Finding a mentor during medical school continues to influence Dr. Elisabeth Netherton’s journey as both a physician and a mother. She reflects on her mentor’s ability to use self-deprecating humor to diffuse stress and remind us that we all make mistakes.

blue cartoon woman holding young infant outside, surrounded by flowers and butterflies

I have been inspired by Dawnelle Schatte, MD, for nearly 12 years, starting at the beginning of my medical career. I met Dawnelle as a first-year medical student at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School. She was an early-career faculty member, and I was one of many trainees she poured her time and attention into mentoring. It was rare for most young faculty to work with a first-year student they were not assigned to teach.  

Dawnelle is an award-winning physician teacher and assistant dean of clinical education at the University of Texas Medical Branch. She helps medical students by presenting a subject that can feel frightening and unknowable in a way that is relatable and accessible. 

She also has an enviable self-deprecating humor that she wields with nervous medical students and patients alike, diffusing tension and encouraging engagement. Her lectures and clinical teaching were always memorable, in part because they were hilarious. She used to tease that her students were welcome to present learning issues through interpretive dance. I always wondered if anyone took her up on that; it would not surprise me. 

It is not surprising that she has been honored with the Baylor College of Medicine Laughlin Foundation Merit Award, the Minnie Piper Stevens Master Teacher Award, and the Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Texas System Board of Regents, among many others. 

She is also an inspiration in how she navigates motherhood as a physician, sharing both the joys and challenges. I thought of her after a horrifying experience this past week. I was speaking during a large lunchtime Zoom meeting with all my clinical colleagues across the state when I suddenly noticed children running through my front yard.  

When they started ringing my doorbell, I got flustered and found myself announcing to the meeting, “Oh, I just realized … I think those are my kids … I forgot they had a half-day,” before yanking off my headset and awkwardly bolting from the camera view mid-sentence.  

Once I had settled from this discombobulating experience (really, who forgets that their kids have a half-day?) and my embarrassment calmed, I thought of a story Dawnelle once told about a similar experience. She’d forgotten which of her children were getting off the school bus—a challenge she sorted while tending to patient care and teaching. Despite the stressfulness, there was laughter and warmth in the telling of it.  

I admire Dawnelle’s warmth, humor, and willingness to share her experience authentically with other female physicians. I owe so much to Dawnelle. As I work to explain a concept to a non-psychiatrist colleague, provide psycho-education to a patient, or reorient to respond with humor after losing track of my children, I continue to be inspired by her example. 

Dr. Netherton is a psychiatrist and regional medical director with Mindpath Health. 

To read the full article on Psychiatric Times, click here. 

Elisabeth Netherton, M.D.

Houston, TX

Dr. Elisabeth Netherton focuses on women’s mental health and personality disorders across the lifespan. Dr. Netherton understands the challenges women face and has experience in prescribing women during pregnancy and postpartum. She believes it is incredibly meaningful to see mothers feel better because this positively impacts them and their children. Dr. Netherton wants her patients to feel empowered and consider ... Read Full Bio »

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