All-Female Medical Practice
At Arboretum Obstetrics and Gynecology, doctors feel blessed to pursue their calling
It’s a scene that’s played out since the beginning of recorded time: Women gathered at a common table to talk and laugh; to share their woes; to name their fears; to sing; to joke; to praise their maker; and to weave their communal courage into a fabric sturdy enough to shoulder heavy sorrows, supple enough to weather changing winds, bold enough to hold aloft banners of joy and soft enough to swathe babies with tender care.
Arboretum Obstetrics and Gynecology, currently the only all-female practice in Charlotte, has embraced this tradition, melding the familiar and comforting with a state-of-the art medical practice.
Courtesy of Ralph Melvin Photography
Dr. Octavia Cannon, Dr. Sophia Paige and Dr. Mala Freeman-Kwaku
Dr. Sophia Paige, who founded Arboretum in January 1999, worked at the Nalle Clinic, a multi-specialty practice, after completing her residency at UCLA. “I realized I didn’t want to be part of such a huge practice,” she says, noting there were about 185 doctors. “It was a kind of a ‘Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore’ feeling,” she jokes.
Hoping to forge more personal connections with her patients, Paige decided to launch her own practice, but didn’t specifically set out to have an all-female staff. “It wasn’t a grand plan,” she says with a laugh. “It just worked out that way.”
I think it’s a big selling point for us,” says Dr. Octavia Cannon, who notes that as America becomes more multicultural, many women of traditional societies are simply more comfortable following their own customs.
“I think doctors are like hairdressers,” says Paige. “Just because you see this person doesn’t make them better, it’s just what you prefer. It’s about choice: If they want an all-female group, if they want to see an African American doctor, if they want to see a female Indian doctor, there’s choice now where there wasn’t choice before.”
Like many physicians, Paige concedes that the most difficult part of her job isn’t the medicine; it’s the business. “It’s hard to be a doctor because so much of it isn’t about being a doctor – maybe 10 percent … You have to be able to pay your staff. You have to interact with the insurance companies. You have to be able to interact with irate patients and maintain your own sanity. To be able to find that happy medium is hard.”
For the most part, all three women feel blessed to be able to what they do each day. Paige and Dr. Mala Freeman-Kwaku knew from an early age what their futures held. “I always wanted to deliver babies,” says Paige. “… Growing up, I figured out it meant becoming a doctor, and then an obstetrician.”
“My mom had a lot of women’s health books in the house, and I always found them fascinating,” notes Freeman-Kwaku, who says she was especially drawn to pregnancy and childbirth. “I came from a family that had education at its foundation, so it was always expected that I would go to college. I had physicians in my family, so I knew what to expect,” she adds.
While Cannon wanted to be a doctor from the time she was 11, she initially planned a career in pediatrics – until she hit that rotation in med school. “Kids see the white coat and they’re afraid of you,” she admits. “They’d cry and my feelings would be hurt. I just got too involved. One of my attending physicians told me, ‘You’re taking everything home with you,’ but I couldn’t help it. In some ways, it was like being a veterinarian – the patients can’t tell you what’s wrong … As an ob-gyn, I still get to see the babies, I still get to be a surgeon, so that worked out better for me.”
‘All I really did – with God’s help – was catch a kid’
Along with their love for bringing babies into the world, faith plays an integral role for all three women. “God has given me a gift that enables me to make people happy and to heal them,” says Cannon. “That doesn’t always mean being able to touch someone with healing hands; it’s also being able to listen, to offer advice, to be empathetic or to be able to deliver someone’s child who has tried for years and years and finally gotten pregnant … I always think it’s interesting when a patient says, ‘Oh, thank you so much!’ when all I really did – with God’s help – was catch a kid.”
Freeman-Kwaku finds daily affirmation as well. “I’ve had patients who’ve been trying for years to get pregnant, or who think that because they have a certain problem, they’ll never conceive, but sometimes when things seem hopeless, a miracle happens – and I do believe in miracles. As a physician, I try to give my patients all the facts surrounding their care, as well as the resources to get them where they need to be. Personally, I’d never tell a woman she can’t get pregnant because we’re not God,” she laughs. “We don’t always know.”
“I always say humility inspires me because if you look at what we do as a whole, it’s overwhelming, especially as women obstetricians,” adds Paige. “You work so many hours, you’re at maximum stress. … You have to know that it’s a bigger purpose for you. I’m religious. I don’t look at it as just a job. I look at it as a calling … I do my best for every person every day.”
For more information, visit www.arboretumobgyn.com