I chose to pursue a career in medicine in 11th grade; when I made that decision, it was my parent’s friend, a frum, male cardiologist, who was one of my greatest supporters. I grew up in the Five Towns in a modern orthodox community, and I attended a yeshiva day school. I chose the toughest AP (advanced placement) courses in high school, and I was often one of only a few female students in the class surrounded by males (they could not fill the class alone with female students). Many of my friends’ mothers worked full-time, but none were physicians. Many were in the healthcare field or in very senior positions in business and law, but none were doctors, and I was the only one of my friends to choose this path. My parents were both extremely supportive of my decision to apply to and go to a 7-year BS/MD program. As the first-trained physician in my family, my parents worked hard to find mentors to guide and support me, many friends-of-friends, all whom also happened to be male. This never deterred me and never caused me to question my religiosity or my potential to find my soul-mate. Perhaps my perspective was naive. Perhaps I had a very strong educational background. However, it was not until later, after my year in seminary, that I realized this fact. Sure, there were plenty of women in my class at Sophie Davis, and there were several frum male students, but I was the only one who identified as a female Orthodox Jew.
I met my husband early on in my training; he came from a family of physicians and ultimately decided to pursue a career in medicine. The support I receive from both him and his parents continues to be the reason I am successful. I had incredible mentors throughout both college and medical school. My female mentors were women who went to medical school when only 5% of the class was female. My frum mentors were men who helped me navigate a Shabbos observant lifestyle while applying for residency. However, I didn’t realize what I was missing until the creation of JOWMA. With all of the incredible mentorship I received, I found myself always explaining something, whether that was why I needed to be home for a certain event (for my children) or why I just couldn’t work on Rosh Hashana. JOWMA has provided me with an incredible role model and mentor, Dr. Mimi Knoll. As someone in a very similar field (she is a radiation oncologist and I am pursuing pediatric oncology), she has pushed and empowered me to write and produce, and I have never had to explain a decision I am making because she was in a very similar place a few years ago! JOWMA has allowed me to connect with medical students and pre-medical students to tell them “Yes, you can definitely do it all!”
Thank you Eliana and the JOWMA board for not only creating this incredible organization, but also for looking for various avenues to encourage each other.
Dr. Rachel Offenbacher, MD is a Pediatrics resident at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. She completed her medical school at SUNY Downstate. She will be commencing her fellowship training at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore as a Pediatric Oncology Fellow in July 2020. Her interests include pediatric oncology, quality improvement initiatives in hospital medical and pediatric oncology, medical education and infant safe sleep practices. Her research has been published in academic journals including Pediatrics and Pediatric Hematology and Oncology. She has also written for ASCO Connection and KevinMD. She is married to her physician-husband Joseph and they live in Manhattan with their 3 sons.