Follow-up to the author’s bestselling The Ditchdigger’s Daughters (1995).
In her previous book, Thornton (Obstetrics and Gynecology/New York Medical Coll.) described how her working-class parents insisted that their five daughters do well in school and grow up to become doctors, which four of them did. This book begins in the early 1980s, as the author, then one of a handful of black female obstetricians in the country, joined New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center as an assistant professor in obstetrics-gynecology. She was marginalized, assigned a basement office and encountered mistreatment by colleagues that would plague much of her career at several New York–area hospitals. Ambitious and assertive, Thornton draws strength from her upbringing and perseveres in her quest for success. In her dingy digs, she improved the hospital clinic and built a thriving private practice. She won promotion to associate professor after threatening to resign upon learning that a former resident of hers “with the Cornell boys’ club ‘look’—tall, blonde, handsome, and well dressed” had been elevated to that rank. Later, on encountering bias at other hospitals, she recalled her father’s observation, “Builds character, Cookie, builds character.” Much of the book focuses on Thornton’s work as a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine and her efforts to carry on the family tradition by encouraging her two gifted children to aspire to medical careers. As the book closes, Woody, a national chess champion, has graduated from medical school and plans to enter academic medicine; Kimberly is a medical student; and Thornton is a full professor—a post held by only 12 percent of female doctors—at a suburban medical college. While her story will undoubtedly attract fans of her earlier memoir, the author’s relentless drive to overachieve—and her insistence that her own privileged children become physicians—may seem disconcerting to some readers, as if she had learned her father’s lessons only too well. But then, as she writes, the idea was always to “pull so far ahead that nothing and no one could hold us back.”
Candid and well-written.