Dr. Carolyn Givens - A Physician's Odyssey
After 10 years of publishing newsletters, many with personal stories from our own employees, we have decided that it is time to do personal stories on our own physicians.
I was born in Wahiawa, Hawaii in 1957, two years before Hawaii became a state. My mother was a Nisei Japanese woman, born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I hope, if I live long enough, to retire someday. My father was a Texan, raised on a dry land cotton farm in the Panhandle of Texas. He was adopted so I dont know his genetic and ethnic background, but we suspect perhaps Welsh-Scottish. My parents met in Hawaii during WWII. I grew up the youngest of four children. I have two older sisters, with whom I am very close, and I had an older brother I loved very much but lost to kidney cancer two years ago. My mother never got to graduate from high school as she had to help her father in his general store, but she was a remarkably intelligent woman with a life-long thirst for knowledge. She received her G.E.D. at age 42; in another time, she could have been a very accomplished career woman. I was very lucky to have her for a stay-at-home mom. My father finished high school and joined the Navy just before WWII. He never went to college, but worked for the US government all his life in civil service for the Army. He rose to quite a high rank by the time he retired, due to his diligence and competence. We lived in Hawaii until I was 8 years old, then we lived in Okinawa, Japan during the Vietnam War (1965-1973). After that, my father was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas. It was good for him to return to his home state after 35 years on islands, but hard on my mother and me, who had always lived on tropical islands with Asian culture. I graduated from high school in Central Texas and, not knowing what I wanted to do, enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, because it was inexpensive and close to home. This was a stroke of luck because I received a wonderful education there for very little money, and it paved the way to medical school. I worked all kinds of low paying jobs to help pay my way through college, as my parents didnt really have much money. I entered the university as an English major, as I loved literature, but quickly realized there would be no work in that field. I took a biology course my freshman year and absolutely fell in love with it. I considered being a biologist, a veterinarian (I love animals!) and eventually realized I wanted to work with people, not animals and not at a research bench. I went to medical school in Dallas, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. This school has an incredible reputation for excellent research (they are always in the top 2-3 medical schools in the nation to receive NIH grant money), a well-developed program of philanthropy that supports their mission, and most of all, the best teachers one could have. I feel truly blessed to have been able to attend that wonderful medical school.
During medical school, I had a job (always working!) in a research lab that was doing research on how the genes that make FSH work. That experience exposed me to reproductive endocrinology early in my career. I was even able to publish a few papers during medical school. Small stuff, but it felt great at the time. During medical school, I discovered I liked many different specialties, but really liked caring for women. It was natural for me to go into obstetrics and gynecology. I stayed at Southwestern because their teaching hospital is Parkland Memorial Hospital, an incredible training ground for residents. During my four years there, I delivered thousands of babies, performed or assisted about 600 Cesarean sections and did all kinds of gynecologic surgery. It was very hard work, but gave me a sound foundation and a lot of confidence that I could do most anything. I remained interested in Reproductive Endocrinology, although at the time, in vitro fertilization was just beginning to develop around the country and wasnt the major emphasis in the field. Back then, the specialty was more about taking care of menopausal women, doing surgery for infertility (especially endometriosis, because at the time, we thought surgery helped fertility for these patients, something we now know isnt really true) and doing microsurgery to put the tubes back together for women who had previously had their tubes tied and now wanted to be pregnant again (we now treat this with IVF). I decided that rather than going into practice in general ob/gyn, I would continue two more years of training to become a Reproductive Endocrinologist.
After 17 years in Texas and 8 years at Southwestern, I knew I wanted to go somewhere else and gain new experiences and exposure to different teachers. I only applied to a few fellowship programs and was fortunate to be accepted to my first choice: the University of California San Francisco. During my fellowship there, I met and was taught by the best mentor one could have, who is now my close friend and partner, Dr. Eldon Schriock. At the end of my fellowship, I was incredibly fortunate to be recruited by him and the department to stay on as a faculty member. While there, we instituted many new techniques into the infertility program such as ICSI and PGD. We doubled the size of the IVF program. We also taught many of the Reproductive Endocrinologists that now practice in the Bay Area, including our own Dr. Isabelle Ryan. While at UCSF, we almost merged with Drs. Carl Herbert and Philip Chenette, who were in private practice in San Francisco, but due to a variety of reasons, we were unable to realize the merger with them within the UCSF system. We got to know them very well, though, and we knew we could work together.