Interview with Cheryl Jeffries

Cheryl Jeffries was interviewed by Joanna Rabiej on November 5, 2010.

Cheryl Jeffries is a primary care physician practicing at Burlington’s Kernodle Clinic.  She was born in Alamance County but moved to Maryland at seven years old when her mother re-married.  She came back to North Carolina when she decided to go Duke University for undergraduate education.  Dr. Jeffries attended medical school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Dr. Jeffries is very active in the community and is involved with a faith-based health improvement ministry.  She has also been instrumental in helping her clinic became more welcoming to female physicians.

On being a female African-American doctor

Cheryl tends to feel there are more issues in medicine related to gender rather than race.  This is apparent in her response to some of her experiences:

Female African-American doctor?  Yeah, I have had patients, they think you’re the nurse – and I don’t know if that’s more of a gender thing. You go in the room in the hospital to take a history and examine the patient, and they’re like, “When’s the doctor coming?” “Ma’am, I am the doctor.” Or “Sir, I am the doctor.”  I don’t know so much as a racist thing, probably more of a gender thing. They assume the doctor is going to be a boy, or they did back then, just assume the doctor’s going to be a guy.  When they saw you, and they’re like, “Excuse me, nurse! Nurse!”  That occasionally happens today. When I went into private practice, I think in residency it wasn’t such an issue because you’re taking care of a lot of indigent patients at that time, so they were just happy to get any care that they could get.  There was not a lot of issues of that kind of thing, “I don’t want her taking care of me.”  I don’t ever really remember experiencing that.

Listen to the audio of Cheryl’s response about her experience as a doctor.

On Spirituality

Well, I think, from being young, I’ve always had a spiritual foundation. My theory on happiness is that you have to have something to believe in that’s bigger than yourself, you have to have something meaningful to do, you have to have somebody to love or take care of, and then you have to have something to look forward to.  Those are my four personal things that I need to have in my life to have balance. I’m finding that my daughter is the same way.  So when I’m sort of spiritually out of balance or not spiritually connected, then things aren’t going right. When I don’t feel like I’m involved in some sort of project that is helping somebody else, then things aren’t going right. I always need something to look forward to. I need a trip, or I need a vacation, or I need something to look forward to. I have kids and significant others, there’s always somebody to love and take care of, somebody always has a need.

Listen to the audio of Cheryl’s response about spirituality.

On differences between certain cities in North Carolina

Cheryl has lived in several cities in North Carolina.  Here she describes some of them:

Well, Durham is Durham. I was there at the university. Durham has really grown, and it’s become a very nice town, but at that time, it was Duke, and then it was Durham. The two just didn’t mix.  So I don’t really have much experience with Durham.  Chapel Hill, of course, I think Chapel Hill and Asheville are the two places in North Carolina that are somewhat eclectic and contemporary and are probably the most liberal cities in North Carolina.  I would say Asheville, Asheville’s really eclectic and kind of liberal and Chapel Hill, so Chapel Hill was a fun place to be and to live and to work. Charlotte is a big city. Booming, growing city, and much bigger now than when I was there, I think.  I left Charlotte in 1992, so I was there from 1986 to 1992. Incredible growth, a lot of young people going there to work in the financial industry, and so it was a yuppy, young urban professional-type place.  So it was a good place to be, socially, and when I was in training, even though you’re on call every third night, you still find some time to socialize at that point.  And all the cities are unique. I like North Carolina, I think you get a little bit of everything in North Carolina.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Cheryl describing North Carolina cities.

On her most rewarding community involvement

Community involvement is very important to Cheryl, as seen through the faith-based health improvement ministry related to her work:

I think probably the most rewarding thing has been this faith-based health improvement initiative because I think we’re going to see more and more of that. That’s been fun and rewarding. I can see it carrying on. Every once a year, the group will say, “We need to get another one of those classes! Everybody’s getting fat again! We need to do our class over!” So people, they re-do the class, and people get motivated and get back on track. We have made some changes in our communities and in our churches that alter the eating, and they’ll remind each other. They’re going through the line at the homecoming dinner, “You know you’re not supposed to eat that fried stuff!” So made some changes. We’ve actually had a nutritionist come out, had somebody go out with them shopping at the grocery store. Each week in the class, you do a little different thing. So that’s been fun.

Listen to the audio about the health improvement ministry.

Reflections on her proudest achievements

Cheryl is a very accomplished woman, as a mother and a physician.  Here she discusses some of her most significant sacrifices, choices, and skills:

I don’t know, I think you make sacrifices, and you make choices. I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in terms of career things because I wanted to have a family, and my children have always been the most important thing, most important part of my life.  I think that women in general don’t hang their self-worth on their careers or what they do. That’s just a part of who they are. Men tend to have their whole self-worth tied up in their careers and how much money they make and their successes in terms of their careers. I don’t feel that at all.  I mean, I think I’m good at what I do, and I’m probably good at what I do because of the skills that I possess that have nothing to do with medicine. The same skills that I possess that make me good at being a good mommy. So I guess those would probably be the achievements, the chief of staff and being the oldest and only African-American female partner.

Listen to the audio of Cheryl’s response about her proudest achievements.

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