When the Class of 2018’s Cristina Page graduates in May, she’ll be her family’s third-generation of female physicians. She’s pictured here with her mother Lourdes Page, M.D., and grandmother, Florencia Perez, M.D.
During World War I, the Medical College of Virginia began admitting women, intended as temporary measure while men were called into battle. But the success of those female students who matriculated in 1918 ensured their permanent place. Now, 100 years later, women make up slightly more than half of medical students nationwide.
No one has a better vantage point on that than Cristina Page. When she graduates from VCU’s School of Medicine May 12, she’ll continue a family tradition, as a third-generation female physician. Her mother and grandmother will be there to proudly watch as she carries on their legacy.
Cristina’s parents, Lourdes Page, M.D., and Paul Page, M.D., are internists in Roanoke. Her grandmother, Florencia Perez, M.D., who lives in southwest Virginia, and late grandfather also were physicians. Various other family members are in the medical field.
Cristina grew up hearing stories of her grandmother’s and mother’s experiences, and marvels how medical school has changed. “Abuelita, my grandmother, says it was like she was an explorer. She still feels inspired by that time.”
Florencia Perez was one of very few women enrolled at the University of Havana’s medical school in the 1950s. As was the norm, each student was responsible for procuring a skeleton to use in anatomy class; often that involved paying a gravedigger to find one at a cemetery. Today, says Cristina, Perez is amazed by the way new technologies, like VCU’s high-tech facilities, have changed how students learn medicine.
At the University of Havana’s medical school in the 1950s, Florencia Perez was one of only a few women enrolled. (She’s pictured here on the aisle of the 4th row.) Now her granddaughter, Cristina Page, is a medical student in an era when women make up slightly more than half of medical students nationwide.
When Perez graduated in 1954, she and her husband left Cuba to move to the U.S., where they felt they could build their careers, she as a primary care physician and he as an OB-GYN. In the process, they inspired daughter Lourdes to seek a career in medicine.
“I always knew I wanted to be a physician, as long as I can remember,” says Lourdes Page, who also serves on the faculty at Virginia Tech/Carilion School of Medicine. “I made rounds with my mom and dad every chance I could. At 13, I started working in their office. I always knew that’s what I wanted to do. And I’ve loved every bit of it.”
Cristina Page said it took her a little longer to come to the realization that medicine was her future. “I didn’t really think about it until college. But I, too, grew up helping in my parents’ medical office. Mom would take me back to see interesting cases.
“I had wonderful role models who had rewarding careers. It was easy to know that medicine would be a good fit and a good life and rewarding work.”
Susan R. DiGiovanni, M’84, H’87, F’89, senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs, appreciates the role models in Cristina’s life. The varying perspectives they’ve exposed Cristina to, DiGiovanni says, will serve her well as she cares for patients. “Whether it is diversity of gender, race, ethnicity or religion, people just feel more comfortable seeking health care from people they feel understand them better.”
Cristina chose to attend VCU’s School of Medicine because of its engagement with the community and commitment to underserved patients. Fittingly, she was a member of the school’s Mary Baughman student society, named for one of the first women who entered the school in 1918. After graduation, she along with her fiancé and classmate Tanner Hurley will begin residencies in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Cristina is excited to carry on the family tradition. “I think some may hesitate, have an idea that it’s a hard career for women or that they may not be able to balance all the parts of life that they want.
“But I am so fortunate to have a couple of generations of women ahead of me who showed me that it’s all possible. There is nothing holding me back.”
By Lisa Crutuchfield