2023 WIM Sonia Bonifacio

Why did you pursue a career in medicine?

As a child I was always curious about the body and our organs and felt deep sense of empathy and compassion for those who were sick or in need. I always wanted to help others and it was not till high school when I took a physiology class that I was certain medicine was the field I wanted to be in. In particular I was drawn to learning about and trying to understand the complexity of how an embryo becomes a baby and how so many things have to go just right in order for a healthy baby to be born. In addition as a first generation Mexican American, I wanted to be able to help my community and my family, and to address the health needs of the immigrant community and their children.

What is a challenge you experience in pursuing a career in medicine?

I've experienced many challenges in pursuing medicine. Although I was lucky to have several teachers and mentors along the way that encouraged and supported me, I remember as a child and teenager that there were many who were not supportive and didn't think that I could succeed as I was not a straight A student in elementary school or high school. Being the daughter of a single mother and immigrant who worked in the service sector was challenging as I did not have a family who was checking my school work, getting me tutors, or who understood the education system. I have also faced challenges typical of those faced by women in medicine including stereotyping and have had to modulate my words and behavior so that I don't get labeled as difficult or pushy.

What is the most fulfilling part of your work? 

Working in the NICU and being present with families as they face difficulties and at times heartbreak is both stressful but fulfilling. Helping a baby and family overcome numerous challenges is incredibly rewarding and awe inspiring. Its a great honor to watch our patients leave the NICU and grow into children and teenagers. I also find joy in mentoring fellows and helping them navigate their own careers in neonatology.

What strategies do you use to maintain your own well-being? 

I try my best protect my time and care for myself after a night on call or a 2 week service block. I know that I cannot help others if I don't care for myself. I go for walks, sit with my dogs on the couch, spend time with my family, exercise, garden and cook.

What advice would you give someone starting in the field? 

No matter how tired you are, come to work with a smile on your face and tell yourself that you are going to try your very best for each patient.