Female leaders in medicine: A conversation with Dr. Monique Rainford

By Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP
Published May 23, 2023

Key Takeaways

The physician profession has been traditionally male-dominated, which is why it’s so important to celebrate our female leaders in medicine. Highlighting stellar women in medicine who have blazed a unique path forward, in spite of the odds, can help us take those first steps on the path toward inclusivity for all.

Meet Dr. Monique Rainford

Monique Rainford, MD, FACOG, is one such woman. She is a practicing OB/GYN, an assistant clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine, and a senior healthcare consultant and owner of WWELL INC., a company with the mission to help optimize the health and wellness of women. (According to Dr. Rainford, "The first W is for women and 'well' is self-explanatory; my vision is for women to be well in the complete sense,  physically, mentally, and emotionally.)

I sat down with Dr. Rainford to discuss her career in medicine, her ongoing initiative to raise awareness about Black maternal health disparities in the US, and her advice for other women in medicine.

What made you decide to pursue medicine as a career?

Dr. Rainford: When I was about 7 years old, my brother and I were jumping on and off our parents’ bed, something we knew we shouldn’t do. We were having a grand time until the floor missed my feet and found my chin instead. When my parents returned home from work, they were horrified to find their only daughter bandaged at the chin, as our caregiver could not contact them during these pre-cell phone days. 

"The compassionate care I received from the urgent-care doctor who sutured my chin was the initial spark for my interest in medicine."

Monique Rainford, MD, FACOG

By the 7th and 8th grades, I became interested in other careers. However, in 9th grade, a significant loss refocused me. My favorite teacher, Sister Pat, became ill with cancer. My final visit to her in the hospital convinced me that I would dedicate my life to a career in medicine. My initial goal was to find a cure for cancer.

What obstacles have you faced as a woman in medicine?

Dr. Rainford: I distinctly remember one female attending granting a certain white male resident more operating time and more one-on-one instruction than she gave to me. She justified it by explaining it was related to his position on the service. Interestingly, when I held the same position on the service, I did not receive the same attention. 

Toward the end of my training, when I was operating with a Black male OB/GYN, he was surprised that I had not yet had an opportunity to complete a certain surgical procedure solo. Knowing that, he immediately allowed me to complete the operation under his watchful eye. I think the challenges I faced were specific to being a Black woman in medicine.

I honestly didn’t realize it at the time, because I was still relatively naive about the racial dynamics that existed in the US. However, in retrospect, I certainly feel the biases were there. I recognize that my race and gender can always be a factor that could potentially limit me. Nevertheless, I decided to ignore any limitations from that and move forward confidently in whatever I seek to do.

"I do feel that, at times during my career as a Black woman in medicine, I have been held to an unreasonably high standard."

Monique Rainford, MD, FACOG

By my own nature, I hold myself to a very high standard to begin with. But, being human, I know it does feel nice if we are given some “slack.” On the other hand, I have certainly worked in environments where I was respected, and where there had not been any negative effects of being Black and/or being a woman.

Why do you think diversity in medicine is so important?

Dr. Rainford: Diversity is essential. For example, for Black people, there are multiple troubling examples showing that we do not get the same quality of care as our white counterparts for the same disease or illness. These disparities lessen when we are cared for by clinicians of our own race. I have also noticed improved advocacy when members of a specific community are practicing in a field. 

For example, when LGBTQ+ clinicians are represented, I often see more initiatives in the advancement of care to that community.

Tell me about your project to highlight the history of Black maternal health in America

Dr. Rainford: I just published my book Pregnant While Black: Advancing Justice for Maternal Health. I realize that, despite writing a book, there is still much about the history of health disparities and healthcare for Black individuals giving birth that I do not know. I felt that this would be an excellent time for me to expand my knowledge in this area.

What advice do you have for other women in medicine?

Dr. Rainford: I encourage you to seek allies in your community. Your allies do not have to be of the same race or gender as you. I have had a great deal of support from white males over the years.

However, it is also good to have a network of people who can identify with your experiences. 

These are often people of your own race, gender, and/or ethnicity. They offer a different kind of support, which is also very important.

Monique Rainford, MD, FACOG, previously served as chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale Health, and she is currently pursuing her executive MBA in Healthcare through the Yale School of Management, with anticipated graduation in May 2024. Her book, Pregnant While Black: Advancing Justice for Maternal Health in America, is now available from Broadleaf Books.

Read Next: How to be a strong female leader in medicine
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