A background in the performing arts has proved useful for a borough doctor.
Dr. Mary Gratch, an OBGYN doctor who celebrated 20 years recently at St. Barnabas Hospital, took a non-traditional route to medical school, studying and working as an actor before switching to medicine.
Dr. Gratch was featured in New York Times article in 1992 that profiled medical students who had taken unorthodox paths to professions, and she said the world is a better place for her decision to switch careers.
Her thespian desires lured her to New York where she landed an opportunity to perform with the classical theater company, Jean Cocteau Repertory, that performed Shakespearian and Restoration-era plays from the 17th century.
“After two years, I realized that I wasn’t really happy acting,” said Gratch.
She then took a clerical job at Columbia University to qualify for a tuition break for its post-baccalaureate program. The courses she took would prepare her for medical school admission.
By this time she was in her thirties, she said, noting that she was the second oldest student in her class.
She moved to the Bronx after completing her residency in 1997.
After two decades at St. Barnabas, she says that she finds her work interesting, challenging and rewarding.
“I think there is a dedication to serve people,” she said, adding, “I think people are here because they truly care about helping people in the community, many of whom are underserved.”
Her theatrical training has helped her overcome ‘stagefright’ when she first had to perform her ‘role’ as a doctor, and to accept responsibility for the trust her patients place in her.
“At one point, I said just play the doctor like it was a character,” said Dr. Gratch. “I think it gave me confidence to let me be not overwhelmed by the seriousness of what I was doing; I grew into the role of being the doctor.”
She has used acting techniques culled from her acting days to work with patients who may not be easy to deal with on an interpersonal level.
Now an OBGYN doctor with decades of experience, she is proud to work at St. Barnabas and to provide care to patients who often destitute, she said.
“The people from the OBGYN and all the other departments really take excellent care of our patients,” said Dr. Gratch. “This place is not about money or prestige, but it is challenging and very rewarding.”
She added she truly feels part of the community, and many of her patients say hello as she makes her way to and from work via public transportation.
Dr. Eric Appelbaum, St. Barnabas Hospital’s chief medical officer, said that Dr. Gratch has been a key member of the SBH medical staff, and its leadership, for years.
“Doctors like her who come from non-traditional backgrounds bring additional skills and experiences into their relationships with patients and their families, their peers, and others who work in the hospital,” said Appelbaum. “I see it as a big plus.”