Author: Berman, Daphna
Date published: March 25, 2010
For Nancy Young, medicine is in the genes: Her mother, a pathologist, ran a laboratory from the third floor of the family's Elkins Park home throughout her childhood and was the first female pathologist at the Albert Einstein Medical Center; her father, Irving, meanwhile, was Einstein's head of the pathology department.
In fact, Nancy Young says that some of her earliest memories involve slides and microscopes.
"Conversation at the dinner table was always about medicine," she recalls. "I used to sit on my mom's lap while she was looking at slides, and the technicians in her lab would always give me candy."
And so it comes as no surprise that when the time came, she followed in their footsteps, becoming the first woman to head Einstein's department of pathology and laboratory medicine - a position once occupied by her father.
And it seems a natural transition to discuss in what is now Women's History Month.
"Growing up, I never thought of my mother as a pioneer, and I took [her accomplishments] for granted. It wasn't until I became a parent myself that I appreciated what she had to do, especially in the '50s and '60s, when it was very rare for women to balance a career and a family, let alone go into medicine."
Although Géraldine Young doesn't like to use terms like "role model" or a "trailblazer" ("I thought of myself as a loving mother," she says), those are the very words that her daughter Nancy uses to describe her.
In addition to laboratory work at home, Géraldine Young served as Einstein's director of cytopathology from 1955 to 1989.
But it wasn't always easy
Often, people mistook her for the nurse, and at one point in the early 1950s, the hospital's elevator operator refused to bring her to the operating room because he didn't believe that she was a physician.
For many years, she even took to bringing a male lab technician along, just to avoid problems; the elevator operator assumed the technician was the doctor and she was his assistant.
"I laughed about it," she remembers. "You just accepted it. I wouldn't have survived if I hadn't laughed."
Besides, she says, getting her foot in the door was much harder, especially as a Jewish woman. One interviewer "didn't ask me any questions," she recalls. "He just looked at me and said, ? won't accept you because you are too pretty and you will get married, have children and then you won't practice medicine.' "
In the end, she was finally accepted to SUNY Downstate Medical School, where she was one of three women in a graduating medical class of 110.
Her daughter's experience, meanwhile, was much smoother, and Nancy Young admits to not giving much thought to being the first woman to head the pathology department. After high school, she was accepted to an accelerated medical program that combined undergraduate studies with medical school, and soon after, began an internship in internal medicine.
But as she tells it, she had to bring specimens to a lab one day while she was on call, and when she took in the sights and smells of the hospital lab, something clicked.
"The smell reminded me of home. Our whole house used to smell of chemicals," she says, "and it was very familiar to me. I felt very comfortable there."
Other similar positions were open throughout the city, but those didn't interest her.
"I was born at Einstein, and I had this history," says Young.
These days, when it comes to raising her two daughters, and juggling the many commitments of work and family - her husband, Jeffrey Melin, is also a physician - she notes that she really doesn't need to look far to find inspiration.
"My mother is my role model," she states. "She has always been there to encourage me."
Jewish Exponent Feature