Feb. 3 is National Women Physicians Day, marking the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to attend medical school. In honor of that achievement, NAU Communications sat down with Dr. Christine Crowder, a physician in Campus Health Services, to get to know her on a more personal level. Read our questions and her answers below.
Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today.
I grew up in Queens, New York, during the ‘80s surrounded by enclaves of ethnic neighborhoods. The taste and smell of amazing food filled our palates, satiated by offerings from almost every country in the world. Parents would take turns driving to King of Corona for the best Italian ice. Tubs of rainbow and lemon ices would melt down our throats on sweltering summer days. The aromatic spices of Indian shops filled the air during trips to Jackson Heights. The chatter of Chinese families enjoying dim sum surrounded our forays into Main Street. After all—you always knew where the best Asian food was served—where foreign languages beckoned the pillowy bao and slippery noodles. My best memories involved our family meals, which was often lovingly plated by our nanny.
Our nanny was from Latin America. Our mother, who showed us that by working, you take care of your family, stated that she was going back to work as a pediatrician and Aunti Yoli would take good care of us. I was five, without a lick of Spanish to my name. Aunti Yoli, alas, knew no English. And thus I learned my first Spanish word—agua—out of sheer necessity. It was sink or swim those days. I so dearly loved her as a second mom, and years later treasured being able to communicate with my Spanish-speaking patients.
I did not realize how lucky I was to be exposed to world cultures as a child. Now, I so appreciate the diversity of my patients at NAU. I hope to bestow upon my children that appreciation of other cultures, as my mother once did for me. Continuing this tradition, we make necessary trips down to Phoenix for good Asian food; after all you know how to find it—where the Asians are.
What have you been most proud of this week?
Not getting COVID (as far as I know…). Those three COVID vaccines and the surgical and N95 masks have truly protected me.
What is your favorite way to spend a day off?
A good day off starts with hot coffee and, in the dark, quiet morning hours, I read the news and articles relevant to our current lives. Then the family stirs awake and I linger over the kitchen counter. I attempt to engage the kids into conversation while they get ready and fly out into the world to school. A good long jog with the dogs in the woods and then yoga following. Reading a good book is time well spent and enjoying lunch with my husband as well. Currently, I have picked up “How Do You Live?” by Genzaburo Yoshino. It is a children’s book that inspired Hayao Miyazaki to write his celebrated animé movies, such as “Totoro.” The book is a quiet reflection on how to navigate life and try to choose the right path. Then, as my best moments in life involve sharing good food, I’lI cook a nice hot, simmering dinner for the family. Some of our winter favorites are vegetarian pho and fish and rice, and before you know it, where did the time go?
What are three things on your bucket list and why?
1) Visit the Philippines with my family. As a child, my parents took me and my two siblings there when I was in fifth grade. My eyes were opened to the raw, natural beauty of the beaches and oceans and good natured people. The water was so clear that you could see starfish hovering on the surface, but when you grasped it, you realized it was so far away. We hopped islands, staying with our different family members, and were given an opportunity to see life outside of our sheltered world. We got a sense of who we were culturally from our endless family. As with any good thing in life, there were glimpses of poverty as well. I remember some places did not have clean running water or a working toilet. I learned while young to appreciate things we often took for granted. Sometimes, we need to truly see that the world is bigger than our small place in it.
2) Travel the world to find that appreciation of good people and the power of nature. I’d like to go anywhere that would give us a lesson on how to be a better person and the history of life. Also, I’d like to go, as you now know more about me, where the locals make good local food.
3) To live long enough to see humanity find a way to heal our planet and bridge human division. I’d like to see that we will leave our children a brighter future.
What is your philosophy in life?
“Just go with the flow.” There have been trying times along the way that we all face—serious illness, deaths, COVID. Sometimes learning to adapt to and accept things that will happen despite our best efforts provides the best solace in our lives.
Also, “What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger”.
And finally, “IN CONTROOOOL”—Animal from the Muppets—has inspired my mantra.
Why did you want to become a doctor?
My father saved my life. He is a physician as well. When I was 15, after eating shrimp at a friend’s house, I felt a heat on my face, a scratchy throat and then a wheeze, which wrapped a vise around my chest. I almost decided to just lie down and sleep it off. It was pure serendipity that I called my dad, a quiet, “play by the rules” person. I lay in the back seat of the car as we sped home. Never before and not since have I seen him speed through all the red lights to our home, driven by some divine calling that defied the death that was taking me. I lay gasping in my mother’s arms and watched him open his doctor’s black bag. Calmly, he measured out the epi into a syringe and then injected my arm. Seconds seemed like hours, but I regained my breath. I recall thinking “What magic is this? I want to do that!”
What advice do you have for other women who are considering medicine as a career?
I implore future colleagues to ask themselves what their true impetus and hopes are for becoming a physician. Glory? Not so much—mostly gone is the deference you read about from olden times. Money? Um, no—I think I finally paid off my loans about eight years ago. It took a decade and a half. In residency I remember college roommates buying cars and houses while I could barely afford rent. Be prepared for deferred income. Gratification with helping others? Yes. There is a constant joy in trying to figure out a solution to improve others’ lives. There is a quiet understanding that the patients who you can follow over time develop with you a trust, remarkable for its singular attachment to medicine.
Finally—and most importantly—medicine has afforded me the ability to show my girls that a woman can stand on her own two feet. She can be a mom and have a career helping others at the same time. My daughters learn that to keep the family running, we all work as a team and rely on each other for support. My mother did that for us, and I suspect my children will do the same for their own.
I remember having to come into the office one Saturday, on call, to sew up a boxer’s eyebrow laceration. Having no babysitter and my husband at work, I asked the boxer if I could bring my two small girls, then 8 and 10, into the room. He consented, and I repaired the laceration, my girls staring wide eyed at the bloody face. I suppose I was wrong about the glory part. When you witness the magic of medicine, as I did with my father’s rescue and my girls with, what to them was cool sewing, there is that inspiration that we hope to impart on those we help.
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