Peter Carmel, M.D., gave his final speech as the president of the American Medical Association recently, addressing the issues and achievements of his term as leader of the nation’s largest physician organization.
He ended by telling an extraordinary story of a physician he mentored while she was a medical student at Columbia University: Karin Muraszko, M.D., now chair of the U-M Department of Neurosurgery.
Here’s an excerpt:
Colleagues, a year ago I told you that my heroes – beginning with my father – have always been doctors. Today, I want to draw your attention to one more hero. A mentee of mine, Karin Muraszko. And I have Karin’s permission to share her story with you.
Karin’s childhood was different than most. She was born with spina bifida in 1955, when the medical world understood far less about her condition than we do now. In fact, her parents were told she wouldn’t live – that they should learn to accept it.
But her parents wouldn’t accept it. And neither would Karin. She was determined to fight. Over the years, Karin underwent countless surgeries. While most children were playing in the park, she spent 13 months in a body cast. She learned to walk – not once – but three different times!
Having spent so many days in hospitals, Karin knew by the age of seven that she wanted to be a doctor. And by the time I met her at Columbia University Medical School, she was well on her way . . . extremely bright and tenacious.
But she soon faced a dilemma. During her third year, Karin decided she wanted to become a neurosurgeon. But three obstacles stood in her way. First, she was only four feet nine inches tall, which would make reaching the operating table a challenge. Second, she was a woman, and almost 95% of neurosurgeons are male.
And third, she had a disability. As a result of her spina bifida, one of Karin’s legs is 2 inches shorter than the other. And in neurosurgery, where operations can take 12, 15, even 18 hours, it’s essential that physicians are physically, as well as mentally strong.
While the challenges before Karin were great, her determination was even greater. I told her that she was going to have to prove herself – even “over-prove” herself to achieve her goal.
I knew she could. I knew she would. And of course . . . she did!
Karin shadowed me and other neurosurgeons, demonstrating her ability to meet the physical demands. She received honors in all clinical rotations and superior Board scores.
By the time she graduated, she was second in her medical school class, and she became the first disabled person to enter Columbia’s neurosurgical residency program.
Since then, Karin has never looked back. When she couldn’t reach the operating table, we had a device constructed to raise her up.When she met with sexism or prejudice, she fought to overcome them.
Today Dr. Karin Muraszko is the Chair of Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan, the first – and only – woman to chair a neurosurgical department in the nation. Karin embodies our will to fight. She is an inspiration to her colleagues, and a lifesaver to the nearly 400 children she sees each year.
Read the entire speech here.