A Teacher and Mother

Dawnelle Schatte, MD: an inspiration.

WOMEN WHO INSPIRE

(In honor of Women’s History Month, we invited our contributors to write about the women who inspire them.—Ed.)

I have been inspired by Dawnelle Schatte, MD, for nearly 12 years, starting at the beginning of my medical career. I met Dawnelle as a first-year medical student at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School, where she was an early-career faculty member, and I was one of many trainees she poured her time and attention into mentoring. Most young faculty, busy with professional and personal commitments, would be gracious to return an email, much less accept a first-year student they were not assigned to teach onto their service. Retrospectively, I am amazed at the time she took to mentor and encourage me, informing me of opportunities and championing me in reaching for them for years afterwards.

I know this experience with her is not unique to me. Dawnelle is inspirational in her dedication to trainees and in her work as an award-winning physician teacher, currently serving as the assistant dean of clinical education at the University of Texas Medical Branch. She has an incredible ability to help medical students access the world of psychiatry—to take a subject that often feels frightening and unknowable to students and make it relatable and accessible.

She also has an enviable sense of self-deprecating humor that she wields with both nervous medical students and patients alike, diffusing tension and encouraging engagement. Her lectures and clinical teaching were always memorable, in part because they were hilarious. She used to tease that her students were welcome to present learning issues through interpretive dance, and I always wondered if anyone took her up on that—it would not surprise me. That she has been honored with the Baylor College of Medicine Laughlin Foundation Merit Award, the Minnie Piper Stevens Master Teacher Award, and the Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Texas System Board of Regents, among many others, feels a matter of due course. She deserves these and so much more.

Alongside her formidable professional accomplishments, she is an inspiration in her navigation of motherhood as a physician and her willingness to share not only the joys, but the challenges that go along with it. I thought of her after a horrifying experience this past week—I was speaking during a large lunchtime Zoom meeting with all my clinical colleagues across the state when I suddenly noticed children running through my front yard. When they started ringing my doorbell, I got flustered and found myself announcing to the meeting, “Oh, I just realized … I think those are my kids … I forgot they had a half-day,” before yanking off my headset and awkwardly bolting from the camera view mid-sentence. Once I had settled from this discombobulating experience (really, who forgets that their kids have a half-day?) and my embarrassment calmed, I thought of a story Dawnelle told her team when I was a medical student about briefly losing track of which of her children was getting off where from which school bus—a challenge she sorted through while continuing to tend to patient care and teaching on her busy academic service. Despite the stressfulness, there was laughter and warmth in the telling of it. I did not quite understand then how it was possible to lose track of children, but I sure get it now! In an age of motherhood seen through an Instagram filter, she is inspirational to me for her warmth, humor, and willingness to share her experience authentically with other female physicians.

I owe so much to Dawnelle. As I work to explain a concept to a non-psychiatrist colleague, provide psychoeducation to a patient, or reorient to respond with humor as I lose track of my children on a random Thursday, I continue to be inspired by her example.

Dr Netherton is a psychiatrist and regional medical director with Mindpath Health.

Is there a woman who inspires you? Write to us at PTeditor@mmhgroup.com for a chance to contribute to our Women Who Inspire series.