The Story of MEP Book Excerpt: Dr. Chesney Fowler, Assistant Director of Recruiting

Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from a book of stories from USACS founding partner MEP Health. The book chronicles stories about their providers’ lives, values, motivations, and career paths. MEP Health joined USACS in December 2015.

I can talk for hours about the Amish. As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, I studied comparative religion and pre-law. I completed a thesis on the experiences of Amish adolescents, which required many months hunched over a laptop in my small apartment. At one point, my pile of research material literally fell over and buried me in a mountain of paper. 

Before I was a doctor, I had a deep and abiding interest in comparative religion, particularly the homegrown American religions—the Amish, the Quakers, the Mormons. I was very interested in how religion impacted people and their decision-making about their future. In medicine today I still see this, even if it’s sometimes to the detriment of their medical care.

But the day my research piled over on top of me has come to define my decision to leave academia and go into medicine. Ultimately, the career I was headed for was one of sitting and writing, perhaps as an attorney, or in some other similar profession. The core problem was the lack of interaction with other people, which I needed. I couldn’t spend my life never getting up out of my chair, never being around others, never getting to construct something or fix something with my own hands.

As a child my parents did not push me in any specific direction or career. I was expected to be high achieving. And even though I was a girl, there was nothing that I couldn’t do.

After graduation, I worked at my university for a year and tried to figure out what that something would be. I knew that I wanted to work in a field that would evolve, giving me opportunity for lifelong learning. I wanted it to be fulfilling. And I knew that I wanted to work with my hands and be on my feet, not chained to a computer.

I spoke with some advanced practice providers and strongly considered a career in midwifery. What could be more rewarding than delivering babies? I was introduced to an OBGYN physician, Dr. Gil Gross, who offered me the opportunity to shadow him and the midwives that he worked with. After a day on Labor and Delivery with Dr. Gross, he looked me in the eye and said, “Chesney, you’re supposed to be a doctor.”

I didn’t know anything about medicine at the time, and the doctor had been quizzing me throughout the day. It turned out that if you gave me enough information about a situation I would be able to give a pretty good answer about what to do next. But the real reason probably had more to do with the way I interacted with the patients, and my natural tendency to step into positions of leadership.

One of the midwives I spoke to echoed Dr. Gross in telling me she thought I should be a doctor. Maybe it was the way I was speaking to the expectant mothers. My feeling, even from that day, was that if you are going to invade someone’s space you should at least say hello and make them feel like a person. I saw it later in my medical training, where the tendency is for new doctors to stand in the background, with the patient there, almost as if they were observing an exhibit instead of a human being. That was never me.

I also have always settled nicely into leadership roles, and the mid- wife I spoke to said she found it frustrating to not have the independence she felt that her training and judgement deserved. It was readily apparent that day that I would feel the same way.

And yet, my first thought when Dr. Gross told me that I should become a doctor was, “Oh crap…” I had hoped to avoid the long haul toward becoming a physician, especially since I had not taken a single pre-med course in college, but my personality was not suited to be a mid-level provider. Dr. Gross told me that I had “the brains and the guts to be a doctor.” My second thought was, “What am I going to tell my boyfriend?” That boyfriend, who has since become my husband, could tell that I had found my dream job, and he was willing to support us financially while I went back to school.

We moved from St. Louis to Baltimore so I could enroll in the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program at Goucher College and complete all of my requirements in one year. The following year, I was accepted to The George Washington University, and finally started medical school. The first two years were especially hard, because I had only a barebones pre-medical background, and I was sitting next to students with degrees in organic chemistry or biomedical engineering.

Finally, during my third year of medical school, I got to talk to real patients. I had been thinking about becoming an OBGYN, but really where I thrived was the the well-orchestrated chaos of the emergency room. Nowadays I like to say that emergency medicine physicians have the attention span of squirrels—and we frequently do. That’s part of why the chaos of the emergency department feels so much like home.

Emergency medicine also allowed me to do a little bit of everything. Rather than just delivering babies or doing surgeries, I would be able to experience the true variety of problems in the ER. When you’re on an airplane and the flight attendant asks, “Is there a doctor on the plane?” I can promise you they are not hoping for a radiologist. I loved the practicality of emergency medicine. I wanted it to matter in real life, whether I was at a baseball game or a dinner party. Wherever I am, I would have the ability to help somebody with nothing but my brain and my two hands.

After medical school, I began my residency in emergency medicine at Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. At Christiana, I not only learned how to practice emergency medicine, I learned what kind of people I wanted to practice with. During my second year of residency, I was pregnant with our first child and suddenly had to go on bedrest for six weeks. Bedrest was relaxing for about two minutes. The rest of the time, I fretted about missing work and I felt guilty that my co-residents had to pick up the slack. After making it to 36 weeks, I was cleared to go back to work, and after two shifts, I promptly went into labor. Good thing I hadn’t gone back to work sooner!

I will always be grateful to my colleagues who selflessly stepped in to help. When it was time to look for my first job as an attending, I wanted to work with a group of people who understand that being an emergency medicine physician is only one of my full-time jobs. As it turns out, just a few weeks ago at MEP, a colleague of mine had to go on bed rest. Within a week and a half we had all her shifts covered—about 20 of them in total.

Being a female physician or advanced-practice provider can be very challenging, but the women of MEP are a team, and we are strongly supported by the men of MEP. The people here understand that my professional job is not my only full-time job. I am a full-time doctor, but I am also a full-time mother, a full-time wife, and a full-time me.

That is true of all of us. We are spouses, partners, mothers, fathers, and the children of aging parents. We are runners, skiers, musicians, world travelers, adrenaline junkies, and coffee addicts. We are dog people and cat people, Republicans and Democrats, and a lucky few of us are Cameron Crazies, but we all come together to practice great medicine, to develop our professional interests, to take care of our patients, and take care of each other.