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Women in Medicine Month: Donna Rosenstiel, LCSW, honors Dorothy “Dr. Dot” Whipple, MD

Posted by on Tuesday, September 19, 2023 in Uncategorized .

In celebration of Women in Medicine Month, we asked leaders throughout VUSM to tell us about a woman in medicine who has impacted their lives. Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education Donna Rosenstiel honors Dr. Dorothy Whipple.

Donna Rosenstiel, LCSW
Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education

A physician who influenced me was Dorothy V. Whipple, a practicing pediatrician for almost 40 years and a member of the Georgetown Medical School faculty. Known to her patients (and to me) as Dr. Dot, she was born in New York City in 1900. We met when she was 90 years old and I was 24, when I responded to a classified ad in a small neighborhood paper in northwest Washington, DC, seeking a renter for two rooms in her home. The ad specified, though, someone who was, a “congenial soul,” and who could help with shopping and cooking, receiving free board in return. The entire arrangement appealed to me. What I didn’t count on what the friendship that developed and lasted until the end of her life in 1995, three months before I moved away to attend graduate school at NYU to study social work.

Dr. Dot chose medicine as her career – a rarity in those days – and was the first married woman to attend Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (and kept her maiden name, unheard of at the time). She told the story of the local paper coming to her home soon after marrying and taking a picture of the mailbox proffering two surnames: one for the husband and one for the wife – such a novelty!

I have no doubt that our relationship influenced my practice of social work: choosing geriatrics; emphasizing authenticity, careful listening.

However, she had an even greater influence on my life, through her humanity, her pragmatism, and her straightforwardness. I had moved from a small town in east Texas to attend an elite liberal arts college and then moved to Washington, DC. I was in many ways what is now called a first gen student, and I often felt out of place at Oberlin and in DC, where so many people from privileged backgrounds landed. Her friendship helped me understand that while there were differences in my background and that of those with more economic and social privilege, I could believe in the promise of my intelligence, initiative and perseverance and use those qualities to create a life of my own, rich both with professional successes and personal rewards.

As I travel through middle age and care for my own elder parent, I find that I draw on my experiences with her – her insights into her aging process, my observations of her physical struggles, her drive to maintain relevance and her intellectual edge (which she did until the end).

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