Dean's Update

September 17, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


This week falls within both Women in Medicine Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month, and keeping with my practice this month, I have turned the update over to one of our alumni. This week, Dr. Herminia Bierema (CHM ’84) is writing for me. Dr. Bierema is a wonderful pediatrician at Paint Creek Pediatrics in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Herminia, the update is yours:

When I think about what inspired me to become a doctor, I remember the challenges my mom faced when trying to find me a doctor. As a first-generation immigrant, my first language is Spanish. Going to school helped me quickly learn English, but my mom didn’t have as much exposure. When we had to go to the doctor, my mom struggled to communicate with my doctor. As a young girl, I wanted to have a female doctor, but there weren’t any female pediatricians in our area. With most of my family in Mexico, I spent summers there, and I spent time with my uncle who was a doctor. As I spent time with him, I wished it was easier for my mom to find me a doctor who understood my identity back home.

Growing up I loved to swim, and I was offered the opportunity to volunteer at a special needs summer camp to help the teachers at the pool. I mostly worked with children with Down Syndrome and working with them lit my passion to work with children. I started to ponder what I wanted to do with my life, and I remembered my uncle in Mexico. The challenge of getting into medical school was intimidating, but then I remembered my aunt, who became a pediatrician but stopped practicing to raise a family. My aunt showed me that women can have a career in medicine and gave me hope that I could attend medical school as well.

It wasn’t until I was in 8th grade that my mom finally found a female doctor, who I have always known as Dr. Zoila. She requested that we refer to her by her first name, Zoila, so I don’t remember her last name. Dr. Zoila is from Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish. She was close to retirement, so I didn’t have her for a long time; but it was a relief to finally have someone that I felt comfortable with and my mom could fully communicate with. Dr. Zoila always took the time to explain why she ordered tests and her reasoning behind the treatment and diet recommendations. Prior to finding her, we didn’t feel heard by our doctor and felt rushed. The way Dr. Zoila communicated with me and my mom inspires how I work with my own patients.

When I was seriously thinking about applying to medical school, I met with Dr. Zoila one last time and she gave me advice. She believed in me and offered encouragement. During my journey in becoming a doctor there were people along the way who said I couldn’t do it. I always tried to keep in mind how much my mom struggled finding a Hispanic, female doctor for me, so I pushed myself to keep going. My journey to become a doctor was inspired by the need in my community, examples of doctors in my family, and Dr. Zola’s kindness.

As has been the case in this whole series, I don’t see anything I can add. Thank you so much, Herminia!

To the news:

  • A reminder that you can still donate to the Gran Fondo to support the skin cancer work of our faculty. Jerry Kooiman and I met last week with hospital and health department leaders to make a final decision on holding the Gran Fondo tomorrow. We reviewed the state of endemic COVID-19, and they were impressed with the precautions the team has taken to avoid lines (no queues for registration, pick-up, and all food is prepacked to reduce lines). Their opinion aligned with ours, COVID-19 is with us for the long term, and we need to find ways to do activities like the Fondo safely. So, with a sense of caution and carefulness, we are rolling out the Gran Fondo tomorrow.
  • As I have described before, there are some changes in the dean’s office resulting from the partial retirement of Barbara Forney. We have combined some functions, and there is now an Office of Faculty Affairs and Staff Administration under Nara Parameswaran. In that office, Toya Pruitt is stepping up as our head of HR. Brian Jespersen, who has been handling space, facilities, and security, will do all those same jobs and report to me now that Barbara is in the Office of Health Sciences. I really appreciate these folks stepping up to these important roles.
  • Check out the announcements from MSU and Henry Ford this week.
  • There is no Town Hall today because the university is doing its make-up advanced degree graduation for 2020. A group of MPH students are attending, and it will be great to honor them, even if it is well after they moved on to saving lives through public health.
  • The Town Hall returns next week with alumnus, Lisa McElroy, MD (CHM ’09). Dr. McElroy is an abdominal transplant surgeon at Duke and wrote our final essay in the Women in Medicine series. Joining Dr. McElroy will be Liz Lyons, EdD, who will be talking about her work developing pipeline programs into the college aimed at populations underrepresented in medicine.

Take care of yourselves and each other. Wear your mask, wash your hands, and encourage vaccination.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

Read more from the Dean's Update archive