As one of eight children raised by a single mother, Cheryl Lee Eberting, MD, observed firsthand her mother’s tenacity as she built a successful physician-focused insurance brokerage in the state of Washington. “When I was a teenager, I remember her coming home one day and saying, ‘You should be a dermatologist,’ because she insured a group of female dermatologists who clearly had great work-life balance, and that was the bug that was planted in my ear at the time,” says Dr. Eberting.
Despite a strong interest in medicine—and her mother’s encouragement to pursue that goal—Dr. Eberting struggled with the decision to become a doctor, largely because her religion, Latter Day Saints, stresses the importance of motherhood. “In fact, I tried to avoid being a doctor and ended up changing my major at Brigham Young University four times from international relations to Japanese, then nursing to international business and finally human biology, all while trying to find something I preferred over medicine,” she says. “Obviously, I never found it.”
Eventually, it was her older brother who sealed the deal when he said to her, “Look, you can be 12 years older, or you can be 12 years older and a doctor. You might as well just be a doctor.” The sentiment clicked and she applied to medical school.
Mentors Who Made a Difference
During medical school at the University of Utah, Dr. Eberting drifted first toward rheumatology and the challenge of autoimmune disease. “I thought I wanted to be a rheumatologist because I was—and still am—very interested in autoimmune disease,” she says. “However in medical school I found that dermatology was indeed my greatest love.”
She did two years of residency at Roger Williams Medical Center, a Boston University-affiliated program in Providence, Rhode Island, and met her husband at the airport the day she moved there. Later, she did a clinical fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
There are two special mentors Dr. Eberting credits with helping her become the woman and doctor she is today: Sancy Leachman, MD, PhD, and Maria L. Turner, MD. “I worked in Sancy’s lab during medical school at the University of Utah. She is one of the most altruistic human beings on the Earth in addition to being incredibly intelligent, driven, and motivating to everyone around her,” says Dr. Eberting. “Sancy used to stay in her lab late at night mentoring me (even though she had a new baby) and helping me polish my presentations for the rest of the department, just so I would look good and feel confident.”
Dr. Turner ran the dermatology consult service at NIH, and Dr. Eberting groveled to get the opportunity to rotate with her during her second year of residency. “I had such an incredible time that Maria invited me to come and do a clinical research fellowship the next year in lieu of my third year of residency,” she says. “We had to move heaven and earth to make that happen, but we did it. I credit Maria with giving me my clinical skills. I used to call her the Yoda of dermatology because she could make the most crazy diagnoses from the door—she taught me to look at things with a completely different eye than any other attending ever had.”
An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Taking an entrepreneurial cue from her mother, Dr. Eberting put herself through medical school by building a nationally distributed import business that she started at age 23 after returning from an 18-month mission in Japan.
Photo by Chad Kirkland.