women physicians and biomedical scientists could help motivate and encourage young women also planning careers in medicine simply by sharing their own stories. And she didn’t have to look far for subjects: Her own colleagues offered ample inspiration.

Thus began what Kovach now calls “an 18-month labor of love” — Luminaries: Profiles of Women in Academic Medicine, a collection of the personal and professional reminiscences of 25 female Miller School faculty members.

Reaching out to prospective contributors, Kovach sought as much diversity as possible in terms of stage of careers, background, and specialty. Then, she said, “I asked them to write as if they were speaking with a medical student about their experiences, their mentors, their struggles. I wanted each woman to maintain her own voice.”

The result is an array of detailed and deeply moving stories. Some of the women grew up in large families; others had single parents. Some honed their drive to succeed through competitive sports; others made harrowing escapes from repressive or unstable regimes to begin their lives anew in the United States. Their candor reveals internal challenges as well as external milestones. One physician confesses to a case of “imposter’s syndrome” that dogged her for years until a peer urged her to project an air of serene competence until it became the real thing — or, as the saying goes, to “fake it until you make it.”

“Pursuing confidence and success in medicine is a career-long quest,” Kovach said. “But it gets easier as you get more accomplished.”

Made possible by a donor gift, Luminaries will be available in Calder Library and distributed to deans of peer institutions, first-year medical students at the Miller School, and UM development staff.