Yale inspired a career in medicine

If Francine Welty ’71 had stayed at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, she probably never would have become a cardiologist.

But when Welty was a sophomore at the rural school, her mother sent her an article from a local newspaper announcing that Yale was going to begin accepting women. Welty applied shortly afterwards and was accepted. While women like Welty might have been expected to chase the lifestyle of white picket fences and home-cooked meals in 1969, Yale gave Welty unconventional aspirations for her time.

New Haven was a “big city” for Welty, although, she said, the pastoral aspects of the campus made it a little easier for her to adjust. Once on campus Welty threw herself into her studies.

“I was focused and wanted a career,” she said.

When Welty enrolled as a junior in Morse College in 1969, some of her fellow Morsels suggested medical school as an option.

Before coming to Yale, Welty said, she was undecided on a career path but had considered becoming a marine biologist. But the more time she spent at the University, the more she began to see that opportunities in fields like medicine, business and law were available to her. Medicine, in particular, would provide her with a chance to work in biology and with people.

While working at her part-time job at the School of Medicine, Welty stumbled across a textbook called “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine.”

“I thought to myself there was no way I could ever learn all of that material,” she said. “I just got up and left.” But six months later she changed her mind.

“You’re just surrounded by people applying to medicine,” she said, adding that many of them were men. “I realized I would like to do it also.”

Welty, who was blonde and athletic, said she did not remember facing prejudice in her male-dominated lab sections at Yale. But it was a different story when she began applying to medical schools.

When she approached her boss for a recommendation, she recalls, he asked her if he should write about her “long blonde hair” and “beautiful legs.”

“It was still accepted,” she said of his behavior. “Men could make jokes about women. Men could make reference to their looks.”

In some of her admissions interviews, she was told that she was too pretty to become a doctor — that she should get married and have children and that she would ultimately work part-time or leave the profession altogether.

Even Welty’s mother, a nurse, did not support her attending medical school, Welty said. “She just thought it was not a career for a woman,” Welty said.

But Welty persevered and ended up back in Ohio, getting her M.D. and doctorate in biochemistry at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. She completed her residency at Johns Hopkins University.

Today, she is a cardiologist, researcher and associate professor at Harvard University.

“It wasn’t a career opportunity for women back then in rural Ohio. Or maybe in Ohio, in general,” she said.

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