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OB/GYN Delivers on Dream Delayed

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, July 13, 2012
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This article appears in the July 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Sharon Handelsman, MD, PhD, 60, never really gave up on her dream to become a physician. But when a college advisor told her she wouldn't get into medical school, she dropped out of premed at age 20, and transferred to nursing school. For more than 25 years, she was a nurse-midwife, working closely with expectant mothers in the Chicago area to deliver thousands of babies. It was gratifying, important work. Still, something was missing. So, she applied and did get into medical school and at age 54, Handelsman graduated and finished her residency four years later. Now she is an employed OB-GYN at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago.

On her first career: It's not that I regretted being a nurse-midwife. I loved what I was doing. I had regretted the fact that I took that advice and didn't try to get into medical school. Having spent time teaching medical students, I knew I was just as bright as they were. It was the wish to not leave this world with any regrets if I could fix it.

On returning to school: Going to Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, 332 miles south of Chicago, meant being away from home for four years. It meant no significant income for eight years, and we were a two-income family. I could not have done it without the support of my family. When I would get discouraged, they kept me going.

On comparing careers: The experience I gained as a nurse-midwife was immeasurably valuable, but as a physician, I have more opportunity with respect to the continuity of care; it has expanded my ability to provide care for my patients. Also, I am the collaborating physician for a group of nurse-midwives. I understand their perspective. I have been there.

On lasting philosophy: I say to people, "Do not give up—be realistic—but do not give up." You really have to try to pursue your dreams. It may not be easy, but if you can rally support from friends and, most important, from family, that makes the difference. The toughest part was the first few years of medical school. But the satisfying part is that I can say I am a board-certified OB-GYN. I did it all. I accomplished my dream.


This article appears in the July 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Reprint HLR0712-10


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.