Doctor Guided by Love and Determination

Physician's Money Digest, May 31 2004, Volume 11, Issue 10

I had a treat recently, learning about an American success story—one achieved against great odds. It's the story of Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, and her amazing family.

Born into a poor but proud African American family in Long Branch, NJ (a shore resort city where seven US presidents summered from 1869 to 1921), Dr. Thornton was one of six sisters. Her dad, Donald, a World War II US Navy veteran and high school dropout, worked two full-time jobs to see that his girls had a chance in life—starting with an education.

Physician Career

Dr. Thornton said her dad's frequent counsel was to be a physician. "As a doctor, no one can hurt you; no one can deny you your dignity," he told her. "I learned to love the smell of a library," Dr. Thornton explained.

All the sisters graduated from Monmouth University—where I earned a degree. Thanks to their dad's love and support (and frequent badgering, Dr. Thornton explains), the sisters live fruitful lives today. One has an MD, one has an MD and a PhD, one is a dentist, one is a lawyer, and another is a nurse.

Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour

American Idol

In addition to education, Mr. Thornton pushed his children to be active. Again, they followed his instruction. Their six-member musical band, the Thornton Sisters, traveled every weekend—even when Dr. Thornton was in medical training—to entertain at East Coast colleges. In 1959, they were runners-up on TV's (the precursor to today's ).

Inspiring Story

The Ditchdigger's Daughters

Some 15 years in the writing, her thoughtful autobiography, , has won wide praise. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, made into a TV movie, and named a "Best Book for Young Adults" by the American Library Association.

A 1973 graduate of Columbia University School for Physicians and Surgeons, today Dr. Thornton is vice chairman and director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Jamaica (NY) Hospital Medical Center and a full-time clinical OB/GYN professor at Cornell University Medical College. She also holds a master's degree in public health. "Always keep learning" is her motto. She and her husband of 30 years, Dr. Shearwood McClelland (an orthopedic surgeon), have two children, both of whom are pursuing medical careers.

My impression of Dr. Thornton is that she has great intelligence, energy, and confidence. And that's the thing that most people don't understand about physicians. Too many perceive them to be arrogant. While some certainly are, I look at most doctors and see confidence—a quality, I've seen, that is essential to success in the medical profession.