Sabrina Kivitz Braham '87 had a winding journey to becoming a pediatrician. After a high school internship for California Senator Barbara Boxer when she was in Congress, Sabrina briefly entertained a career in law. After graduating from Georgetown, where she studied English Literature, she worked in finance with a focus on pharmaceutical stocks. She started to notice that every time she went to a medical conference she was more interested in the patients and the medicine than the economics. Realizing that her passion had always been about helping people, she went back to school for a post-baccalaureate at Mills College in Oakland. From there, she finally decided to take the leap and go to medical school.
As an older student, she juggled medical school with the birth of her first child, taking an extra research year in pediatric dermatology before starting residency at Stanford with a 9-month-old in her arms. She had her second child during her second year of residency and then joined Menlo Clinic Pediatrics in Menlo Park. In addition to her busy clinical practice, Sabrina teaches Stanford medical students and residents and serves on several philanthropic boards in her community. She is a believer that a wandering journey can sometimes take you farther than a straight shot.
How has COVID changed your life as a medical professional?
Pre-COVID I had an amazing work-life balance; I loved what I did and I did it three and a half days a week - perfect. I could be a functional human, an involved mom and an active participant in my community. But when COVID arrived, everything changed. I found myself working around the clock to make sure my patients and staff were safe, and relying on creativity and courage to act when there was no clearly established path. It’s been challenging to figure out how to protect and serve our most vulnerable patients while also keeping our staff and ourselves safe. Ultimately, we’ve done an excellent job, I think, despite being the only community pediatric practice open in our area during the early months of the Pandemic.
What is your favorite memory from Burke’s?
Hmmm. I don’t have a terrific memory in general, which I attribute to the huge mental real estate taken up during medical school but my fondness for Burke’s is rooted in the years being ‘raised’ in a single-gender school environment. Growing academic and social emotional skills in the absence of the opposite sex during adolescence allows one to develop a better sense of self the world. I spoke up (or not) in class because I was interested, not because I wanted to get a boy’s attention. I’m known to be a pretty outspoken person in general, particularly when the stakes are high. I think that trait comes from being in an all-girl school environment where I had the opportunity to develop my own voice.
What is something you learned at Burke’s that you carry with you today?
I think I learned how I wanted to engage with other women - as a confidante and an ally, not a competitor or, as my daughters’ might say, “a hater”. It’s been a passion of mine to be supportive of other women and raise my children to seek relationships that build and don’t tear down. I think my desire for my children to develop empathy and be supportive of others was born from my time at Burke’s.
Who is a Burke’s teacher who left a lasting impact on you?
I remember my English teacher Mr. Bell very fondly. I was an English major in college, probably largely because of the impact of his English classes. We had such rich discussions about language and the many ways it can be used in the expression of ideas. He may not remember me as fondly though. I was a handful.
What advice would you give to a young person?
I talk to my teen patients about this a lot, because the Bay Area can be an intense place and teenagers feel very defined by where they are accepted into college. Many kids think that where they attend college will determine the path of their life. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Life is such a fascinating journey that we have to be open to. You need to know yourself well, lead with your strengths, grow from weaknesses, and pursue things that matter to you. If you do those things together, you will find something that you can’t help but work hard at and that no one could do as well as you. That is true success in my opinion. I didn’t find my way to medicine overnight, but I couldn’t keep myself from doing this work because I care so much.