Season 2
30 Minutes

E61 | Martina McGowan, MD | When An Introvert Taps Her Rage

Martina McGowan, MD is a seasoned physician, mother, grandmother, poet, writer, ceramicist, public speaker, and an activist in the fight against social, racial, and sexual injustices.

A celebrated leadership blogger for more than a decade, Martina released her debut poetry collection in 2021. “i am the rage: a black poetry collection” is a poetic exploration of living inside injustice. Her book has received several awards – Nautilus Book Award (silver, poetry), International Book (winner, poetry, Social Change category), Royal Dragonfly (poetry), a Goodreads Choice Award nominee, and was recently awarded the 2022 Honor Book for Best Poetry Award by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

Links in this episode:


To help make this podcast more accessible to those who are hearing impaired or those who like to read rather than listen to podcasts, here are our show notes.

These show notes come via the service. The transcription is imperfect. But hopefully, it’s close enough – even with the errors – to give those who aren’t able or inclined to learn from audio interviews a way to participate.

Martina McGowan  00:00

If we take the time to actually listen to people that probably 80 to 90% of the time that I probably wouldn’t even need to touch them to figure out what was the matter if I just let them say what’s wrong in their own stories and actually one of my solo practices was named listening place had nothing but OB Jen in the title.

Achim Nowak  00:23

Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your fourth act? I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected MY FOURTH ACTS, listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you are listening on. Let’s get started. I am just so delighted to welcome Martina McGowan to the MY FOURTH ACT . Martina is a physician, a mother, a grandmother, a poet, a writer, a public speaker, and an activist in the fight against social racial and sexual injustices. Her debut poetry collection, I am the rage subtitled A black poetry collection. It’s a poetic exploration of living inside injustice. It was released February 2021. By sourcebooks. Martina first showed up on my social radar as a highly, highly regarded leadership blogger in the small world of leadership thinkers. Welcome, Martina.

Martina McGowan  01:41

Well, thank you. I can I’m happy to be here.

Achim Nowak  01:44

I’m delighted to have you. You’re one of those people who I’ve been aware of for years, but we’ve actually never met. So this is excuse to meet the

Martina McGowan  01:52

back from the Twitter days we’ve known each other back in those

Achim Nowak  01:55

days. Is that your way of saying that we’re on the older side of the spectrum, right.

Martina McGowan  02:03

I think Twitter was something else when we were in the leadership groups.

Achim Nowak  02:07

Oh, I know that you’re originally from the New York area and you ended up living in Indiana. I’m always curious and asked this question of every guest when you were a young girl or a teenager growing up? What were your dreams for yourself? Who did you think you want it to be your mom and dad asked you making presumption that you have a mom and dad. But what would you tell them?

Martina McGowan  02:36

I think I’ve known that I wanted to go into medicine since about fourth grade. And actually, it’s my fourth grade teacher. My first female African American teacher, first teacher who looked like me, who probably got that all stirred up. Before then, I had no idea what I wanted to be more than like every other kid, or racecar driver who knows what you want to be. Medicine has been the primary radar for a long time.

Achim Nowak  03:02

Well, so you’ve had a whole bunch of decades of practicing medicine. Yeah, I want to focus more on where you are now. But I’m really curious. We can tell different versions of our life, then different ways to say it. So what I’m curious when it comes to your medicine, I believe you’re a gynecologist. All right. If you have to give us tell us a story of a moment where you go, wow, this is why I love or love to being a doctor. This is a moment that symbolizes of why I chose this profession. But conversely, if there’s also a moment where you know, we all have those we go Why the hell am I doing? Maybe take us to both extremes and give us a story for

Martina McGowan  03:49

the latter. I think physicians build many of those latter moments, you know, why the hell am I doing this? You know, plus the litigious state that we live in, makes medicine practice difficult. I spend a lot of time second guessing yourself going into medicine and deciding that this is what I love to do actually is kind of odd because when I went to medical school, I thought I want to be a Hematologist Oncologist. And some of that has to do with family history of several cancers, GI cancers primarily. But when I did all my rotations, I found that OB Jin was the one where I got to do everything I got to do as much general medicine as as I could remember, as I could focus on I got to do general surgery or surgery, which is actually my love for GYN. But I knew when I was a student that it was what I wanted to do is it was actually patient that I delivered between rooms. I did my residency and internship at a very large public hospital in Houston. And it was one of those days was really hectic on the ward and I was still a student and there were a couple of the techs that had to help me deliver our patient in between rooms because we were so overflowing that A, it was actually a fresh fetal demise. And just me and the techs and the patient and her poor baby who had just died very recently before she came in, and she had no medical care. And I’d spend some time talking with her before and afters were leading up to the delivery. And that’s kind of when I knew that this is it.

Achim Nowak  05:20

What I’m hearing I want to test this is that there is the actual thing that you did, but the talking before and after was as important as the delivery itself. Is that correct?

Martina McGowan  05:33

Absolutely. I feel and you may have seen it once or twice. Now, I think that if we actually spend time and it’s true for things outside of medicine, we’re certainly in medicine, if we take the time to actually listen to people that probably 80 to 90% of the time that I probably wouldn’t even need to touch them to figure out what was matter if I just let them say what’s wrong in their own stories. And actually, one of my solo practices was named listening place had nothing about origin and the title. Because I think that’s the most important thing that we do in medicine is listen, although we don’t all listen.

Achim Nowak  06:10

I’ve lived with HIV since the late 80s. And I’ve been healthy and each time and I’ve been blessed. I’ve seen just so many different doctors on that journey. And I’m grateful for them. But to just just support what you were saying. I remember an osteopath in Manhattan, who the best analogy is I know she was there to take care of me, but it was to human beings, you know, being in a room being real with each other. Right? Her ability to do that was part of the healing. I have no doubt.

Martina McGowan  06:42

Oh, obviously I absolutely agree with you on that.

Achim Nowak  06:45

No doubt. So now take us to the dark side. You said that Oh, many doctors know that. And that’s not necessarily to tell war stories. But take the question in the sense because maybe it’s a question about resilience, because a lot of us have to face a lot of different levels of crap. The job we need to do. And we persevere and we do it anyway. You know, the fine line about what we’re willing to put up with or not is interesting conversation. But what were some moments where you make, gosh, why am I doing?

Martina McGowan  07:22

Probably most of those situations where probably actually lead to the book and the kind of stuff that I write, there were confrontations that had nothing to do with actual medicine, or my skill, or, or my talent or my knowledge, but it was just purely racist, purely evil, you know, when when patients would just go off the deep end or or decide that they couldn’t see me, you know, they’d make the appointment, whoever. And obviously, my name is sort of Scotty so they wouldn’t know till they got there, that I was black. So that has happened to me several times. And even a few patients afterwards, not happy with their surgery, not that there was anything wrong with the surgery, we feel that they had to write their call Karen’s now but would feel that they have the right to take whatever anger they have out on the staff or the physician. So yeah, there’s there’s that dark side of medicine.

Achim Nowak  08:13

So when those things happen, and obviously I mentioned you, my partner is African American. So you know, that’s disgusting in my household all the time. And he is phenomenally successful. But it doesn’t matter in those situations. Right, right. So how do you? How do you inside of yourself? Manage that work through it? How do you handle your rage about what happens?

Martina McGowan  08:39

Sometimes you can confront it, hopefully, quite an erase it there. And sometimes you can confront it now. Not that you’re actually putting anybody in their place or anything like that. Because you know, in your heart that a large number of people feel this way about you. It has nothing to do with you. And I write I’ve been writing for a long time about leadership and personal development and those kinds of things. And all of those bitter things sneak into the writing as well.

Achim Nowak  09:04

Yeah. Thank you for that segue to, to the writing. I think in my own professional life i i have I’m an executive coach, and I get to coach a lot of physicians who work in the healthcare industry. So and some occasionally confessed to me that I wanted, I wish I could just check this all in just in just there just be a writer. And the two parts to this is number one, we have to notice the desire to write. Right. And I think we have to give ourselves permission to write and also I think feel that we have something to say right? How did you work that all out for yourself? I’m curious.

Martina McGowan  09:54

My career was winding down about the time pandemic really was starting to take off and that’s how I ended up in Indianapolis, I have a blog I’ve written probably for the last 10 years and I’ve done some personal journaling. One of the things that I did was, I took a class, I knew the instructor fairly well, but not the other people in the group. And it was just poetry. And it just happened. It could have been anything. And we were encouraged to write to prompt encouraged to read, I am a card carrying introvert. So I didn’t read for most of the sessions, you know, I would write privately what I had, and towards the end, and I think in addition to what you said earlier, part of it’s giving yourself Yes, permission to write. But you have to have permission to share once you’ve decided that you have something to say, That’s a difficult step. I think even for people who’ve been around as much longer than I am. Yeah, it’s good enough. For me, it’s good enough for my family. But is it good enough for someone who doesn’t live inside my head, I shared and actually that first poem that I shared with him was the basis of the anchor point for the book, I am rage. We kept writing and kept reading I took I’ve been taking more classes, more workshops, I haven’t written anything really essay, like outside of the blog since high school, which is very, very long time ago. So I’m spending a lot of time now sort of backfilling that knowledge learning that forms and structure and those kinds of things. Most of what I write isn’t most were written for the book is free verse. I think you need to learn those things. Yeah. Even if you don’t choose to do them,

Achim Nowak  11:26

I just want to really celebrate. I’m gonna spell out something you just said. But for our listeners who may already think a lie, yeah, I like to do some writing is I celebrate you for taking classes. You know, in the 90s, when I decided to be a writer, I was blessed to live in New York, I had access to amazing teachers, and being in a class actually made me feel like, Oh, I am a writer, perhaps. And it forced me to read it out loud, you know, as you were describing, which is, I’m communicating a part of myself to others, and I can see how it lands a beautiful when you started writing poetry, and it’s called I Am the rage, it’s called a black poetry collection. So I think there’s no ambiguity on the surface about what you’re writing about. Did you know how deep you were gonna go with this stuff? Or was it just sort of emerging one poem at a time and suddenly was a collection? Or how did it all come together?

Martina McGowan  12:36

It started one column at a time, even before the book became a question or an issue. That was one poem at a time, then you’re a writer yourself, and you go deeper and said, Well, yeah, and other things, and things start to come up. Yes, it is a black poetry collection. But I don’t think it’s just for black people. I think it’s about people who are oppressed, in general, people who feel othered, I think is more of a theme. But yeah, it’s sort of coalesced. This is one of the people that took the workshop with asked people always asked if you want to do stuff, asked if I was interested in publishing, you know, and we all say sure, yeah, whatever. And she actually knew someone. But yeah, that was a point when I was writing almost every day, and that all of those problems were necessarily race related. But But yeah, started pulling on heartstrings and memories and feelings that I may not have explored well myself in the past.

Achim Nowak  13:37

I want to read part of a poem that is one of yours. And it perfectly illustrates what you just said. Because on one level, officiate is about the black brown experience. And on the other level, it’s about the human experience, right? That’s part of a it’s just a section of a poem called a human enough. It says with diminishing confidence. We send out our hearts sensors to try to remember where our children are supposed to be. And at the same time to touch the God that binds us to each other. The God that binds us to each other, tries to break that awkward silence now filling our homes as we review our day’s journey and begin to wonder where our children truly are, and if they will return. It struck me obviously, because we’re recording this after the massacre in a school in Texas and the other it’s a beautiful poem. There’s a lot more I’m just giving you a little glimpse. And you anything you’d like to add about what prompted you to write this or any personal experience that call this forth, or any of the choices you made in the writing been a lot

Martina McGowan  15:01

of this was written in 2020. And it was around the time with the stuff with George Floyd and breonna, Taylor, and several other losses. Now combined with that, and my own children, and how unsafe and anxious I feel whenever my children are adults, and I have grandchildren, you know, but how anxious I feel, even when my 40 year old daughter goes off by herself, you know, I still have that anxiety, and especially with the increase in gun violence we’ve had recently. Now, you never know, I mean, not that you ever knew before. I mean, their car wrecks and all that other stuff. But with them, proliferation of assault weapons just cropping up everywhere. It just makes you anxious, and fearful.

Achim Nowak  15:53

A word from your sponsor, that’s me. I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast, fourth, you will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation. I appreciate you using the word prayer for I’m also curious. There are so many things in the world, that it’s easy to become enraged about. So besides writing, and besides praying, how else do you channel your rage?

Martina McGowan  16:54

Well, I do some mentoring in the school system here to try to help other people, right other kids, right? I don’t know if it’s a good channel or not. I do examinations on sexually assaulted children because there aren’t many Doc’s who do that. And testify for the prosecutor’s office. But again, because they are bereft for the most part of medical help and support and feel compelled to help them. A lot of is just just writing and casting about what to do next.

Achim Nowak  17:27

Did you say casting about? Yes, only a writer would use that word. So I

Martina McGowan  17:37

although Kabelo came before I started sharing

Achim Nowak  17:41

it since this is the mind fourth act podcast. You know what that is? It’s a metaphor based on the five act play. And the fourth act, which is I think, based on your your age and my age, we’re both into fourth act, we’re not ready to die. But we’ve accomplished a lot of stuff. So we have the time to do lots of casting about. So how do you cast about

Martina McGowan  18:03

I paint, I do some drawing. And I have a short list of other things. I’d still like to learn to do like, like, learn to play piano and those kinds of things. I spent some time in the gym, trying to keep my physical and psychological health going. But yeah, it’s Debbie now and then I’ll see. Class, it seems interesting, as well. I can try that worst worst case scenarios. I can’t do it. Well, yeah. Because I think we’re all Renaissance people. And I have always felt that way. It’s just for me, I think it’s a matter of time or money or exposure. And so yeah, even though we’re in we’re approaching our final acts, there’s still so much more I can be exposed to and expose my children and grandchildren to

Achim Nowak  18:50

it in a lot of so the public commentary about you, you identify as a lifelong learner, which is a wonderful thing. And I think one of the gifts of being at our age is that we, we have more time to actually pursue things than we had before when we were perhaps locked into more traditional life schedules and narratives. Right?

Martina McGowan  19:15

Correct. read.

Achim Nowak  19:18

I read part of one of your poems, but I’d love for you to read one poem, any poem of your choice, and just be prepared for me to ask you some questions afterwards. Okay. Just warning you ahead of time.

Martina McGowan  19:35

Let’s see. There is too little time to teach our children that there is no after to this ubiquitous feeling that life is but a stream trailing from our bodies almost unseen. There is too little time to spoon feed our children giving them false hope and hype or trying to convince ourselves that the world is full of wonder and fair Are, although it will not be offered to them. There is too little time to teach them to say I to all that life has to offer and to ever every passing whim, knowing they cannot hold it freely. There is too little time to teach our children to fight to keep their spirits alive. They often in significance of a hope for tomorrow to manage the lives of apostles and apostates alike, the sweetness of youth, the tiny moments that make life beautiful, that defines built into the very DNA, there is too little time to allow children to be children.

Achim Nowak  20:44

Thank you. That’s a very bittersweet poem. But what I loved about it within an eye for listeners, I’m hearing it for the first time. But what I love within the poem, there is a possibility of everything we would love to do if

Martina McGowan  21:01

we had more time, right? And use it wisely. Use it

Achim Nowak  21:05

wisely. Right? If you were channel for a moment, your your elder wisdom? If you had a magic wand, how, and even if it’s just within a smaller orbits and not the entire world, how do we start to find a little more time for the things that you painted as the beautiful possibilities? In your poll?

Martina McGowan  21:34

How do we find Well, we have to make different choices. You know, and I think for many of us early in our careers, our choices, we’re told that our choices narrow, you know that there’s work and work is the center of life. Work is what keeps your family going it buys your house, buy as you grow whatever it is, you think you need to have the poor little lives who are dependent upon us know, don’t necessarily reap the benefits of that. I think it’s about teaching professionals in particular, you know, and that will be your job as a coach, you know, that there are choices. Now, everything is a choice. And if you choose not to spend the afternoon with your kid and decide to go take an extra class, it’s a choice no, and except that now the children grew up with, with or without us, we’re just here hopefully to be decent guides along the way. And they learn from every choice that we make.

Achim Nowak  22:35

What I heard earlier I heard encryption of the your own explorations. The possibility of personal expansion, even as the world around us can often feel very dark. Right? How do you reconcile that tension for yourself?

Martina McGowan  23:02

That always easily. The world is dark, and it makes makes us all all of us. I think it makes us all feel helpless. So some of its writing more of it now that I’m retired is spending time with my children and my grandchildren doing loads of things I didn’t do with my kids, you know, we spend time reading, spend time playing games, just spend time being silly. But I’m able to do that. Now. I probably could have done it more than them. You have to get past that guilt. Yeah, I should have done it a little bit differently than and that’s why that’s why I think we’re actually going to be more spoiled with it. parents perceive they’re more spoiled now because you’re you’re a different person now than then you were 20 years ago.

Achim Nowak  23:46

Well, I also think you describe something that is a truly global thing. I remember I was born in Germany, we lived in foreign countries, but boy going home once a year to visit my mother’s mother, my grandmother, who just worshipped me, and we did we have fun. And she was so much more fun than my mother seemed much more adventurous, you know? And she used to love you know, and my mother was my mother, who I adore was busy trying to be a good mother was an amazing mother. And my grandmother just was love. And that was a beautiful thing.

Martina McGowan  24:27

Right? And that’s part of what grandparents before. That’s right. And I’m sure your mother had her own bit of jealousy about well, this is not the mother and my daughter says it’s not the mother

Achim Nowak  24:43

against the question I’ll have to ask every guest if based on what you know now about life. You had the chance to whisper some words of wisdom and to young Martinez you’re not to change her choices in life not to rewrite Wait for a story. That’s not the point. But what is something that you have learned that would like her to know?

Martina McGowan  25:09

I think probably most of us sent send the same message back. Have more fun while you’re doing it. Yeah, enjoy the journey. You know what you can say now? But yeah, have a little more fun. Yeah. Yeah. Not reckless, just fun.

Achim Nowak  25:27

That was the mother coming up for a moment. Also, this question is for our listeners, because you so beautifully described how you began to explore writing poetry. And you also talked about how you’re already exploring or might in the future when it’s for other creative interests and expressions? And it’s easy to feel like, well, yeah, I have those same desires. But I don’t know where to start. Or I don’t know how to do that. Or what kind of guidance would you offer somebody who maybe has part creative parts of themselves, I want to express but are fearful of taking the first step?

Martina McGowan  26:18

Well, I think the first step, and once you’ve decided that you’re going to do it, the first step is easy. It’s why they make libraries and we can buy books and those and those kinds of things is no do little research on your own. You know, if it’s drawing, for instance, certainly, you can buy some drawing books and something along those lines, but there are always no local groups around that you can join, they don’t usually cost very much, there’s not usually a great deal of pressure in terms of doing them and back, starting a writing class or drawing class next week. And I haven’t done a formal drawing lesson forever, even though I paint. But yeah, just start low key, you know, don’t think you’re going to be Picasso or you’re going to be Shakespeare, you know, the first time out of the gate. I think that’s a mistake that most of us make, you know, there’s so little time left that that I need to be really good at this. Who cares if you’re really good at it. Take your time and, and enjoy it. All those all those things we skipped before and trying to, to learn to play guitar, whatever it is, we try to learn, you know, don’t skip it this time.

Achim Nowak  27:26

Don’t skip it. This time is such a wonderful, thank you. Let’s, let’s end the conversation. On this note. I’m sure our listeners want to find out more about where they can learn find your book or learn more about your work. Where would you like to direct them Martina?

Martina McGowan  27:42

The book is available everywhere on Amazon, Barnes and Noble.

Achim Nowak  27:46

And the title is I am the rage.

Martina McGowan  27:49

Right? I have a blog Munteanu Like said where I talk about leadership and personal development. And I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter and I’ll spend as much time there but I can be found on Facebook, Martina McGowan, MD is the writers page. I’m everywhere.

Achim Nowak  28:09

You truly are. And let me one more plug for listeners if you go to Martina In your your leadership logging, as I read a few things before we recorded this and it’s it’s inspirational, but it’s also very much about shifting your mind if you’re getting in your own way. Like how do you shift your thinking to give yourself permission to do stuff that possibly your heart desires, but your head is telling you not to do writing and it’s full of also practical advice. So it’s a gorgeous blog. So I invite you all to go to Martina And I hope that the small tastes of I am the rage. Have What’s your appetite and that you would like to read more? Thank you so much, Martina,

Martina McGowan  29:00

thank you very much I can It’s a pleasure.

Achim Nowak  29:04

Like what you heard, please go to my fourth And subscribe to receive my updates on upcoming episodes. Please also subscribe to us on the platform of your choice. Rate us give us a review and let us all create some magical fourth acts together. Ciao


Stay Connected to Get The Latest Podcast Alerts

Congratulations! You have successfully subscribed. We look forward to staying connected with you!