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Fomer Welfare Mother Becomes Surgeon

June 1, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A woman who beat poverty and welfare to become a surgeon says anyone can do the same, if they are determined.

The reception Dr. Charon Gentile got when she landed at Los Angeles International Airport recently was considerably different than when she first arrived in Los Angeles 11 years ago.

At that time she was a welfare mother, a high school dropout from Milwaukee, cradling her 3-month-old crying baby in her arms.

She had $30, a gift from a shelter for battered women.

Late last month, she returned to Los Angeles as a newly certified general surgeon.

Gentile, a proud new graduate of the prestigious Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn., was greeted by her son Jimmy, now a cheerful-looking 11- year-old.

Gentile’s mother was at her south-central Los Angeles home planning a surprise party for her daughter.

″If I could get up on top of Mount Everest and tell about this kid, I’d do it,″ Alberta Gentile said of her daughter. ″She is just an inspiration.″

More than 100 people showed up at a restaurant in suburban Hawthorne recently to celebrate Gentile’s success.

Gentile, 28, was greeted by former neighbors and former co-workers from the public clinic where she got her first taste of medical life as a clerk.

Also present was the administrator at that clinic who told Gentile that she should become a nurse.

Today, he marvels at her accomplishment.

″Honestly, I didn’t think she could go through medical school - with all the discipline that required - and still raise her child,″ said Tony Rodgers, administrator of the H. Claude Hudson Comprehensive Health Center.

Gentile didn’t take Rodgers’ advice.

She skipped high school and passed a test giving her a Graduate Equivalency Diploma.

Then, she enrolled at Los Angeles-Southwestern Community College. A year later, she transferred to Loyola Marymount University, where she took premedical courses and graduated cum laude in 1984.

Her residency in general surgery begins in a few weeks at the naval hospital in Portsmouth, Va.

″I think anybody can do it if they try,″ she said. ″People tend to settle for so little when they don’t have to. ... I’m sorry that most women don’t think it’s an option for them.″

Racial discrimination was an added burden during her studies, said Gentile, who is black.

″One time (a dean) told me that the reason they let me into medical school was so future generations of minorities, like my son, would have a place in the world; but I wasn’t really qualified to be there,″ Gentile says.

That hurt, but it increased her determination to become a doctor.

″As far as I can remember, that’s what I wanted to be,″ Gentile said. ″I think it was a response to people telling me I wasn’t going to be anything.

″They say, ‘You can’t.’ Therefore you say, ‘I can.’... Actually, I don’t think it’s that amazing. Anyone can do it.″

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