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VUSM faculty share inspirational stories for Women in Medicine Month

Posted by on Thursday, September 21, 2023 in Uncategorized .

Leah Acosta, MD, MPH, FAAN
Associate Professor of Neurology

Dr. Leah Acosta poses with her grandmother, Dr. Natividad Vinoracion Yañez, at Acosta’s graduation from medical school. Photo submitted.

When you first asked me [about a woman in medicine who had inspired me] I thought about different historical figures and people that I know now, but really the person I settled on was my grandmother. My grandmother’s full name was Natividad Veneracion Yañez. She was born and raised in the Philippines, and she was actually an OBGYN. She was a female physician when I don’t think there were that many female physicians. It was quite interesting, because when I think about the history of medicine in the United States, certainly the numbers of women in medicine have been growing over the years, which is great. But you know, when I think about when my grandmother was in medical school, around the late 1920s, early 1930s, I know it was very rare in the United States. And I was trying to get my grandmother’s biography written and I was asking her, what was it like, being a female medical student, or being a female doctor at the time, and she just kind of blew it off. I think they were segregated — men had their classes, and the women had their classes — but I really tried to probe her about, “Were there so many more men than women?” or whatnot, but she kind of almost made it sound like it wasn’t really a big deal. 

She was a physician, she was an OBGYN, she was a wife, and she was a mother of six children including my mom. Her husband was a lawyer and he was into politics. Overall, it was a very busy household. And I think what really struck me the most about my grandmother, not only being a physician, is that she was also paralyzed. So, one of my first exposures to neurology, indirectly, was via her and her story. Continue reading.


Jill Slamon, MAT, MS, LCGC
Assistant Program Director, Master of Genetic Counseling program

Two women in academic regalia smile
Martha Dudeck and Jill Slamon at VUSM Commencement. Photo submitted.

Martha Dudek is not just one of my best friends. She started out as a mentor to me, she is my colleague, and in the line of hierarchy, she is my senior. She has been at Vanderbilt for over 20 years, and she has blazed the trail for genetic counselors not only in this institution, but also throughout the entire state. She led the effort to get licensure for genetic counselors in the state. I mean, her license number is one.

The situation with genetic counselors is that our licensure is state dependent, so almost all states have licensure, but not all. Tennessee was one of the earlier states to have licensure, and it’s really because of Martha’s efforts. That has really set the stage for recognition of [genetic counselors’] role in healthcare and medicine and has opened the doors for people to gain access to genetic counseling services by a true genetic counselor at VUMC and across the state. Continue reading.




Donna Rosenstiel, LCSW
Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education

Dr. Dorothy Whipple. Photo from Women’s Activism NYC.

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. Continue reading.




Cara Donohue, PhD, CCC-SLP
Assistant Professor of Clinical Hearing and Speech Sciences and Director of Medical Speech-Language Pathology

Dr. Emily Plowman, left, and Dr. Cara Donohue, right, with a friend. Photo submitted.

Dr. Emily Plowman was my mentor during my post-doctoral research fellowship. Like me, she is a clinically trained speech-language pathologist, and in her current role she is a Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Ohio State University. Prior to commencing my post-doc with Emily in the Aerodigestive Research Core laboratory, I admired her research work for years because of how clinically relevant and pragmatic it was. Emily is inspirational in many ways- her passion for the clinical research work she conducts, the time and effort she pours into her mentees, and her resilience through any challenge she faces. She has positively influenced both my professional and personal life and has continued to support me throughout my transition to my first faculty position here at Vanderbilt. I hope to provide similar mentorship to my current and future mentees.

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