SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — For years, it was mostly men who applied to medical school in South Dakota, but times are changing.
This past year, for the first time in history, there are about the same number of women as men attending the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine.
One doctor in particular has been instrumental in turning those numbers around.
Chandler Jansen is really focused this year. That’s because she’s finishing up her last year of med school at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine.
“Really as long as I can remember medicine was what I want to do, I can’t really always explain why, but I always felt that drive to medicine,” Jansen said.
Stephanie Kazi is a third year med student.
“I kind of got my exposure to healthcare working at a nursing home in high school and that’s kind of where I saw about the need for caring for individuals in medicine and I decided that was how I wanted to spend my time and kind of devote myself to a career,” Kazi said.
Both are part of what appears to be an upward trend in South Dakota; women entering the medical field to become doctors.
For more than six decades, enrollment at USD’s Sanford School of Medicine had been dominated by men. In fact, in all the graduating classes seen here, most of the students were men.
“Women were not applying to medical school and we think that might be because women might have been told that, well if you want a family, don’t go into a high powered career if you want children,” Dr. Mary Nettleman, Dean of Sanford School of Medicine said.
Dr. Mary Nettleman, Dean of Sanford School of Medicine, has been instrumental in getting more women to apply to med school.
“We don’t create an advantage for somebody, right, we just try to remove barriers if we see them,” Dr. Nettleman said.
She says for the longest time women didn’t think they could take maternity leave if they were attending medical school. Dr. Nettleman introduced several programs to help young women become doctors.
“We have a wellness program, we have pregnancy program, whereby you can get a woman, who gets pregnant during medical school, can have their baby, graduate on time, and take maternity leave,” Dr. Nettleman said.
The students will not be penalized for missing any classes, clinics, or assignments because of maternity leave. Instead, the school will work with the student to create an academic makeup plan to ensure that missed course work is completed.
“It takes a lot of time,” resident Anna Bahnson said.
Anna Bahnson has completed med school and is now in her residency. Even though, she hasn’t started a family, she has seen how the school has helped other students find balance between homework and family.
“I think a lot of people are intimidated by the time commitment, but I think, you know, no matter what, once you graduate from college or high school or whatever, you know, the next phase is is work, and you’re either, working in your job or you if you’re in medicine, I think of medical school as, it was my job,” Bahnson said.
“Dean Nettleman, from the first year of school she gave us talks about that and how we had any, you know concerns that we could come to her and just kind get that process going if we didn’t want to get started on,” Kazi said.
“These are high achieving young people in South Dakota. They’re going to have a high achieving job. And anytime you do that, you have to balance your family, and your professional life. And it’s just as important to do that as a physician, as being a school teacher as being any one of them. It’s something you just have to do. So we did that and now the class is about 48% women,” Dr. Nettleman said.
You heard right, nearly half of all medical students now at USD’s Sanford Medicine of Health are women.
Now as these three women look back at the past, they can already picture their future.
“If it’s what you’re passionate about follow it, there’s always going to be challenges, no matter what career you go into there’s always any time commitment. I mean that’s not unique to the field of medicine so I wouldn’t say being scared of Oh, is this going to take too much time because if you’re passionate about it you can find a way to make it work,” Jansen said.
For her efforts, Dr. Nettleman has been awarded the prestigious ‘Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell Award for Oustanding Contributions to Advancing the Careers of Women in Medicine.
The award is only given to one doctor in the entire country.