Maria Ribeiro, MD

"Nothing makes me happier than a hug from a cancer survivor or from the family of the ones we couldn’t save despite doing all that we could."

This Women's History Month, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University asked four Winship women faculty members to share their perspectives on working at Winship and advice for other women in the workforce.

Maria Ribeiro, MD, is an associate professor in Emory University School of Medicine's Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology and serves as section chief of hematology and medical oncology at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Atlanta VA). Ribeiro was recently awarded the prestigious Unsung Heroine Award at the 2022 Emory Women of Excellence Awards presented by the Center for Women at Emory and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

What do you love about your job?

It is amazing to feel that the job I perform is so important and can be so rewarding. I felt particularly proud when the Atlanta VA was named as the VA hospital with the highest accrual in National Cancer Institute clinical trials in the entire country, and when, in just three months we increased routine access to standard germline testing for metastatic prostate cancer patients from one to nearly 100 tests.

With all honesty though, nothing makes me happier than a hug from a cancer survivor or from the family of the ones we couldn't save despite doing all that we could, or to see a first-year medical student or nurse practitioner student graduate and become a successful academic physician or nurse practitioner and a leader in their field. I truly like my job and I know that I will miss it when I retire.

Which female public figure (past or present) inspires you and why?

It would be very hard to name only one because there are so many brilliant, hard-working, and under-recognized or unrecognized women scientists in the world. Two of the many public figures who inspire me are Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and past Representative to the Georgia House, Stacey Abrams. Just reading and listening to Senator Warren’s personal history and her tireless fight for women's rights and for equality, makes us believe that equality is our nation’s destiny and that through the hard work of millions of people since our country was founded, it is being realized more perfectly every day. Or as the saying goes, "Nevertheless, She Persisted."

I recognize Stacey Abrams for her leadership on voting rights. And we must remember that just three years ago she was the first African American woman ever to give the response to the State of Union address.

I would also like to include two women in my family. My mother, who passed away last year at age 96, created the first non-profit full daycare center in our city, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, for underserved children, allowing their mothers to be able to work full-time jobs and to study. It was so successful that the city decided to provide teachers and turn it into a sustainable day care and elementary school. In addition, my daughter, Nicole, joined the demonstrations for equality in the middle of the COVID pandemic and is now working full-time on prevention and control of COVID and other diseases at a state health department.

How can one create a good work environment for women colleagues in the workplace?

One can follow the example of Dr. Theresa Gillespie who is a constant mentor and inspiration for men and women in the workplace. We can be alert to possible biases, and act to correct and prevent it when it happens, but I believe it is essential for women and men, young and old, and people of all races and ethnicities to work together to ensure equal treatment, rather than to see each other only as competitors.

Do you have advice for other women physicians early in their career? What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you have learned since then?

Look for opportunities to develop your leadership skills and to assume leadership roles because this is important for us to have an impact on the new generation of students and staff, the health care system and our society. Always remember and prioritize the values that are most important in health care: integrity and equality.

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