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This 103-Year-Old Doctor Opened Her Medical Practice Before Women Could Have Bank Accounts — Here Are Her 6 Secrets to a Healthy, Successful Life Dr. Gladys McGarey started medical school in 1941 and helped pioneer the holistic medicine movement in the U.S.

By Amanda Breen Edited by Brittany Robins

Key Takeaways

  • "Women were just beginning to step into various fields, and medicine was one of them," McGarey says.
  • As one of a few women in medicine, she faced an uphill battle — but persevered and opened her own practice.
  • The centenarian shares six secrets to a well-lived life in her latest book, now available in paperback.
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Dr. Gladys McGarey is 103 years old and started medical school in September 1941, months before the U.S. entered World War II. "It was kind of an interesting process throughout the whole world, where women were just beginning to step into various fields, and medicine was one of them," McGarey tells Entrepreneur. As the daughter of two medical missionaries in India who'd learned from them how to treat patients, many of whom were then deemed "untouchables" according to the country's rigid caste system, she'd long known that medicine was her calling.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Gladys McGarey

But as one of few women to attend medical school in the U.S. at the time, she had to contend with unique challenges and dismissive attitudes over the course of her medical career. "The concept was that it's going to be tougher for you out in the world than for the guys, so you have to be smarter and more this and more of that and the other thing," McGarey recalls of her experience at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. "So they really pushed us."

During the program, when McGarey asked questions about holistic medical practices — an approach to healthcare that takes a person's mind, body and spirit into consideration and an area she'd help bring to the mainstream in the U.S. — the dean told her "they were not appropriate." On several occasions, the dean even sent her to see a psychiatrist, who maintained that she was completely fine. But McGarey wasn't deterred. Not even when she started her internship at Deaconess Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio and found that "there had never been another woman, and so they didn't know what to do with me."

Related: The Shocking Ways Data Bias Makes Women 'Irrelevant,' and What We Can Do to Stop It

"The men had their rooms and facilities, but there weren't any there for me," McGarey explains. "So I got an x-ray table, a pillow and a blanket. But I was grateful for that. I didn't think I was being abused because I knew why — it was that they didn't have anything." But the head surgical resident went out of his way to make McGarey's experience difficult, she says, resulting in an "ongoing push and pull" where he'd sign her up for the longest surgeries and did everything he could to make her drop out, which only made her more determined to succeed.

"I can't tell you how many times I went to make a house call, and they'd tell me to leave."

And McGarey did, ultimately going on to open her medical practice with her then husband Dr. Bill McGarey in Wellsville, Ohio in an era before women could open their own bank accounts. There had never been a woman doctor there before, she says, so it took a while to build trust with the community. "I can't tell you how many times I went to make a house call, and they'd tell me to leave, and I'd have to call Bill and have him come and pick up where I had left off." After a couple of years, however, she did gain acceptance, and eventually was the only doctor making house calls in the area.

Over the decades, McGarey raised six children while continuing to make her mark on holistic medicine. In 1973, she held the first symposium on acupuncture in the U.S. at Stanford University; in 1978, she co-founded the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA). Today, the still-consulting centenarian is the author of six books, including her most recent The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor's Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age.

Related: Following These Five Practices Dramatically Improved My Mental Health — Find Out If They Could Help You, Too

Image Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Gladys McGarey

McGarey says you can learn a lot from children — "and old people too." Here are her six secrets to a healthy, happy life:

Secret I: You are here for a reason — and have to find your "juice"

"The juice is our reason for living. It's our fulfillment, our joy," McGarey writes. "It's what happens when life is activated by love. It's the energy we get from the things that matter and mean something to us." She adds that it's what her parents obtained from working with underserved populations. "Each of us is here to connect with our unique gifts; this is what activates our desire to be alive. Achieving this connection isn't necessarily the point. The search counts for far more."

McGarey shares some additional words of wisdom for women who hope to follow their purpose into traditionally male-dominated fields.

"Figure out what it is that you want and go for it — because it's not going to happen unless you do," she tells Entrepreneur. "And anyway, a profession is your own personal thing. Everybody doesn't do their own profession the way you do." She notes that if you can accept that your profession is part of who you are and the reason why you're here, life becomes easier. "It becomes so interesting," she says.

Related: Make Money Doing What You Love — 10 Key Tips on Monetizing Your Passion

Secret II: All life needs to move

"We seem to have a deep unconscious knowing that life is supposed to move," McGarey writes. "This is what makes it so obvious when things are not moving — even if we don't know what to do about it…Life itself is always in movement, so aligning our life force means that we must always look for the flow within us."

McGarey uses the metaphor of someone carrying a heavy bag to explain how to get "unstuck." "I can hardly move because this bag is so heavy, and I keep looking at it," she says. "If I look at it too long, my neck's going to get stiff and then I can't move. But if I begin to move and look for the light and turn myself around, the light is always there." It's not a matter of the light going away, she adds, noting that for her the light represents understanding and healing. "Light is always there. It depends on whether we look for it or not," she says.

Related: 4 Tips Every Entrepreneur Can Use to Get Unstuck

Secret III: Love is the most powerful medicine

"Love truly is the greatest medicine the world has ever known," McGarey writes. "It takes life from a passive state (being alive) to an active state (truly living)...Our life force is activated by love. Love has the uncommon ability to transform everything it touches. It transforms labor from drudgery to bliss. It transforms laughter from cruelty to joy."

McGarey tells Entrepreneur that although her other five books delve into the practice of medicine, the essence of why she was in the field and the very core of what medicine is was missing. "This book is about what true healing is all about — and true healing is about love," she explains.

Related: 9 Ways Our Love Life Makes or Breaks Our Career Life

Secret IV: You are never truly alone

"Life comes from our connection, is supported by our connection, and creates connection," McGarey writes. "We are happiest and healthiest when we are contributing to and drawing from our collective life force…Connecting with community amplifies our individual life force by realigning it with the collective life force."

And the power of connecting with a community that understands you shouldn't be underestimated, according to McGarey. As a child, she had to repeat first grade twice because she was dyslexic, though she didn't know it at the time and spent her early school years "thinking I was stupid, an idea that was promoted by my first-grade teacher," she writes.

"It's awfully easy to get discouraged and think that you're not able to complete the things that you want to do if you totally are surrounded by people who don't understand you," she tells Entrepreneur, noting that it's critical to look for ways to help people who are struggling with being stuck. "We're all in this together," she adds.

Related: Why Building Community Is More Important Than Networking

Secret V: Everything is your teacher

"I've been seeking out lessons from the world around me for most of my life…When we look for the lessons, we move our attention away from our suffering and direct it back toward life," McGarey writes. "Everything in life becomes a teacher. Seeing everything this way helps us make our life a living, breathing process."

One of McGarey's earliest life lessons came when she was performing in a third-grade school play. McGarey had the role of a frog meant to jump across a pond; dressed in a frog suit her mother had dyed green, she made the leap — and came up short, falling into the water to uproarious laughter. When her brothers, who'd witnessed the humiliation, began to joke about it at dinner later that night, McGarey's mother used it as a teaching moment.

"My mother says to them, 'All right, boys, now you've had your fun,'" McGarey recalls. "'What can we as a family do that will help Glady if this ever happens to her again, to get through it and have people laughing with her and not at her?'" She explains that her mother showed her how we can help each other as we see somebody who is struggling in their life. "If we could just reach out a little bit of hope for them so that it can help them deal with it, we've done a huge job," she says.

Related: 8 Life Lessons From 8 Good Books That Everyone Should Read

Secret VI: Spend your energy wildly

"To put it plainly, when we align our energy with life, we create a give-and-take, sharing relationship with the source," McGarey writes. "We no longer have to try to make our own energy, which is a losing battle anyway, because energy is not created or destroyed. Instead, she notes, we invest the energy we have in life, and when we run low on what we need, we borrow it back.

"The reason I have saved this secret for last is that it's the trickiest to explain," she adds. "It isn't something we understand as much as something we feel."

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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