Doris Wethers, M.D. ’52, recalls that when she was a child growing up in the Sugar Hill district of Harlem, her dolls quite often had one sort of medical crisis or another. She also remembers sitting in the family car as early as age 8 waiting for her father, a 1923 graduate of Howard University Medical School, to complete a house call. Those experiences and others led to her own career in medicine, which began when she enrolled in medical school at Yale in the late 1940s.
Wethers was inspired by her father but was not pressured by him to become a physician. It was “a calling” that led her to enroll at Yale in a class of 65 students that included only eight other women—among whom she was the only African-American. None of her three children chose to study medicine: one is a lawyer, one is developmentally disabled and one is a session musician with a large teaching practice. Wethers recalls that her musician son worried that his parents would disapprove when he announced his decision to pursue a career in music instead of science. “I told him, ‘The only thing I can do in music is turn on the radio, and you think I would discourage you? You’ve got this God-given gift.’ ”
She retired from general pediatrics in New York in 1995 and from sickle cell anemia research two years ago. She saw progress during her career in the diagnosis and treatment of sickle cell anemia, but “no final answers.” Among the advances: the illness is increasingly diagnosed at birth, 44 states now require newborn screening, children affected are given prophylactic penicillin until they are at least 5 years old, and infants with sickle cell anemia are now routinely given a new vaccine to guard against pneumococcal infections—particularly those of the blood and brain—potential killers of children with the disease.
Her husband, Garvall H. Booker, D.D.S. (also a Howard graduate), died in 1996. Wethers lives near The Cloisters museum in upper Manhattan, where she has a “minuscule” vegetable garden. She enjoys traveling (she recently visited southern Africa), visiting museums, attending the theater and reading. She highly recommends The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.