Alana Biggers ’01—More than a woman in a white coat
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Alana Biggers ’01 when she set her sights on the medical profession. The Furman biology and political science graduate didn’t make it into medical school the first or second time.
What she learned in the meantime was how to face adversity and to keep trying—a little something she picked up during her time at Furman while working with Biology Professor Victoria Turgeon, who reinforced Biggers’ love for science and health. One of only a few female biology professors at the time, Turgeon encouraged Biggers to adapt and stay the course.
Now Biggers is Dr. Alana Biggers, who holds a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.), a Master of Public Health (MPH) in epidemiology and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, the largest society of internists in the world.
In addition to her role as assistant professor of medicine at the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Medicine, she is a contributor to “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats,” a book released this year about the struggles and victories of 20 women who chose professions in medicine and dentistry.
The chapter in the book authored by Biggers deals with imposter syndrome, described by Harvard Business Review as a condition marked by “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.”
Said Biggers, “I hear many students, residents, attendings talk about this feeling of not belonging or standing out and being reminded how different they are from a stereotypical look of a physician. I wanted to share my story so people would know they’re not the only ones who have these feelings.”
Biggers notes the book is accessible to anyone, including men, who want to enter health professions and other fields. “We all have a story to tell, whether it’s about trials or successes, on how to navigate through your career … Regardless of what stage you are in your career or your background, you can learn a lesson or gather advice from someone. That’s how we grow. The barriers I’ve faced as a black woman in the medical field can help others, just like I can learn from others in the medical field or in other careers.”
While Biggers has enhanced her role as author over the years through her published research and more recently as coauthor of “The Chronicles,” she derives most satisfaction from being a physician and a researcher.
“As a physician, I enjoy connecting with my patients, explaining to them information about their health conditions, and giving them sound advice for healthy living to optimize their health and potentially prevent health problems. Lately, I’ve been more involved in research which adds another layer to patient care. Research allows me to discover long-term, evidence-based strategies to enhance patient care and experiences,” she explained.
Her advice for aspiring wearers of white coats? Don’t listen to the naysayers. Said Biggers, “Unfortunately, you’ll meet people who will try to discourage your dreams. Furman taught me the importance of perseverance and hard work to achieve my goals.”
Along the way to med school, Biggers was able to earn her master’s degree, and she completed a research fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (heart disease and stroke division). “I did some self-assessing to evaluate my weaknesses and figured out how to strengthen my (med school) application. I had to pivot, but I was steadfast in my commitment to become a physician. My advice is to follow your passion and never give up on your goals.”