What were your roots that unleashed your curiosity?
My journey was defined initially by my parents, two highly intelligent African Americans, who like many in their generation, did not pursue a formal college education because they were not exposed to the possibilities. However, I know my parents were brilliant and they possessed phenomenal wisdom and foresight. They provided the DNA, faith, vision for their children to exceed expectations and the wisdom to give us exposure to anything and everything possible. Supporting my dream to become a doctor even when I was in nursery school, they unleashed my curiosity, creativity, thirst for knowledge and pursuit of excellence in everything I did. This is a prescription for success that every kid in America needs to receive.
In addition to my parents and as Black History is celebrated, I want to credit Theresa Grant Roberts and Joseph Donald. They were my heroes, my role models. They were pace setters for me to achieve personal success.
What made the difference in your early vision of yourself?
Parents who dreamed big dreams for me. They laid the foundation for confidence, courage, and a paradigm of continuous improvement. As a little brown girl, I grew up never afraid to try or fail. I was encouraged to discover my strengths and develop any weaknesses. I did not know it was supposed to be difficult for a black girl to achieve high grades in science and math.
When I am celebrated as one the first, or one of the youngest, senior executives in the medical field, I am cognizant I stand on the shoulders of my blue collar, non-college educated parents who raised me in an urban area. We did not accept any limitations. My amazing mother saved money to purchase encyclopedias and craft books to keep me busy on weekends and exercise my right and left-brain gifts. I was enrolled in a Magnet school as a second grader and was dissecting earthworms and starfish at 8 years old. When I first walked into gross anatomy lab 15+ years later, the smell of formaldehyde was all very familiar! My brain went right back to the dissecting lab in 2nd grade. My parents adopted William Shakespeare's philosophy, "we know what we are now, but not what we may become." My father was famous for saying to my teachers, "How can a student repeatedly get a 100%? You are not pushing her enough."
I was accepted to the University of Michigan and had a great deal of catching up to do because of the disparity in the quality of education experienced by my peers. Once I was exposed, I mastered every class I had in college.
Everyone needs a fighting chance. All children need exposure, encouragement, and mentoring to open doors and unleash human potential, which I believe every human being possesses.
How do you challenge the medical community with your success?
I challenge the entire medical community to recognize it is time for no one to be the first or only. It's not a complement to be the first. It just reiterates how far behind we really are. Diversity is a win-win for teams and organizations.
Diversity in healthcare cannot be a want, it is a must-have. The inequalities in health and access to care is at the top of my agenda during this phase in my career. I am passionate about ensuring that everyone, like education, has access to the same great healthcare that everyone deserves. What keeps me awake at night is the recent United States maternal mortality rates, for all women, but even more devastating for African American moms, who succumb to death while or after bringing life into the world. It is a public health emergency and I pledge to find solutions to this problem, as a voice, as a physician and as a mother.
What legacy do you want to leave?
My parents are deceased, but love lives on and I am committed to live their legacy. The phenomenal foundation they placed under and through me served to guide me to become a 'first generation' college graduate. The lineage will be carried on for generations to come in and outside of my family through all I influence.
I will do everything in my power to mentor, encourage, and empower others like me the rest of my life. I am starting the Pathfinders in Medicine Program in June 2020 which will allow aspiring medical students interested in becoming physicians to shadow physicians. It will provide exposure and an intricate look into the life of physicians.
Our family has gone from slavery to changing the world of healthcare in four generations and that is something that is very special to us - standing on shoulders, empowering lives, one person at a time.
Monique Butler, MD, MBA is the Chief Medical Officer and Board-Certified Internist for Swedish Medical Center. Dr. Butler manages over 1,200 physicians and employees and is a C-suite executive who assists with running the hospital, ensuring that every patient receives the highest level of quality care possible.