An Inspirational Obituary for Labor Day Weekend

Written by Lisa Plymate, MD, NPA Board Member and Co-Chair NPA FDA Task Force, Seattle Washington

When we think of what Labor Day means, we tend to focus on the Labor Movement, and the hard-earned rights of workers to organize to fight for their rights – as well we should. Today, however, an obituary in the New York Times got me to pause and think about the meaning and value of work itself, over a lifetime – not a conventional way to pause on Labor Day, perhaps, but at least personally significant and insightful on another level. For those of us in medicine who believe not only in our clinical work, but who feel compelled to do advocacy work – or for those who wonder if getting involved in the political fray is worthwhile – I think you’ll understand why I’m sending you an obituary, of all things, to inspire you this weekend.

“Dr. Elizabeth Connell, a “champion of women’s health and contraception,” died recently at 92, having truly lead a full life.

Here is the story of an amazing woman whose practice of ob-gyn was intertwined with activism on behalf of her patients and for science. When she opened up a women’s health clinic in Harlem in the 1960s, she saw the results of unwanted pregnancies and botched abortions; she advocated for legalized abortions before Roe v. Wade. Academically, she conducted research in contraception, wrote books for patients and doctors to use, participated in clinical research trials as an investigator, headed an FDA advisory committee and worked for the CDC. She further traveled the world to reach out to patients and governments alike, explaining the need for contraception and for laws ensuring women’s reproductive rights. She saw that a woman’s right to choose – and access to care – was basic right, and she fought for it on all levels.

To me, Dr. Connell’s life exemplifies the richness of a full career in medicine, combining the rewards of clinical medicine with effective advocacy for her patients’ rights to better health in an improved health care system. On this Labor Day, I urge those of you who are contemplating or just starting your careers in medicine: Make the time, as tough as it sometimes is, throughout your careers, to speak out when you see injustices in our system. We need you – and our patients need you – to join us in this work.

And for the immediate future, heading into our upcoming election battle this fall, remember: registering voters, knocking on doors, discussing the need to improve our health care system with neighbors and VOTING – are all part of taking care of our patients and using our professional voices.