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Stephanie Brett-Bell: The High Expectations of Dr. Priscilla White

Stephanie was born and grew up very close to the Joslin Clinic. She recalled that her grandmother developed diabetes when she was in her 70s; Stephanie’s mother became the sole caregiver for Stephanie’s grandma who required insulin. This firsthand experience of living with a diabetic helped Stephanie’s mother correctly identify Stephanie’s own symptoms.

Stephanie was always an excellent student. However, when she started 8th grade, she noticed that her thinking was not clear, “I felt like I just couldn’t focus on anything and would become confused in class.” Not only that, but Stephanie was extremely thirsty and began drinking lots of soft drinks. A dedicated young pianist, Stephanie became too tired to practice. Stephanie’s mother took her to Dr. Allen, a pediatrician on Brookline Avenue, who immediately referred her to the Joslin Clinic across the street. Thus began Stephanie’s relationship with Joslin in September 1962.

Healthcare was so different then, Stephanie was admitted to what was known as “the teaching unit” for a week in this inpatient area on Joslin’s 2nd floor. She still remembers helping her roommate, a young girl from Mexico who didn’t speak English. Stephanie also enjoyed meeting other diabetics in the teaching unit.

One of the most important aspects of Stephanie’s stay at Joslin—and the part that would stay with her for the rest of her life—was wanting to measure up to the high expectations of her clinician, Dr. Priscilla White. In 1962 Dr. White was one of the few female physicians working with diabetic patients. “I remember everyone at Joslin admired Dr. White.” Using the Joslin manual on diabetes as their textbook, Stephanie and her mother participated in a variety of patient education classes given by doctors, nutritionists and nurses. Stephanie found these patient education classes and clinical care so helpful that she continued to go to the “teaching unit” every so often.

In addition to managing her diabetes, Dr. White’s expectations extended into Stephanie’s future career. “Dr. White was my role model. She was pleased that I planned to go to college,” Stephanie said. She became the valedictorian of her high school. She decided to go to Wellesley College and majored in psychology. Having worked with the mental health club at Brookline High School, Stephanie continued volunteering at various places where she could help others. One of the places where she volunteered was the “candy striper” program for young teens at the Deaconess Hospital. Stephanie’s interest in the field of mental health continued when she entered graduate school in the Boston College School of Social Work. As an intern, Stephanie was placed at the Boston State Hospital in Mattapan where she worked in some seriously challenging situations.

Stephanie had a successful career in clinical social work for many years in the greater Boston area. She particularly enjoyed medical social work at Massachusetts General Hospital. She also maintained a private clinical practice as a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. She now feels that Dr. White would have been proud of her.

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Page last updated: December 22, 2016