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Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Daddy—Donald E. Thornton (1925-1983)

Happy Father’s Day!   It has been 30 years since my Dad passed away at 57 years of age.  He was too young to die, but there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him.  There are so many instances in which I say to myself, “What Would Daddy Do?”.  The answer to that question often solves the problem immediately!!  He was a humble man, an honorable man, and a person who saw the future for his five daughters (when no one else did).  With his prescience, he guided me and my sisters to careers virtually unheard of when I was a child.  Women as doctors?!  Black women as doctors?!  What a hoot!  Impossible!!

Yet, with his vision, persistence, love and determination, we realized his dream for all of his daughters becoming physicians (doctors).  That lofty goal was achieved over and over again in my family and is chronicled in my two memoirs, “The Ditchdigger’s Daughters” and “Something to Prove”.  Long before his dream for us to become doctors, he took it upon himself to get us out of the housing projects of New Jersey and build our home (with our Mom serving as his hod carrier).  He was a genius.  Daddy was a cross between Bill Cosby and Rocky. His indomitable spirit has lived on in each one of his daughters.  Although, we did not all become physicians, in one generation, he spawned two MDs, one oral surgeon (DDS), and one attorney (JD) and PhD., and the remaining living daughters of Donald and Itasker Thornton are all doctors.

He and my mother were a formidable team and great parents, as well.  I have fashioned my parenting skills after both of them.  Because they were lovingly strict, I have benefited from their life lessons and have taught my children those same lessons.  Education was revered in our family and it was our only way to get out of poverty and enjoy the mainstream world of privilege and success.  My son, is a physician and my daughter is a well-educated woman with Columbia and Stanford degrees.

I owe it all to my Dad (and Mom) who supported us, loved us, sacrificed for us and gave us a chance to succeed.

Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

May You Rest In Peace

Women Are Enduring More and So Are Their Hearts

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

There was a time, when women stayed home to care for the children, did not vote, and did not make money of their own.  Luckily, we’ve since achieved a sense of equality as citizens.  Unfortunately, that equality has not come without a price.  As modern day women, we work just as hard as men, but on average, still earn less.  We parent just as much as men, and often as not, more because it is ingrained in us to try and be that Hallmark mom, but still must bear the burden of pregnancy.  We deal with the emotional, physical, and economic stresses just as much as men, but now, studies show that our hearts do not get as much help during these stressful times.

Researchers at Penn State conducted a study to find out how the heart and blood pressure of men and women differed when presented with mental stress.  All subjects were given the same problems and were monitored carefully to see how they dealt with the pressure.  The hearts of both men and women started working harder as the stress mounted, as was expected.  The amount of blood flow to the heart increased in men in order to make up for the extra work, but it did not increase in women.  This was a surprising discovery.  Professor Chester Ray, who led the study, believes this “shows women may be more susceptible to experiencing a cardiac event with mental stress compared to men.”  With heart attacks being much more common in women than in men, their results are helping doctors understand why.  Hopefully, these findings will encourage more women to seek a doctor’s advice when they feel stress that seems to be affecting their heart.

What does this boil down to? It boils down to the fact that women need to begin to realize that they need to demand the help that they deserve and need. We simply cannot be everything to everyone all of the time. We need to set priorities, and stick to them. My new memoir, “Something to Prove” chronicles my life as a woman who balances career, home and family; hopefully serving as a roadmap for other adventurous women.  Different times in our lives call for different priorities. Being a harried mother may be just as stressful as meeting an office deadline or being the sole caretaker of infirm parents or performing difficult surgery.  We are not superwomen, though if you look at what a majority of women accomplish on a day-to-day basis, we might as well be; even without the additional pressure that put on ourselves trying to “do it all”. All women who have children have one job, if she works outside the home, then she has two jobs, and if you are also cook, cleaner, and overall the “go-to” person, you might just have three jobs. And this is considered normal… It’s no wonder women are stressed.   

Although psychological studies have shown that women feel they are “expected to possess many diverse traits and behaviors, such as being both competitive and nurturing, compliant and assertive, and to appear in control without any signs of vulnerability,” they need to realize these expectations contradict themselves and are simply not realistic.  If your lifestyle has caused you to deal with inordinate amounts of stress, your mental, emotional, and physical health will suffer if you don’t make a change.  A study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that women who had more satisfying jobs and home lives were less likely to develop as much mental stress, even though they had the same amount of responsibilities as others.  I love ballroom dancing and I twirl around the dance floor each week with a cha-cha or tango in order to de-stress and have a creative outlet.  In other words, find something that you love doing and it won’t take quite as much of a toll on your health.  With this in mind, you can still be a modern day woman and take on numerous responsibilities, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  As a physician, author, wife, and mother, I know that finding this balance can be difficult, but your heart is worth it.

— Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Lioness Mom, Yvonne Thornton meets Tiger Mother, Amy Chua

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Because of my lofty ambitions for my children, which I wrote about at length in Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy, I’ve been compared often lately to Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She and I were both guests on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midmorning show last week.

You can hear the program here.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Tiger Mother, Meet Yvonne Thornton, Lioness Mom (or, the Media Blitz Continues)

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Linda Villarosa, a reporter for The Root (part of the Washington Post family), an online magazine that focuses on black perspectives, recently interviewed me about Something To Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy. I’ve been interviewed by more media than I can name, at this point, and each reporter has wanted to discuss slightly different aspects of my new memoir. Ms. Villarosa was most interested in contrasting Something To Prove with another memoir that recently came out, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a widely publicized book about an Asian mom who pushes her kids to excel.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

In her book, Chua, a Yale Law professor, discusses her struggle to raise brilliant, accomplished children — straight-A students and musical prodigies — using the lessons of her super-strict Chinese immigrant parents.

But another mom, also the author of a memoir that landed in bookstores about the same time as Chua’s, has already done it. She, too, was raised by super-strict, old-world parents, and she brought up her kids the same way. This mom, however, is black, and she prefers to be called a lioness.

“Parents don’t have high-enough expectations; they give up on their kids,” says Dr. Yvonne S. Thornton, 63, author of the new book Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy. “No, I’m not a Tiger Mom; I’m a lioness. I growl when I need to growl, and set the bar high.”

The article went on to point to some of the issues I raised in Something to Prove about juggling motherhood and a career.

A few days earlier, I was again on NPR, this time chatting with Michel Martin on TELL ME MORE. We focused mostly on my father’s wisdom, which inspired me in so many ways, from my career decisions to the way I raised my own family. (And there’s not a day that goes by that Donald Thornton, AKA Daddy, doesn’t still guide my decisions). You can hear the interview and read the transcript, here.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

New Research Shows Women Doctors Still Earning Far Less Than Men

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Anyone who has read my new memoir, Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy, knows that I encountered at least as much gender bias as racial bias in my career. Now, a new study by economics professor Anthony T. Lo Sasso, PhD, and coauthors, of the University Illinois School of Public Health in Chicago, shows that women doctors are routinely paid much less than their male counterparts. Worse, the gap between the pay offered male and female doctors has been widening, according to this article about the study from MedPage:

Among new physicians entering the work force, women earned almost $17,000 a year less than their male counterparts — almost regardless of which specialty they picked — according to an analysis of starting salaries over a 10-year period.

In fact, the analysis of starting salaries for more than 8,000 physicians found that the pay gap between men and women increased almost fivefold — from $3,600 in 1999 to $16,819 in 2008.

It’s great to have the pay gap out in the open, but I must take exception to the way the authors of the study seem to place the blame for lower pay on the shoulders of the women doctors. The authors speculate that the pay gap might be explained because women take jobs that give them more balance between lifestyle and career, or because women are poor negotiators.

I am married to a fellow physician, and I’m sure he’d agree that I’m a terrific negotiator, and I’ve always worked as hard, if not harder, than him or any male physician we know. This is true of all the working women I know: physicians, administrators, nurses, executives, salespeople – all women. Blaming women for bias against them is just another aspect of the bias.

The perpetuation of the myth that it’s a woman’s own fault if she’s paid less, or passed over for promotion in favor of a less qualified man, must end. We women have to cry foul every time we hear it.

It’s still true that women must work twice as hard as men to be thought half as good. Even now, in the 21st century.

Isn’t it time that changed?

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH.

Hear (and See) My Radio Interview with Leonard Lopate of WNYC

Friday, January 7th, 2011

I had a great time visiting with Leonard Lopate of WNYC Radio, and talking about my new memoir, Something To Prove.

We spoke of my father, Donald Thornton, how our girl band, The Thornton Sisters came into being, and how sexism has often been a greater impediment than racism in my career.

The interview was videotaped and posted to YouTube, so here it is.

Let me know what you think.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Win a copy of “Something To Prove,” the sequel to “The Ditchdigger’s Daughters”

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Want to win a copy of my new memoir, Something To Prove? If you have a blog, you can enter a contest to win one of two free copies. See the details for the contest, here.

You only have until January 13th to enter, so please get started now.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Dr. Yvonne Thornton Discusses “Something To Prove” on Nurse Talk Radio Show

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

The week before Christmas, I was a guest of co-hosts (and registered nurses) Casey Hobbs and Dan Grady on the award-winning “Nurse Talk,” a radio show with a sense of humor similar to the popular NPR show, “Car Talk.”

You can listen by clicking the link below (I’m the second guest, so I’m a bit after the halfway point), but stay for the entire show. It’s a lot of fun – and you’ll learn a lot, too. Nurse Talk with Dr. Yvonne S. Thornton, author of Something To Prove

And if you’re in New York City, please be sure to stop by and see me tonight, January 4, 2011, at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 2289 Broadway at 82nd St. (212) 362-8835. The event is free and everyone is invited.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Blizzard Forces Postponement of Chuck Scarborough Interview

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

I don’t need to tell you how chaotic New York has been after the big snowstorm. We’ll re-schedule the interview with Chuck Scarborough of WNBC-TV once the weather improves. See you then.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

The Book Launch Party Was a Blast!

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Thanks to everyone who came to the party to help celebrate the launch of my new memoir, Something to Prove. It was a roaring success — and it was great to see you there. Here I am, next to the party cake (it was delicious) with images from the book cover on the icing.

Yvonne S. Thornton, MD book launch party

Yvonne S. Thornton, MD at the party for the launch of her memoir, Something to Prove

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH