Value Your Education, Give Back, Keep Your Faith
Dr. Nicole V. Lang ’89
Kelly Snider Dunn ’64 and her family established the Sower’s Seed Program to invite alumnae who have incorporated the Catholic traditions of service and social justice into their lives to share their journeys with Trinity students. The mission and teachings of the Sisters of Notre Dame are central to the Trinity experience, and through the generosity of the Sower’s Seed Fund, new generations of Trinity students are inspired by these values. In March, Dr. Nicole V. Lang ’89 delivered the 2013 Sower’s Seed Lecture. She is the founder and president of Washington Pediatric Associates, vice president of the Trinity Board of Trustees, and a volunteer leader in many nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the lives of children. She reflected on how the values of the SNDs, her Trinity education and her faith have guided her through many facets of her life.
I am very honored and excited to be with you here today. It is always wonderful to come back home to Trinity – this is one of my homes. I want to thank the Dunn family – I appreciate all that you have done to continue this lecture series. I just found out that we have the Sidwell family in common, as my daughter is at Sidwell Friends School as well as your grandson, so it is nice that they will grow up together.
I would like to first start out by saying that I am going to go back in time, then to the present, and talk about what I would like to see in the future. There are certain values that my family has instilled in me that were reiterated through my experiences here at Trinity, and beyond in my professional world as a physician. Both my daughter’s and my lucky numbers are seven, so I would like to go through seven points that will be reiterated throughout my talk. And these seven points are what the vision of the Sisters of Notre Dame have instilled in me and my family, and I want them instilled in future Trinity students.
The first is service – being able to give back – because to whom much is given, much is expected. This was taught to me by my parents and grandparents, and it is so important to make sure that we don’t just gather our information and keep it for ourselves – it is very important to reach back and to reach forward.
Number two is faith. It is always important to walk by faith and know that with faith in God, and faith in ourselves, we can make a difference.
Number four is education, making sure that we value it and do not take it for granted.
Number five is the value of hard work. Nothing comes easy, and you have to work for everything. Number six is integrity. My parents have instilled in me a sense of integrity, and it is important for me to pass on to my daughter as well. And number seven is gratitude. Always be thankful. It is always important to have an attitude of gratitude.
I was born in Mobile, Alabama, and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. I am my family’s third generation to be college educated, but I am the first person in my family to go to medical school and to live my dream. I have always wanted to be a physician. It has been my calling ever since I was about 7 years old; I have always had that consistent dream. My family did not come from a lot of means – we were a middle-class family – but what they taught and instilled in me was to work hard, value my education, go after my dream and pursue my goals.
I was blessed to have a Catholic education from when I was in kindergarten through college. My high school advisor talked to me about Trinity and that is how I ended up here – my advisor recommended me to come to Trinity. It is the most important and wonderful decision that I have made. Being a Trinity woman is so important and it really does instill the essence of faith, service, hard work and integrity.
When I first started going to Trinity in 1985, it was my first time away from home. My college roommate, Sylvia Hernandez [Montgomery ’89], and my other friends were Trinity friends I made for life. We grew together, studied together, we went out together and we volunteered together. We also learned how to be leaders here when we were resident assistants. Being a leader at Trinity is very important.
Trinity made a profound impact on me as a person: professionally, personally and spiritually. I wanted to come to Trinity to be in a small, nurturing environment, one that would propel me to the next step. Dr. Saundra Oyewole, who’s here with us today, is one of my mentors and was one of my Trinity professors in the sciences. I majored in biochemistry here, and we students practically lived in the science building with you, Dr. Oyewole. You helped to prepare us for the future and the medical field, so I thank you very much. Having mentors along the way is very, very important.
I applied to medical school, and when I left Trinity I attended George Washington University Medical School. George Washington provided me the opportunities and experiences of a lifetime as well. I graduated in 1994 from medical school and went on to Emory University in Atlanta for pediatric residency training. But during medical school, the same seven focus points came up: value your education; work hard; have integrity; give back; keep your faith during struggling times; make the connections with friends, with mentors, with professors; and always be thankful and grateful.
There are many ways in which we gave back. For example, I worked on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana in health services. There, I was given the privilege of being adopted into the tribe, and this was such an honor for me. I still go back to Montana to be with my family there. I was first exposed to delivering a baby there, I was exposed to doing surgery for the first time, riding in an ambulance for the first time, but also understanding that there are many challenges that Native American populations still face such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. It is also important to try to treat not only the illness, but being preventative in your approach. There is also the importance of faith and how it impacts healing and your way of looking at the future. In Crow culture, they say that all things are connected, and they would often times have a medicine man or woman come into the hospital alongside the Western-trained doctor and they would both provide healing services to the families.
I was also given the wonderful opportunity of traveling to West Africa when I was in medical school, to Gambia and Senegal. There I had one of the most life-changing experiences that I have experienced. We were able to see – without a lot of the technological things that we have here in this country – the clinical skills and the acumen that the doctors there had, and knowing those skills, we learned that you can make a difference with little resources. There, I was able to fine-tune my clinical skills as well as my bedside manner. I listened to my patients and was really able to be a part of what they call their extended family. If anyone helped the family, they were part of the family, and that sense of community was very strong there.
I have had further connections in Africa on the east coast: my husband is from Eritrea in East Africa. When I was in George Washington Medical School, we were able to make a connection with the medical school in Eritrea in forming residency programs in pediatrics, surgery, OB-GYN and internal medicine. We were able to make an impact when there was a physician shortage by understanding the different disease processes, like tropical medicine, and understanding the resources that are needed to help make a difference. Addressing families and different cultures with a sense of integrity, pride and gratitude for different opportunities is very important.
Once I finished residency, I came back and worked at G.W. and with the help of mentors along the way, I was asked to be an assistant dean at George Washington Medical School. I was one of five deans who helped run the school and helped students in every way, shape and form. It was an incredible honor.
I then received an opportunity to create my own practice. I started Washington Pediatric Associates 10 years ago. We now have over 6,000 patients. I started solo and now we have three other doctors, and a physician assistant, who work with us there. We have a different model of care in the sense that we have what we call family-centered care and a comprehensive approach to medicine. We keep in mind, again, the hard work it takes to be a physician and run a practice, operating with a sense of integrity, while continuing with medical education to make sure we are up on the latest and greatest cutting-edge work in pediatrics. We remember the importance of giving back and reaching out to the community, making sure we stay connected to the community we live in, and keeping the faith and understanding that medicine and spirituality go hand-in-hand. Many families that we serve are from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and we want to meet the families halfway, and make sure that the quality of care is the best we can provide. I always say the motto is “What I do for my own daughter is what I do for my patients,” because the babies in the practice are like my children, too, which is why it is our gold standard. I always give thanks for every experience because I feel like every day I am living my dream of being a physician.
Giving back, to me, comes in many different shapes and forms. In my medical practice we have a wide variety of medical resources under one roof. For example, we focus on literacy and making sure that children have the possibility of having books in their home, even if they can’t afford to. Our patient population is every spectrum of the socio-economic strata from the very rich to the very poor, and everywhere in between, so many times families don’t have the resources to buy books for their children. We are a part of Reach Out and Read, which is a program I started at G.W. giving free books out to children from 6 months to 6 years old each time they come in. There are volunteers who read to children in the waiting room, and there is information about how important it is to read and stay connected to your child. Research shows that if you read aloud to a child, then the positive impact on their brain development is second-to-none. Children start school ready to learn, they are excited about learning, and their language skills and literacy really is important.
I remember reading to my daughter when she was a newborn, and now she is reading to me – thick, thick books. Another example is Lollipop Kids, an organization that focuses on children with special needs. The organization was started by a person with a son who had a traumatic brain injury, and from there, her vision and goal was to help other children with different abilities and to make sure the families are supported to make sure there are resources available. For example, we try to help offset those costs of durable medical equipment – different wheelchairs or resources – that a family may need but can’t afford. It has done a great service to children in need. I chair the board of trustees of Every Child Matters, a child advocacy organization that focuses on making children a national political priority. With the way of the world and the state of the budget, certain cuts disproportionately affect children and children in need, and so this organization makes it a point to push forward certain agenda items to members of Congress and make them take a second look at children. Children don’t have a voice in government, so we have to be a voice for children, especially those in need and those who don’t have the resources that we may take for granted. For example, through Every Child Matters we were able to help pass a bill that focuses on child abuse and neglect prevention, and there is a commission that is being formed with appointees from the president and congress to help make sure we are focusing on preventing child abuse and neglect and making it a national political priority.
One other outreach program that gives back is the Girl Scouts, something that is near and dear to me personally, because my daughter is a Girl Scout and I’m her troop leader. It’s a wonderful, positive experience that teaches girls leadership, community service and the value of giving back. Yes, and Girl Scout cookies, too! It teaches them the business acumen of selling cookies. It is very important, again, to think about what we’re doing personally in our world, but also what we can do to give back, with the focus of service and faith, integrity and hard work.
The one thing that I want to further emphasize is connections – the connections that we make with our family, with our friends, with our students. Students here at Trinity: You are very blessed to have professors and the administration that care deeply about you and focus on wanting to see you succeed and see you move forward past any obstacle. I think that is one of the key things that you have to keep in mind and to not take for granted and to be very thankful for the resources that you have here. Trinity is a small school so you can get that individualized attention. Faculty is very available and very resourceful, and President McGuire has been a shining star for over 20 years as president here. So we are very thankful, and you all should be very thankful and show gratitude to President McGuire for all that she has done to continue to put Trinity on the map and to help our students in any way, shape and form.
I want to end with a prayer by Saint Terese.
“May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. And may you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle in your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”