Having difficulty discovering or understanding your purpose? Feeling behind because those around you seem to have known all along what path they were destined to take? Do you feel like what you want to do has too many challenges to overcome? 

On February 3rd, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman accepted into medical school. Let’s look at her legacy and learn how you too can discover your purpose and create change.

Discovering Your Purpose

As we celebrate the impact that Dr. Blackwell had by opening the door for women to enter medical school, it is important to note that she initially had no interest in medicine. She planned to go into teaching. In fact, historical records indicate that she didn’t like medicine or topics related to the body. Yet now, the door for women in medicine would have been delayed had it not been for her. 

So how did she make the transition from not liking medicine to desiring a career in which no other woman had done formally and that would come with many barriers to pursue?

Dr. Blackwell was inspired to become a physician because a dying friend suggested to her that she felt she would have suffered less if the physician who cared for her was a woman. 

Dr. Blackwell saw a need that she could fulfill. This created a change in her thought process about medicine from dislike to willingness. Her willingness brought about a desire to do what was necessary for another woman to receive care with less suffering. Her desire became a passion to create a space for women doctors to train and provide medical care to the poor.

Be inspired 

Dr. Blackwell’s legacy did not start out from what she originally thought she would spend her life doing – a traditional teaching career. Her not knowing or even wanting to do medicine early on did not impede her from creating change that would transform the course of history for women in medicine. If you are unsure or don’t see how the future is going to unfold, it is ok! Take a lesson from Dr. Blackwell and start with finding your inspiration.

You may be wondering if this will work for you. Or that perhaps this was one of those events that was just supposed to happen. Or that there is something unique about Dr. Blackwell that caused her to translate her inspiration into purpose. 

I have a similar story to Dr. Blackwell. One caveat though is that I knew I wanted to become a physician since I was 14. I, however, did not like business or finance. I avoided such classes in college. I remember saying I’d never get an MBA. Well guess what? I now have an MBA! 

It started with being promoted to Chief Medical Officer while I worked employed after demonstrating leadership skills in helping to develop our Patient Centered Medical Home status. My then CEO encouraged me to do a leadership course to help develop more managerial and executive skills. I really enjoyed what I was doing and became inspired to be a voice for our physician and advanced practice clinicians for better processes and procedures in taking care of our patients. I then talked with other physicians in leadership roles and determined that an MBA was the best option. 

When a need inspires you to effect change, you not only discover your purpose, but your purpose also discovers you.

Understanding Your Purpose

Be connected 

Some people think that understanding your purpose starts with knowing how the purpose unfolds and lies at the end. When she first started her medical journey, Dr. Blackwell did not know she would open a medical dispensary or training center. She had planned to become a surgeon. 

First, you need to learn how to begin fulfilling the foundation of your purpose. Knowing how to fulfill that purpose does not just magically happen. Dr. Blackwell did not know how to become a physician. Her family did know some physicians and they connected her with them. If you don’t know anyone personally doing what you want to do, talk to others who can connect you with someone. In essence, network.

Be open-minded 

The person you become connected with may not be exactly what you are looking for because you may be the first to do it, but you must start somewhere. Think about it, Dr. Blackwell wanted to become a physician because of the suffering a male physician caused her dying friend, but it was only a male physician who could show her how to become a physician. 

A little nugget of wisdom – do not let personal feelings close you off from learning from those who know how to do what you are trying to do.

Be persistent

You still must keep your eyes focused on your purpose even when getting guidance from others. 

Dr. Blackwell was told that becoming a physician was impossible. There were no other female physicians. She was told it was expensive. She was not given supportive advice from these male physicians. She pressed on and continued to contact other physicians until one let her read medicine with them. She applied to many schools but was rejected until what was meant to be a joke turned into her golden opportunity. 

Your purpose may seem impossible because it has not been done yet, however, it is just waiting on you to make it possible.

Fulfilling Your Purpose

Be ready to pivot 

Dr. Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College in 1949. She started out planning to become a teacher and then she was inspired to become a physician. She planned to become a surgeon but lost vision in one eye due to an illness she contracted while taking care of a patient. She returned to New York but found it difficult to find somewhere to train and hire her. She then opened her own medical dispensary. 

Dr. Blackwell had to pivot several times in her life. These changes did not mean that her purpose was incorrect or not to be fulfilled. 

Her purpose did not follow the path she thought it would but instead fulfilled just what was needed. Dr. Blackwell founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857. Women physicians were needed. Training centers for women were needed. Medical care for the poor was needed. 

The pivots that Dr. Blackwell embraced, led to these needs being met and yielded a great legacy due to her becoming inspired.

It is ok if you do not yet see what your purpose is in its totality. That is how it is for many people. Not knowing the details does not mean that you are not supposed to do it. Just because no one has done it yet does not make it impossible. You may be the one history is awaiting to make it possible. 

Let your inspiration to serve be your guide. Your inspiration will bring your mind, creativity, and purpose into position. Be connected. Be open-minded. Be persistent. Be ready to pivot.

Share this article with a friend or family member whether they are in medicine or not. Help others learn about the great legacy of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell in the field of medicine.

Crystal A. Maxwell, MD, MBA, FAAFP, is a board-certified family medicine physician with over ten years of experience. She is the Founder & CEO of LIGHT Family Wellness. She is also a wellness coach, author, speaker, wife, and mom. Her website is www.lightfamilywellness.com, and she can be followed on Instagram and Facebook @lightfamilywellness.