Meet Julie Mhlaba, a soon to be dermatology resident at Northwestern, acapella singer, food and book lover, and proud member of MFO's Jr. Board! From helping patients to volunteering, this inspiring woman is doing it all!
1. Tell me a little about your role in the medical field.
I graduated from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine in May of 2016, and I am currently working as an intern at University of Chicago Northshore’s internal medicine program. Next year, I’ll be starting my dermatology residency at Northwestern University. At both my former, current and future institutions, there are amazing, strong women in leadership roles. I'm excited to work in environments where women are valued and respected.
2. What inspired you to go into medicine?
I first wanted to be a doctor after falling in love with biology in high school. However, once I started taking pre-med classes, I realized medicine is about so much more than just science. Most of medicine consists of talking to and understanding other people, and this was a main inspiration for me to continue pursuing the field. I love learning about people, working with people, understanding and helping people, and I also love science, so it was kind of a perfect fit.
3. As a female in your field, what is one of the biggest challenges you face?
I think self-doubt is pervasive for women in medicine. I personally experience it often. I have moments where I am afraid to say what I am thinking because I’m afraid it’s going to be wrong. It’s that fear of failure or fear of looking stupid. There are also a lot of structural issues that makes medicine more challenging for women, like balancing family and career. I believe people should celebrate women who are balancing both work and family. This is something I hope to carry with me throughout my career.
4. You're one of MFO's first junior board members. How did you learn about MFO?
I heard about MFO two years ago from a post on Facebook. I read a little about the organization and thought it sounded amazing. I contacted them to see if they needed any help. At the time they were mostly looking for donations; so I hosted a little clothing drive with my book club. Then when MFO was organizing their Jr. board, Jacqueline Perlman emailed me and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I said yes (of course!) and since then have been helping out with event planning. I love planning a party, so I’m happy to help out!
5. What attracted you to the board and MFO's mission?
When I first learned about MFO, I was on my pediatrics rotation at Comer Children’s Hospital, which is located in the South Side of Chicago. I felt that a lot of the patients I was seeing would benefit significantly from MFO’s programs. Kids are admitted to the hospital with simple, treatable conditions all of the time – a respiratory virus, for example -- but those conditions aren’t going to really harm them long-term the way the physiological distress does. When I read about MFO, I realized how important it is for a girl to feel good about herself and how this may impact her mental well-being. Not only is she motivated to do better in school, but she will respect herself more. That in turn might affect her behavior, the people she surrounds herself, her relationships, and how she views her future potential. This mental well-being can significantly impact her physical health. Clothing may not seem like much of a connection, but confidence in your clothing can spread to the rest of your life.
6. How has helping others - both in and out of work - impacted you?
Everyday at work I get to talk to people, and help them and their families understand their medical conditions. I’ve been the family member of a patient, so I understand how stressful that is. Just helping families through stress by making it less scary is meaningful and satisfying. Outside of medicine, being involved in non-profits like MFO fulfills me. Working in Chicago, I’ve come to realize there is a significant need for things like education and self-esteem building. Working in those areas excites me! Not only do I get to help people in medicine, but I also get to help people in other ways.
7. What's your mantra when your facing challenges in life?
After four years of medical school, I realized that failure is not a bad thing at all. There are many things that I’ve tried at and failed, and, though it was upsetting, I am so much better for the lessons those failures have taught me. I truly don’t think of failure as a negative experience anymore. Instead, it’s an opportunity to learn. If you’re not afraid of failing, it makes it easier to take risks and face challenges.
8. Do you believe clothing impacts your confidence and who you are?
100% - I definitely feel like there is such thing as a power outfit. I feel that when my outfit is put together and I’m confident in my appearance, whether I'm wearing yoga pants to the grocery store or a fancy dress to an event, it will just change my entire attitude about the day.
9. How do you express your style during work?
I wear a white coat at work, so I cover up most of my outfit everyday. But I always try to make it fun with a cute watch, earrings, or shoes. When I get my nail done, I always try a new nail color. I think my patients appreciate it!
10. What advice would you give about following your passions?
Nothing is out of your reach. If you want to achieve something, it’s a mixture of working hard and working smart. It’s about finding good mentorship, being bold enough to ask for things, and sending that email or making phone call to that person with a potential job offer. Nobody can do it alone.
My other piece of advice is to develop both short-term and long-term goals for yourself. In college, my long-term goal was to be a doctor, but my short-term goals often included spending time with friends or rehearsing for my accapella group. I had to balance these by prioritizing and constantly reevaluating what was necessary and important. Keep your long-term goals in mind, but make sure you stay true to yourself.
11. What other hobbies or activities fulfill you outside of your work life and volunteering?
One of my big hobbies is performance. I do a lot of singing and dancing; I worked on a bunch of medical parody youtube videos in medical school and I was in an accapella group in college. My other passion is food! I love trying any new restaurants in Chicago.