November 23, 2021
In “Conversations That Matter,” a new blog and audio series, Senior Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leon McCrea II, MD, MPH, interviews members of the College of Medicine community about their lives, their journeys in medicine, and their thoughts on diversity in medical practice and education.
In the interview below, Dr. McCrea talks with Nathalie May, MD, an associate professor and sub-internship director in the Division of General Internal Medicine. Read on to get to know Dr. May and learn even more about her life and career in the latest episode of the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion's podcast "Conversations That Matter."
Leon McCrea, MD (LM): What motivated you to pursue a career in medicine?
Nathalie May, MD (NM): I was 12 when my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was born in Haiti and was being raised there by my grandmother. She came to the United States for treatment because both my parents were here as physicians and Haiti simply did not have the resources to treat her breast cancer. As she was passing, I remember saying to her, ‘I'm sorry I can't help you, but I'll try to help others.’ I never said it was a promise, but in my heart, I knew it was a promise. So, I pursued studies to make sure that I could help other people.
LM: That's amazing. That’s powerful, and heartfelt, that such a poignant moment in your life becomes the driving factor for starting your career. Tell me about your decision to come to the College of Medicine.
NM: I finished my internal medicine residency at Penn in 1997 and I stayed there for an internship and residency. Then I was at the point where I had to decide what I would do next. I decided on the clinician educator pathway, and I found that Drexel was very attractive to me because we had residents from all over the place. There were a lot of people coming from India, Pakistan, Africa, as well as Americans, and being a foreigner myself I thought, ‘Ah, this is a place where I could learn from others and teach as well.’ I chose a position as a clinician educator at the College of Medicine in 2000, and I’ve been here since then.
LM: And what keeps you here? What made you decide to build a career here?
NM: As you know, most people will stay at their first job for a year, maybe two, before they move on. I also looked into that, but I realized what a special place Drexel is. I love that a lot of the clinicians, as well as the educators, are like a family. I really do trust my colleagues. I get along well with them and we help each other learn. We love teaching together. We love practicing together. Drexel has been a second family, so I've stayed.
LM: When you think of those colleagues, what are a couple of those unique characteristics that make a person a Drexel dragon for life?
NM: I think Drexel is a special place because it attracts people who want to do good in the community and who also want to pursue scholarship. Some people like to do research and practice medicine, some people just like to practice, some people like to teach and practice, and Drexel gives you that flexibility. As a mother, especially when I started my career here and my kids were young, I did not want to have that pressure to publish or perish, I wanted an institution that would prioritize family. Here, I found that as long as I did my work, did my teaching and I saw my patients, I could come home and also have family time. I think most of the people here have found that in Drexel and a lot of people have stayed.
LM: Absolutely. And you talked about being here essentially over the course of two decades. I'm sure you've worn a few hats over the years. What roles do you hold with the College of Medicine now?
NM: Recently, I've transitioned to the medical school where I am the sub-internship director for our senior-level medical students who are getting ready for their next step into residency. These are fourth-year medical students who are doing a sub-internship in one of our affiliate hospitals, where they can act as an intern to develop their skills as well as show their abilities. It’s an important role for me and for the students. Within the MD Program, we have pathways for students if they’re going into surgery or medicine or family medicine, and so forth. I'm one of the associate directors for those students going into medicine.
LM: You know, one of the things that I do in the College of Medicine is work in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. And there's a book that came out not so long ago that talked about the diversity bonus . When I say the words ‘diversity’ and ‘bonus’ to you, what comes to mind and what could that mean for our community?
NM: I have not read the book you're referring to, but what comes to mind is the ability for everyone to benefit from everyone else. No two people are alike, no two cultures are alike, even within the African-American community. People differ in what they think because a lot of us have different backgrounds. For example, even though I'm African-American, my parents were from Haiti, and yet we can learn from people who are from Nigeria, the Caribbean, as well as people who were born here in the U.S. So even within the African-American community, there is diversity and we can learn from each other. If we extend it even further to other people who are not brown or Black, you can work from so many different cultures. For me, the ‘diversity bonus’ is being able to learn from all the cultures that surround us and that have shaped the people with whom we interact.
LM: It looks like you captured the full essence of it, Dr. May, without even cracking the book. You hit that nail right on the head.
You mentioned how diverse your colleagues are and how that has created a greater appreciation for each other's experiences, and as a result, you've created an environment that is incredibly supportive. When I think about my medical career, I know I’ve been successful not just because of my own hard work and talent and energy, but also because I had a support team who would help and guide me along the way. Can you tell me a little bit who has helped you navigate this process to develop a successful career?
NM: You know what, it always starts with family. I have two younger sisters. They are not in medicine – one is an attorney and the other is in business, but the three of us have been a huge support for one another. I also have my husband; we've been married for almost 30 years. And my children are a little bit older now, they're 18 and 20. My church is also a great support; I have good friends in my congregation and serve as an elder in my church.
The support starts at home, but it also extends to your work family. And my colleagues have been very supportive of my choices and in helping to guide me. Some of them have been here 30 years. Some of them have been here 20, like me, but we have a family, both at home and at work. That definitely helps a lot.
I think the College of Medicine is an awesome place to be. I've had the opportunity to interview some students for admissions, and I hope they come here, because once you're here we take care of our students. We have plenty of resources for them. I don't think anyone who matriculates at Drexel can go wrong.