Children idolize their mothers for everything from kissing scraped knees to nurturing them through broken hearts. When a mother has earned the letters “M.D.” after her name and her children follow in her professional footsteps, the bond can be even stronger.
Katie Sun, a UF College of Medicine fourth-year student, nearly skipped medical school to avoid following her mother and aunt into medicine. Sun’s mother, Berta Fernandez, M.D., is a pediatrician in Miami, and started medical school when Sun was 7 years old.
“I feel like I had more doubts about it because so many family members were in medicine, as if I were following a prescribed path to do it,” Sun said. “My mom really knew I would love it. In that way, she sort of pushed me. She didn’t want me to steer away from it because it’s a big commitment or because I was trying to go a different path than my family. She had to walk a fine line.”
Sun, a future pediatrician, also learned what it was like to be a mother managing medical school, as she had both of her children during medical school. Her husband, Dave, will graduate from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine when she graduates from medical school this year.
“My daughter already goes around with my stethoscope and her doctor play kit — that other people bought her, not me — and plays doctor. She says she’s going to be a doctor when she grows up, but my husband is trying to push the vet thing,” Sun said with a laugh. “I think I just want them to find something that makes them happy.”
LUTHER ST. JAMES
Luther St. James IV, a second-year medical student, also grew up watching his mother practice medicine. Carol Tanner-St. James, M.D. ’84, practices family medicine with her husband, Luther St. James III, M.D. ’86, in Daytona Beach.
The St. Jameses had their first of five sons, Luther, when they were students at the UF College of Medicine.
“A lot of their friends who babysat me and who were ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles,’ were other medical students,” St. James said with a smile. “I’ve been raised around (medicine); I’ve been around it all my life.”
St. James said his parents advised him to work hard and encourage him to not give up in medical school, even when he has a rough day or struggles with an exam. They also taught him to compassionately care for his patients — a lesson he embraces.
“My mom, just the person who she is, really impresses me,” St. James said. “She is a physician day in and day out. It’s her career, but it’s also a big part of who she is as a person. She’s a caretaker, a nurturer and a teacher. I think it’s impossible for anybody to go to medical school and not end up as a teacher in some way.”
Tahnie Danastor wanted to follow her own path, but as she looked for which career to pursue, she remembered how content her parents were as they practiced medicine in Port au Prince, Haiti.
“If you grow up seeing your parents play the guitar since you were young, and you see your mom always smiling when she does it, like she really enjoys it, that’s the example you have. That’s your normal,” Danastor said. “My dad can work all day and still get up and go at night again. That was my normal. I didn’t know anything different. They were very happy. There were days when things were hard, but they were content.”
Danastor, a fourth-year medical student, will begin an obstetrics and gynecology residency at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis this summer. She resisted pursuing the specialty in the beginning, as her father is also an OB-GYN.
During her time at the UF College of Medicine, Danastor learned about medical work opportunities in developing countries such as Haiti, which helped change her mind about a career in women’s health.
“In third-world countries, women fill a major role. That’s an awesome thing to take care of people who take care of society,” she said. “And here I am, years later, not wanting to be like my dad but doing what my dad did. I came to terms with it. Now it’s OK.”
Danastor’s two younger twin sisters are also pursing medicine, but through nursing. The girls’ mother is an anesthesiologist and encouraged her daughter to apply to medical school when she was unsure of her career path.
“My mom is that tireless person. She takes care of everybody and still doesn’t get tired. She said once you have kids, you’ll know,” Danastor said with a laugh.