Winning Essay

The Dr. Quinn Character I Most Identified With and Why  
By Judith A.

Michaela Quinn spoke to me on a very personal level like no television character ever had before or since. From the Pilot to the very last episode I cheered her triumphs, mourned her sorrows, and learned from her mistakes. As I watched how she courageously forged a new life out west and wrestled with the choices in her life, I thought about my own life and my own choices. Though she was a woman of another century, Michaela Quinn spoke to 20th century professional women trying to succeed in a man's world. I identified with Michaela's strong independent spirit, her honesty, her determination to build a career against the odds, her insecurity outside the safe haven of her work, and her desire to make the world a better place.

Michaela's strong, independent spirit and honesty were attributes I admired and have tried to emulate in my own life. I have always been very outspoken, especially around issues of fairness, so I identified with Michaela's tendency to speak up even when her opinions weren't wanted or shared. I related to her desire to change people's opinions and defend the rights of the disenfranchised in our society. Like Michaela, I've faced the consequences of speaking the truth when others remained silent, though fortunately none of those consequences involved being abducted by renegade Indians.

I identified in a profound way with Michaela's struggle to succeed in a man's world and the sacrifices she made in her personal life to achieve her dream. At the time the show aired I was a young professional working in Washington D.C. committed to reforming the American health care system in order to ensure that, as a nation, we ended the disgrace of millions of our citizens going without needed health care because they lacked insurance. This was my passion and I wanted to move up to higher levels in either government or the private sector in order to make universal health care a reality. Like Michaela, I read professional journals at night instead of novels. Like Michaela, I spent most of my young adult life studying or working instead of going to parties.

When Michaela told Colleen that women had to work harder than men to achieve their dreams, I remembered my mother saying the same thing to me at around the same age. In 1994 when my employer at the time sponsored a conference on the Clinton Health Plan, I wasn't asked to speak despite being one of the few people working there who was analyzing its impact for several states. Feeling outraged by the unfairness of the snub, I did what Michaela might have done. I made my case to the president of the firm and was subsequently added to the agenda. I was the only woman on the program for a two-day conference. A decade later much has improved for women in the workplace, but sadly the same can't be said for the number of uninsured in America. Their numbers continue to rise.

Like Michaela, I have a tendency to over commit myself and believe I can do more than I can. And like Michaela, I loath asking for help. Fortunately, these tendencies have mellowed with age, but I can still fall into old habits on occasion. In Woman of the Year when Michaela said "They're some mornings I want to stay in bed and hide under the covers. Or take a buggy ride out to the lake without anyone knowing where I am. I'd let life go on without Dr. Mike for a few days," she spoke to my inner self. When I faced a week of meetings in three different states on two coasts, I wanted to pull the covers up and stay in bed too. It's taken me years to internalize Sully's response that, "It would y'know."

Like Michaela, I felt confident and capable in my work, but this didn't always extend to my personal life. Outside the safe haven of my professional sphere I was reserved and, at times, insecure. I could give a speech on the uninsured to over 200 people, but I was uncomfortable making small talk at parties. Seeing a kindred spirit, I cheered Michaela when she took her first tentative steps out of the realm of the comfortable into motherhood and romance. Her early foray into motherhood was wrought with bumps along the way, but together they learned to be a family. It touched my heart to watch Michaela and Sully move from friendship to love and eventually to marriage. In my own life the most important relationships I've had always began with friendship.

Lastly, I admired the way both Michaela and Sully tried to make the world a better place. I identified most with Michaela's attempts to alter points of view and her determination to seek changes within the system. But, I wished I were more like Sully, who led by example and was content to remain outside the mainstream fighting for what he believed in. In my work I have felt intense disappointment at not being able to do enough. Here, Sully's feelings of failure at not being able to stop what was happening to the Cheyenne and the land resonated most with me. But, of late I've chosen to follow Michaela's lead and focus on helping one person at a time. A decade ago I believed if I analyzed enough data, wrote enough papers, and talked to enough of the right people, I could contribute to changing the direction of the health care system for the better. A decade later, I've learned to focus on the small successes that make a very real difference in a single family's life and have accepted that the larger problems are out of my control - very unlike Michaela I know. Maybe someday we'll address them as a society, but today the measure of my success is ensuring that one child or one family can get the health care that's eluded them.