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Jewish Alliance for Women in Science

Helping Women Enter Careers Related to Science and Medicine

JAWS Highlighted Feature

Visit Mentors' Round Table to read our interviews of women in the fields of science and health. These are women of varying levels of experience and backgrounds, brought to the table to answer your questions about everything from work-life balance to financial management. Read on, be inspired, and leave them (and us!) a comment!

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From Religion to Medicine

by Barry Shifrin

Issue date​: 11/16/09 Section: News

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Dr. Susan Schulman, M.D., was the latest speaker at a meeting for the Jewish Alliance for Women (JAWS) in Science last Wednesday evening, telling of her experience balancing her career as a pediatrician and her life as an orthodox Jewish woman.

"You have to start with identity, and for me that's being an orthodox Jew. Then I'm a wife, mother, grandmother, and doctor. You have to remember your priorities. Career won't carry your life. Without family, we're not anybody."

Schulman, who is now 63 and a grandmother of twelve, attended Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University in Brooklyn, where she planned to major in English and French. However, a biology professor her freshman year convinced her to abandon the liberal arts.

"You can read any book you want any time; go to a library," her professor told her. "You don't need to make a career out of literature."

Following her advice, Schulman began working at a lab at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, studying physiology of fish and amphibians. Upon her graduation in 1967, however, she was unable to find a graduate research program that interested her. "I couldn't see being a fish physiologist, so I decided to apply to med school. At least then I'd be studying humans," Schulman said.

She soon found herself enrolled at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C, where she was one of 9 women in a class of 110 people.

While attending George Washington, Schulman met her husband, who was studying medicine two years ahead of her. She attributes the support of her husband, as well as her family and friends, as a key factor to helping her through the "intense" seven years of medical school and residency.

"If you have the right support, everybody becomes a part of it," Schulman said. "Everybody gets a piece of the accomplishment as it goes along."

After graduating, Schulman opened a joint-private practice with her husband, an internalist, in a house down the street from Maimonides Infants and Children's Hospital in Brooklyn, where she is also an attending pediatrician.

While raising two daughters who are both now physicians themselves, Schulman developed a strong core of families for her practice. She had the unique pleasure of taking care of some patients from their infancy until they were grandparents themselves. "I'm a grandmother and a great-grand-doctor," she said.

Schulman recently published her first book, Understanding Your Child's Health, which she describes as a primary-care guide for parents on topics such as bedwetting, sleep problems, and phobias, based on over 50 health articles she has written over the years. She is a self-proclaimed advocate for community involvement, and as a pediatrician she lists obesity, sexual-abuse, and smoking as the biggest problems facing children today.

Giving advice for any student passionate in pursuing a professional vocation, Schulman said, "Make sure you spend time with someone doing exactly what you think you want to be doing. You don't want to invest all your time in something without knowing what you're getting into. You've got to want to get up in the morning. You've got to love what you're doing."

"99% of what you need to know in your education you have to learn yourself," she added.

The event was hosted by the Jewish Alliance for Women in Science. Founded by senior BC chemistry major Miriam Lieberman, the group launched a website in August 2009 which links young Jewish women pursuing careers in science and mathematics with professionals in the field.

"In Jewish culture...there is an emphasis on women to marry and establish family at an early age," said Lieberman. "I myself knew that if I wanted to even consider becoming a doctor, I had to meet someone that could tell me and show me how they were able to become a doctor while still maintaining a functioning family. Speaking with fellow students, I learned that many of them had worries similar to my own...that is why JAWS was established."