Member of the Month: Kendra Williams
MS3 looks back at her journey and looks forward to what’s next
By Perdita Henry
Kendra Williams grew up in the small town of Hamlin, Texas. It’s one of those tiny towns of yesterday that collides in subtle ways with the Texas of today. Just outside of Abilene, it was there that two events would make Kendra’s path clear. “My mom pushed me,” Kendra says. “She didn’t become a nurse until I was around 6 or 7 and once she did, there were a lot of days my dad and older brothers were busy, and I ended up spending time at the hospital my mom worked at. She told me medicine is the field to be in and I saw how successful she was.”
“Black women practicing medicine in rural communities is rare. Other than my mom, there was one other black nurse that worked at the clinic in Hamlin.” Seeing people that look like you doing something makes you feel better about the idea of doing something similar. By the time Kendra was in middle school she began telling people about her goal. “I think a lot of people who knew me in middle school and high school heard me say, ‘I’m going to be a doctor.’ Nobody really took it seriously because in the community I’m from, people don’t generally stay in college.”
It was in middle school that Kendra would experience another side of medicine. “I had a little cousin who was 6 years old,” Kendra says. “She suffered a tragic event and she eventually passed away. But during that time, we spent about a week in the hospital. I guess that’s what propelled me down this path. The doctors I saw there showed me this is what I want to be.”
During her journey through medical school, things haven’t always been easy. Those more difficult experiences are what inspired her to start her blog, Paging Student Dr. Kendra. There, she talks about the good and the bad that comes with blazing a path in medicine. As she prepares to put the finishing touches on her third year at McGovern medical school and begins looking toward the process of residency applications and interviews, Kendra took some time to reflect on how far she’s come and where she intends to go next.
What is it about family medicine that interests you?
Family medicine is one of the only specialties that makes me feel like I’m a doctor. I want to take care of the whole patient and I want to provide them with more services than they could get with one super-specialized doctor. I don’t want to just see patients when they’re in the hospital.
Why rural medicine?
My hometown is small. The population is about 2,400. The surrounding towns are all very small as well. Other than your primary care physician, who’s going to take care of your diabetes, blood pressure, and so on? You must travel at least 45 minutes to Abilene to see an OBGYN, dermatologist, and so on.
I want to practice rural medicine because it would allow me to practice a few more procedures. I’ve learned over time that surgery is not the only route to that goal. Where I train, they offer me all these opportunities to learn things from different fields. I most likely want to be a proceduralist and there’s not a lot of interest in doing that in smaller towns anymore. I want to offer people who have less access the talents I have. I think it’s important to return to my roots.
How do you see yourself practicing medicine?
I would love to practice family medicine with an emphasis on women’s health. I’m thinking before we start doing applications that I’ll either do family medicine or do family medicine with an obstetric fellowship.
“When I began the blog, I wanted to help someone avoid some of the challenges I faced.”
You write a blog about your experiences as a medical student and you are very active on social media. Why is it important to you to share so much about your journey?
I went in to medical school and had to operate a lot of things blindly. I believe everything is in God’s timing and according to God’s plan, but I feel like there were things I should have known and had access to. Had I had that access, a few things would have gone differently and that would’ve been to my advantage.
When I began the blog, I wanted to help someone avoid some of the challenges I faced. I wanted to give my perspective and provide a real look into what medical school was like through both successes and failures. My blog is about medicine, relationships, family, and balancing those things the best way you know how.
What is the best lesson medical school has taught you?
Besides the science part of it, I had to quickly learn two things. You must take care of yourself. That could be watching Netflix one night, having a glass of wine, going out to dinner once a week, or going to your counselor just to talk.
The other is you have to be okay with asking for help. That was my biggest pitfall during my first year of medical school. I was still operating in the mindset of, “I came from undergrad, I didn’t have to study. I just did it and I was good at it.”
You go from making 95s and 100s on all your exams in high school and undergrad, to getting a 65 your first test in medical school. That’s a problem for lot of med students. You have it in your head that if I fail one exam, I’m going to get kicked out, and that’s not really what happens.
It’s a reality check when you’re not doing as well as you thought you would. Then you have to be okay with opening up to someone and asking them, “What do I do?” I had to move along quickly from the people who told me, “Oh yeah, you just have to be present in class and you’ll pass.” That doesn’t work for about 99 percent of medical students.
On rotations, I notice a lot of people think their attendings will beat them up for asking questions. They usually won’t. I don’t have a problem with asking my attending about something while we’re walking to another patient’s room. “You asked this question, what are you really asking?” Those types of things have carried me through rotations.
In medical school there has been talk about getting people to be more aware of not pushing themselves so hard. How do you see your school dealing with burnout?
There’s a huge effort to remind us not to push ourselves so hard, which isn’t realistic because almost everybody in medicine has a type-A personality. We inherently obsess over things.
There have been efforts to focus on our wellness. At McGovern every so often, they give out gym memberships or they have free mental health care so we can see someone, regardless of whether you have insurance or can pay. I think it’s a step in the right direction, but we need to talk more about mental health and mental illness. People in med school are no different from the general population. We get depressed, we have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etcetera. There’s been a stigma in the past that doctors don’t get sick. We must turn the tables on that. People are afraid to say, “I am bipolar” because they fear they might not have as many job opportunities. So, they may hide it and they may go untreated. There’s this stigma that if you seek treatment people might find out. It’s important for the medical community to take care of those in medicine.
Lots of schools are pushing the mantra, “see something, do something.” We’ve been told to look out for each other. I think that’s important, especially for med students. Just check in on people. Some people have gotten lost and no one really saw the warning signs. You look back and realize, I did see the warning signs, I just didn’t think it was that.
How are you managing to avoid burnout with all your commitments and responsibilities?
You have to find what works for you, family, church, going for a run, binge watching Game of Thrones. Those are the things that help keep you going. You know you are going to have a hard two weeks or a hard rotation, but you plan at least one day or however many hours you can get to wind down. That gives you something to look forward to and helps you get to the next point.
“I am a person who has learned to take things a step at a time, a case at a time, a rotation at a time.”
How do you think we can attract more medical students to family medicine?
Once upon a time, family medicine was the residency you fell back on if you didn’t get the board scores. Now, a lot of students are seeing that’s not what family medicine is. It’s important for medical students to know that you can take care of the whole patient rather than just one small thing. Second, family medicine isn’t just medicine, there’s a social component. We have patients from every walk of life.
We have to reach out to people who want to serve. Family medicine is one of the only growing residency programs in the nation and I think that’s attracting more students. The only set-back is the money isn’t dermatology money, but with the many things you can go into within family medicine, you can get close to it.
What keeps you going during medical school when things are hectic?
My patients are a motivator for me. I’ve had patients who come in and they’re not walking, haven’t been able to work for months on end. We do something for them and two days later they are walking again. I am a person who has learned to take things a step at a time, a case at a time, a rotation at a time. It’s helped me push through when things are hectic or difficult. Knowing what I want to do and the difference I can make in people’s lives motivates me to keep pushing.
TAFP’s Member of the Month program highlights Texas family physicians in TAFP News Now and on the TAFP website. We feature a biography and a Q&A with a different TAFP member each month and his or her unique approach to family medicine. If you know an outstanding family physician colleague who you think should be featured as a Member of the Month or if you’d like to tell your own story, nominate yourself or your colleague by contacting TAFP by email at email@example.com or by phone at (512) 329-8666. View past Members of the Month here.