Father - Daughter Dr.s Sheryl and Perry
|Dr. Sheryl Henderson (l) followed her own path in
deciding to obtain her MD and Ph.D. in medicine which
her father, Dr. Perry Henderson, supported once she
made her decision.
t wasn’t a sure thing that Sheryl would become a doctor. Her favorite toy as a child was her chemistry set. Her interest was in science
and becoming a scientist. After graduating from high school in Madison — it was only two years after the Hendersons moved to Madison
from Albuquerque — Sheryl enrolled at Wellesley College outside of Boston.
“I went to college to be a chemist and I thought I would be in the laboratory and spend my days in the laboratory inventing and mixing all
sorts of compounds and doing chemistry,” Sheryl said with a laugh. “It was somewhere during my sophomore or junior year when there
were enough people who knew me well enough who said, ‘Have you considered medicine?’’ I said, ‘You know what? I could be a
scientist in medicine.’ So I started looking into the MD Ph.D. programs because I was still interested in research and being in the lab
and at that point, there was more in development of the medical scientist training programs. Those were becoming funded throughout
the country and more and more medical schools had the MD Ph.D. programs.”
Sheryl applied to and was admitted to several prestigious MD Ph.D. programs. After really thinking about what she wanted to do and the
school that could really provide the training, Sheryl decided upon Johns Hopkins School of Medicine located within one of the premier
hospitals in the country. As she went through the program, her thoughts on her career began to evolve.
“Being in the MD Ph.D. program, I then spent five years in graduate school when I was in the laboratory,” Sheryl said. “I was basically
pouring things into test tubes and cutting up genes and working with cells and asking questions about how RNA and DNA were made. I
sort of went into that again with the idea that I could work in academics and I would be a part of a medical institution and a research lab.
I then went back to medical school. Even before that, I realized ‘You know, I come into the lab and I see the same handful of people
every day,’ but I was really enjoying being in the medical part where I was interacting with patients, families, staff and other students on
a regular basis. I can’t remember all of the development, but I decided at that point I would really love to do a residency and actually
practice medicine. My next decision was pediatrics versus internal medicine. I think we were talking earlier about all of the things you
thinking about when you are interviewing one place or the other, but I have to remember, I admitted that to my father, that I really liked
the idea of internal medicine again because there were so many research opportunities at that point. This was in the early 1980s. That
has changed now. There are many great research programs in pediatrics. I remember him as an obstetrician — I hadn’t yet done my
obstetrics rotation. My father told me, ‘When you do your obstetrics rotation, figure out whether you would rather be with the mother or
with the child. And I was going right there to the incubator. ‘Oh yes, you have to deliver the placenta, but there is a baby here.’ That
amongst other things made me pretty sure I wanted to do pediatrics.”
Sheryl was making sure that the people side of her personality and the intellectually curious side were present in her career choice.
And increasingly there were opportunities to practice medicine and conduct research.
“There are questions that are being taken straight from the bedsides.” Sheryl said. “In one experience, I worked in a lab with Dr.
Michael Hollick who is still a big Vitamin D researcher. I would see patients with him. And he would be asking about their bone density
and why their Vitamin D levels were such and such. And then I would be going right back to the lab and developing tests for levels of
Vitamin D. That is where my interests were overall.”
Next issue: Intergenerational views of medicine
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
It was a beautiful thing when the children of Dr. Parry Henderson and Dr.
Virginia Henderson threw an 80th birthday party for them at Hyatt Place on W.
Washington Avenue. All three children and their families were there to
celebrate with them and to shower them with affection.
As the children talked during the occasion and interacted with the guests, it
was evident that all three children had felt free and secure to travel their
own path in life, pursuing their dreams. And for one child, Sheryl, that path
led to medicine just like her father and eventually to pediatric care practice
at UW Hospitals & Clinics.
But it wasn’t a case of a father, Dr. Perry Henderson, proactively and firmly
molding Sheryl to be a doctor, even if he may have had any secret hope that
one of his children might follow his footsteps. Rather it was the case of both
parents supporting Sheryl in pursuing her interests and then Perry actively
discussing medicine with her once she made the decision.I