Women in Medicine Month – Mary E. Aitken, MD, MPH

September 13, 2021

Dr. Mary Aitken, Women in Medicine

In honor of Women in Medicine Month, McGovern Medical School is celebrating the women faculty who hold chair appointments in their respective departments. Learn more about Mary E. Aitken, MD, professor and Dan L. Duncan Distinguished University Chair in the Department of Pediatrics.

What made you choose to pursue a career in medicine?
“I was drawn to the variety of challenges medicine offers: the excitement of science combined with the ability to really make a difference for people.  Once I realized I could combine medicine with public health, I never looked back.”

What drew you to your specialty?
“Children are just fun–they keep you honest and grounded.  There is real joy in working with the whole family to keep a child healthy. And I never forget the privilege it is for a parent to entrust us with the care of their sick child.”

What would you say is the biggest accomplishment of your career?
“Seeing the success of trainees I have worked with over the time—so many are making a real impact in their fields. I enjoy knowing that I may have had a small part in supporting their professional growth.”

What’s the best part about what you do every day?
“Every day is different, and every day I can see progress, big or small, in our department. The energy of our faculty and staff is really inspiring.”

Who are some of your mentors?
“I have been so fortunate with many wonderful mentors. Frank Oski, MD, who pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and challenge the status quo to benefit children. Debby Fiser, MD, who modeled principled leadership and how to prioritize wisely. Fred Rivara, MD, set a standard of excellence that still motivates me today.”

What are some examples of how you mentor now?
“I try to really listen to people to help identify what really energizes and excites them. When I can help link them to the resources they need to follow their passions–whether that is time, training, professional connections, or funding—I am amazed at what can be accomplished.”

What are some of the struggles you faced throughout your career? Are things better or worse now? What does the industry need to do to continue improving the workplace for women?
“Balancing work and family needs is difficult, but I believe we are learning to build in more flexible and realistic work environments. I see real progress, but lots of remaining opportunity.”

What advice would you give a young girl who wants to be a physician or a scientist?
“Always be willing to learn something new and stretch yourself—don’t be afraid of failure. And don’t worry about pleasing everyone—it’s not possible, especially if you want to change things.”

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