Dr. Maya Merriweather: A Pillar of Hope and Representation in Healthcare

by Staff Writer
December 26, 2023 at 10:05 AM UTC

A shared sense of community and comradery allows healthcare professionals to shed the armor of medicine and simply be human.

I remember when I first met Nieskya Jackson, a clerical worker in the maternity ward of a children’s hospital. It was a normal, busy workday on the antepartum ward, and I was in dire need of assistance with printing, faxing, and uploading healthcare records into a patient’s chart.

After a few wrong turns and asking multiple people for assistance, I eventually found my way to Nieskya at the front desk. I was frantic and in need of help while she was calm and poised. She looked at me with a smile and simply asked, “How can I help?”

I explained to her what I thought was a long and arduous process and she responded with “I got you. Don’t worry about it,” and proceeded to accomplish the task within minutes while engaging in friendly conversation.

Hallway Hellos Help

I feel that same sense of camaraderie during the wee hours of the morning when I, a resident OB-GYN at the Indiana University School of Medicine, walked through the corridors of the hospital chatting with valet workers and custodial staff. Quick little exchanges like Estelle Scott’s greeting of “Hey honey! How ya doin’?” are the mental breaks I look forward to while working the inpatient wards.

These are the spiritual pick-me-ups that are better than any energy drink. And for that, I’m grateful.

Uplifting Healhtcare Encounters

Once, when I was preoccupied with navigating my surroundings and organizing my thoughts before the start of a busy shift,  a lunch lady’s kind words pulled me away from my own thoughts.

“I’m proud of you, and I just want you to know that,” she told me.

Honestly, before she said that, all that was on my mind was how inadequate I was.

In that moment, nothing else mattered. I stopped thinking about my shortcomings. I refocused on everything I’d accomplished both professionally and personally. Maybe I hadn’t made a name for myself in the music industry or the sports arena, but here I was, standing tall as a star in my own right in the healthcare field.

All of these brief interactions remind me of how I make an impact on someone’s life, every day. I am someone’s role model. I am someone’s #CareerGoals. That young Black person who navigated the system. Someone who deserves the spotlight.

These casual comments help me to remember that even on my worst days, there is still a whole network that is counting on me, supporting me. I am the product of a demographic for whom, at one point in time in its short history, it was illegal to be educated. I stand on the shoulders of these giants while also serving as a pillar for future young doctors.

I feel a sense of pride and happiness as I soak up all of these kind words. When I see a smiling face, I smile back. “Thank you,” I reply. But words can’t express how much of an impact this supportive community has on me. 

Always Keep This In Mind

To program directors and administrators alike, make sure you check in with residents from underrepresented backgrounds. Ensure they aren’t drowning in isolation. Meet them from a place of authenticity and humble learning, because most of you have never walked in our shoes. Do what you have the power to do – facilitate an environment where those residents can bring their authentic selves because that version is the best version of them, and the version most likely to deliver the most effective healthcare to our beloved patients.

And to my fellow hospital staff who remain a constant source of encouragement: thank you.  You remind me every day just how much representation in healthcare matters. It’s the shared sense of community and comradery that allows me to shed the armor of medicine and simply be human.

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Maya Merriweather, MD is an OB-GYN resident physician at  The Indiana University School of Medicine. She was recently named the IUSM Inclusive Excellence Resident Scholar.

Further Reading:

Dr. Russell Ledet Hears Echoes of Encouragement for Black Docs

The Black Physician Experience

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