National Women Physicians Day 2022
Today, we recognize our female physicians in honor of the first female physician, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell who paved the way for women to enter the medical field.
This week, at Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates, we take time to recognize our female physicians on National Women Physicians Day which is recognized annually on February 3rd. On this day, in 1849, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female physician in America.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell paved the way for women to dream beyond what the expectation for how a female could contribute to society. Today, we celebrate our two outstanding female physicians who challenge themselves and others to innovate new ways of giving back, while inspiring the next generation of physicians.
Join Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates as we recognize the accomplishments of Sarah C. Jernigan, MD, MPH and Stephanie J. Plummer, DO how important they are to our organization.
“If you are pursuing a career in medicine as a female, it is vital to not let your own bias limit your opportunities. In past and present, I have worked alongside my mentors to translate these experiences into positives to help me achieve my goals.”
Meet Sarah C. Jernigan, MD, MPH
Dr. Sarah C. Jernigan joined Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates in 2017 as our first female neurological surgeon. She practices out of the Charlotte office and performs neurological and spine surgical intervention at Atrium Health, Levine Children’s Hospital and Carolina Center for Specialty Surgery. She is board certified in neurological, spine surgery and pediatric neurosurgery. She completed medical school at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She completed her residency at Harvard at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Boston Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Jernigan went on to complete her Pediatric Neurosurgery Fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her interests and specialties include: pediatric neurosurgery, craniosynostosis, pediatric and adult hydrocephalus and spasticity. Dr.Jernigan also holds a Masters of Public Health from Tulane University School of Public Health. Dr. Jernigan is well respected by her colleagues. A fellow Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates neurological and spine surgeon, Dr. Michael Bohl, said "Dr. Jernigan is not just an amazing neurosurgeon, but an amazing person. She cares deeply about her patients and always seems able to see through tremendous complexity to find the best path forward. I feel tremendously lucky to have her as a colleague and, more importantly, a friend."
From a young age, Dr. Jernigan was drawn to the sciences and medicine. This was only after she reluctantly set aside her elementary school goals of becoming a professional ballerina. Her gravitation toward a career in science led her to explore becoming either a doctor, veterinarian, or medical researcher. By high school, she had decided to go into medicine. Her further collegiate education and experiences confirmed that this was the career journey that felt right.
When asked what advice Dr. Jernigan would give to an aspiring female physician, she said, “Prioritize building and maintaining your support network of family, friends, and mentors or colleagues that will guide you through different challenges one might face as a woman throughout your educational and professional career. Be careful to balance your work and home life expectations. Maintaining balance, and input from a strong support network will help you navigate these challenges in a way that works.”
As a female physician in neurosurgery, there are different perceptions and expectations that Dr. Jernigan recalls facing from patients and coworkers. The bias she experienced can be conscious or unconscious. Dr. Jernigan comments, “Even though this bias is present at times, on the contrary, throughout my career, I have also experienced an even stronger support from those around me—some that took me by pleasant surprise! If you are pursuing a career in medicine as a female, it is vital to not let your own bias limit your opportunities. In past and present, I have worked alongside my mentors to translate these experiences into positives to help me achieve my goals.”
“I hope to encourage others to take a chance on their dreams, even if they don’t think they fit the typical mold.”
When asked what Dr. Jernigan takes pride in most as a neurosurgeon, Dr. Jernigan said, “I enjoy being a role model for young aspiring physicians, both men and women just as I have had both male and female mentors that have guided me through my training and career. I hope to pay it forward as I mentor the next generation of physicians. I do not take for granted the opportunities I have been given because of women in science who have paved the way. I hope to encourage others to take a chance on their dreams, even if they don’t think they fit the typical mold.”
Dr. Jernigan performs life changing neurosurgical intervention to adults and children, while also extending compassion and empathy to her patients and their families. In addition to her daily commitment to patients, Dr. Jernigan has also given back during her career. After finishing college at Tulane University, she joined the Peace Corps and worked as part of a WHO initiative to improve health outcomes in women and children in the remote mountain villages of Morocco. During these two years, she worked with the health staff on vaccination drives, in partnership with a community organization to provide microeconomic programs for women. Dr. Jernigan comments, “Even more than the reward from these work efforts, it was the generosity, support and overwhelming welcome from the Berber villagers that made a lasting impact on me. The Peace Corps provides a way for you to integrate and give of your skills in a different community, but also allows you to experience the sense of awe when one realizes just how much these communities have to teach us about life.”
Throughout Dr. Jernigan’s journey to become a physician, she has gained invaluable experience, knowledge, and expertise. This has meant she is an invaluable asset and is highly respected in the medical community. Dr. William R. Stetler, a fellow colleague and spine surgeon at Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates said, “Dr. Jernigan is one of the few providers nationwide that offers comprehensive hydrocephalus care to all patients ranging from pediatric to geriatric and everyone in between. Her cutting edge quantitative approach to her practice coupled with her warm bedside manner make her an excellent clinician and an invaluable member of our team.”
“My mentor didn’t think of herself as a “female” physician – but rather a physician who cared about her craft and taking care of patients.”
Meet Stephanie J. Plummer, DO
Dr. Stephanie J. Plummer joined Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates as our first female Physiatrist in 2021. She has been practicing physiatry since 2013 in the Charlotte area and currently practices out of the Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates Ballantyne and Gastonia offices. As a physiatrist, Dr. Plummer practices a comprehensive approach to spine care that utilizes non-surgical treatment methods such as epidural spinal injections, trigger point injections, and facet blocks to treat back pain and joint pain. She also collaborates with our in house physical therapy team to guide patients in achieving their individualized care plan goals.
To our knowledge, she is the first full time female interventional physiatrist in Charlotte, NC. She made an immediate positive impression on the physicians; neurosurgery and physiatry, upon joining Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates. Dr. Plummer consistently receives positive patient feedback that not only represents her high level of clinical expertise and knowledge, but also her demonstrated compassionate care.
She practices physiatry and is board certified in Physician Medicine & Rehabilitation. She completed medical school at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her residency at East Carolina University, Pitt County Memorial Hospital, Brody School of Medicine. She also completed an Interventional Spine Fellowship at Orthopaedic Specialists of the Carolinas in Winston-Salem, NC. Her affiliations and memberships include American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, North American Spine Society, and Spine Intervention Society.
A fellow physiatrist and colleague with Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates, John A. Welshofer, MD, said, “Dr. Plummer is a Charlotte trailblazer in that she is a female physiatrist, but more importantly she is in good company here where we are dedicated to providing care consistent with our mission statement. Dr. Plummer made sense for our organization as we actively search for the best doctors, female or male, to provide the care our patients expect and deserve. She is an excellent, compassionate doctor delivering superlative care to our patients.”
“The combination of pursuing something I loved and getting to interact with people every day led me to set out and become a physician!”
Dr. Plummer first knew she wanted to become a physician by the time she applied to college. She said, “Up until my sophomore year in high school, I was completely enamored with all things weather so my trajectory could have been to become a meteorologist! That all changed during my AP biology class –I loved the study of human anatomy and physiology. The combination of pursuing something I loved and getting to interact with people every day led me to set out and become a physician!”
“My mentors trail blazed the path for me in pursuing research, volunteering, and even some starting families along the way.”
Throughout Dr. Plummer’s course of study to become a physician, she was fortunate to find a couple of close, female friends and study partners who were a few years ahead in school. She said, “I remember being so impressed with their drive in pursuit of a medical career. They had a unique dedication and commitment to studying, applying to medical school, and rounding out their applications in creative and valuable ways. They trail blazed the path for me in pursuing research, volunteering, and even some starting families along the way.”
Dr. Plummer went on to say, “Some of my mentors weren’t classic mentors, already established in the medical field, but rather they were women who showed me that it was possible to be dedicated and hardworking; to stay motivated despite the long hours of school, work, and studying; and achieve their professional and personal life goals along the way!”
During Dr. Plummer’s residency, she studied under a female orthopaedic physician leader and recalls, “Her unique approach to running a patient clinic really struck with me as ideal and something I’ve tried to emulate in my own clinic. While watching her, I learned from her precision and expertise as she administered in-office injections and aided in improving patient’s quality of life. I am so fortunate that she was my mentor for those small procedures as I still use her techniques to this day and really try to make those procedures as smooth and painless as possible. I’m sure she didn’t think of herself as a “female” physician – just a physician who cared about her craft and taking care of patients.”
Dr. Plummer remembers some key takeaways that have stuck with her throughout the years from her educational mentorship:
- Always be punctual when seeing patients, with rare exceptions. This helps your patients feel valued as a person and not just a number.
- If you are a physician teaching residents, explain information to patients at the same time as instructing your students! Walk that fine line of using medical jargon and plain English so that the information doesn’t become overwhelming to patients or oversimplified for the residents.
- Don’t be hesitant to delegate tasks! Utilize all available resources and team members to remain efficient. Don’t be afraid to utilize the skill sets of team members around you, as their success within the team makes the overall clinic stronger!
“Representation matters! Seeing others who look like you in your profession is an impactful support to removing any barriers, real or imagined, about who should be in that profession.”
When asked about her experience as a female physician in a predominantly male profession, Dr. Plummer said, “I’ve gotten this question before and I always struggle to answer for a couple of reasons: I was fortunate that in my support system growing up, gender was not brought up when I was choosing a profession or setting my career goals. I was encouraged to pursue activities and jobs that made me happy—and that paid my bills! It truly never occurred to me that there were some professions or hobbies that may seem unconventional because I am a female.”
Dr. Plummer also recalled that in medical school, her class was almost an even 50/50 male and female split and her residency class was actually 3/5 female. She says, “Certainly, I realize that this is not the case for everyone, or maybe even for most women currently in medicine. And this is perhaps my favorite thing now about being a female physician. As my mentor modeled and taught me, don’t think of yourself as a female physician, just a physician caring for, to the best of your ability, each and every patient!”
Dr. Plummer stresses the importance to model the physician career path as a normal career path for anyone who wants to enter it. She said, “Representation matters! Seeing others who look like you in your profession is an impactful support to removing any barriers, real or imagined, about who should be in that profession.”
When asked how she keeps up with life, work, and family, Dr. Plummer answered quickly with one word—balance!
“Life is all about balance. This looks different for everyone, but for me, it's staying in close touch with my family and friends; staying busy outside of work doing the things I love—travel, running and other forms of exercise. I also try (again implementing balance) to eat healthy--it’s always a work in progress for me,” said Dr. Plummer.
Dr. Plummer encourages aspiring physicians to take full advantage of opportunities when they arise. She has found that maintaining a good work life balance keeps her career as a physician fresh and is still excited to show up to clinic every day and take care of her patients. She said, “By keeping myself open to new experiences and diverse opportunities, I can better relate to my patients and think of creative ways to help them enhance their life that might be unique or more individually suited.”
Dr. Plummer is revered by her colleagues. Dr. Joe Cheatle, Neurosurgeon with Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates said, “Dr. Plummer is an excellent physician. She consistently goes above and beyond to care for patients, ensuring they are able to achieve their best possible outcomes. Dr. Plummer truly treats each patient as if they were her family. She is a true asset to our organization.”
At Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates, we celebrate Dr. Jernigan and Dr. Plummer for their hard work and dedication of which our patients and organization benefit from daily.
Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates, is one of the largest private neurosurgical practices in the country. Our group includes 48 board-certified or board-eligible physicians in the specialty areas of neurosurgery, physical medicine & rehabilitation, orthopaedic spine surgery and neurology. We provide advanced surgical and nonsurgical treatment for the entire spectrum of brain, spine, and peripheral nerve disorders, including brain tumors, spine injuries, stroke, epilepsy, birth defects, concussions, neck and lower back pain, and pituitary tumors.