Dr Quidest Sheriff’s medical career suffered a set-back before it had even begun. Days before she was due to take up her place at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey, she was knocked off her bike. In addition to breaking numerous bones, she suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Not that she allowed that to hold her back. There was simply too much at stake. “I was the first in my family to get to medical school – on both sides – and I’m a minority. I felt I couldn’t take a break,” she explains. “I started medical school with a sling on my arm and my leg in a boot.”
But after four years of studying, the brain injury was starting to take its toll. Panic attacks became the norm and, after going through psychological assessments, Sheriff was diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
She continued to focus on her medical career, completing her residency and starting in practice in 2017. But her own experience of struggling with her mental health and “hustling” to find a therapist convinced her something needed to be done. Discovering that US doctors are more likely to die by suicide than any other profession – and that female physicians are 400 per cent more likely to take their own lives than their male counterparts – gave her the final push she needed to take decisive action.
In March 2020, the New Jersey medical centre she was working in was forced to temporarily close after a patient tested positive for Covid-19. Having witnessed the impact the pandemic was having in neighbouring New York, and in particular the toll it was having on medical professionals like herself, Sheriff decided that this was the moment to quit her job completely and do something about it. She set up her own venture, mdundertheradar.com, an online community focused on providing mental health support to female physicians.
“It’s a free-for-all right now – if you want to talk about your cat, you can talk about your cat – but it’s also a community where female physicians can connect,” Sheriff says. “Within that space we can become mentors and educate each other.”
Currently, the platform focuses on networking, and is aimed solely at the US market. Sheriff has ambitions to take it global, though, and Europe is next on her hit-list. “I wanted to start with doctors all over the world, but my brother said, ‘let’s take it slow, you are a one-woman show’,” she says. “My research has shown this is not just an issue in America. All over the world there are stats that show a high suicide rate among physicians and everywhere the story is the same – women [are disproportionately affected].”
Sheriff says she has been “bootstrapping” the business up to this point, funding the development of the website from her own savings. Long-term, she remains focused on rolling the platform out across the globe, so has enrolled on the virtual pre-seed accelerator programme run by The Founder Institute.
“I joined the accelerator programme to be able to talk about the business side and the tech side. I’m able to answer the questions I wasn’t able to before,” she says. “Once my pitching is good, I’m going to enter pitch contests.”
Sheriff plans to use any cash raised to connect website users with therapists and coaches. Beyond that, she wants art therapy to be incorporated into the site, though stresses that that “is going to be a gem for the future”. Given the setbacks she has already overcome, she is convinced she will get there.
“Everything is working out for me,” she says. “I have a drive and a passion and I’m creating my own career. I took a leap of faith and jumped in. Hopefully, my story will empower someone else to do the same.”
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