Amanda Williams Calhoun, MD, MPH, is the medical director of maternity services for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California. In addition to being the voice of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California ob-gyn on Twitter and co-author of My Pregnancy Pocket Guide, she mentors underrepresented minority women in medicine and is active in Physicians Medical Forum and Sinkler Miller Medical Association.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path as a doctor or healer?
I don’t have a nice, neat story about becoming an ob-gyn, but there are four main threads that came together. The first is that I’ve always been interested in women’s rights and issues and I also appreciate the challenges of being a working mother. My mom was her law firm’s first female lawyer, and I was inspired by that.
Second, I was the oldest of three children, and I’m the only girl. I took care of my younger brothers and knew I would go into a field where I could care for others.
Third, I’ve also always been an athlete — playing soccer, running Division 1 track in college — so I knew my career would be high intensity and physical.
Lastly, I’m curious and loved science, always asking, “why?” When I first entered medical school, I thought I would be a breast surgeon. However, I ended up pursuing obstetrics and gynecology because I wanted to have a more wholistic view of women’s health, and I loved the intimate space around reproduction. I also saw myself as a patient advocate.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other doctors/clinicians/healers to help their patients to thrive?
- Move away from judgement. It can be easy to judge, but meet them where they are and keep in mind that many things are okay in moderation. Too much of anything is not good for you.
- Help patients find a healthy stress reliever. We are so wound up and have so many external stresses. We need to find a functional way to relieve stress, such as meditation, running, reading, or gardening. It’s even better if this stress reliever is a part of your daily routine.
- Encourage patients to connect with other people, namely family and friends. Nobody is an island, and nobody can get through this life alone. We know that people who have partners tend to live longer.
- Patients should eat real food. Things that were alive previously, such as fruits and vegetables and lean meats in moderation. Avoid processed food.
- Get outside. Encourage patients to get outside to walk, hike, bike, or just breathe the air to connect with a world that’s bigger than them.
Social media and reality TV create a venue for people to share their personal stories. Do you think more transparency about your personal story can help or harm your field of work? Can you explain?
Transparency absolutely helps. I tweet about being a mother, a female professional, living in integrity, being a Black woman … I do a lot of personal sharing. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s my style. That said, I never want to overshadow the patient’s story. It’s important to be a good listener. I want to build trust with a patient and give them a safe place to open up — some of that can be accomplished by opening up myself, which sends a message that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant to your life?
“Don’t struggle … adjust.”
I was a senior ob-gyn resident, learning how to do laparoscopic surgery. I was having a hard time with the physical mechanics of the surgery. The supervising physician said, “Don’t struggle … adjust,” and he turned my shoulder and body 90 degrees. All of a sudden it was so much easier to do it. And this became one of my mottos. Whenever there’s a struggle, whether it’s physical or emotional, there’s always another way to do it or approach it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have two movements that I think would help make this society a better place, and they work together.
The first one would be an authentic-self movement, especially in the professional realm. We all conform to these cultural norms and may lose who we are in the process. If we all brought our authentic self into the professional world, we would be more productive and happier because we didn’t have to fit into this static mold of how we are “supposed” to be.
My other idea is to learn more about other people — the people we serve or take care of or work with or relate to somehow — and to see their perspective and experience life as they do. If we gain a deeper understanding of what makes people tick or get a better glimpse into their life experiences, we have an opportunity to build more genuine relationships and to help each other more. Understanding where each other comes from, what our biases are, and what influences others are subjected to can help us make stronger connections to each other.
The first movement is how we present ourselves while the other movement is how we treat and relate to other people, both strengthening our individual satisfaction and our relationships.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!