In honor of Women in Medicine month, I was asked to share some reflections with a group of physicians and APPs. I considered the context of my experience, lessons learned and, of course, opportunities for the future.
When I became a Woman in Medicine 40+ years ago, there were “Men of Medicine” clubs (MOM) created to be the counterpoint to the Women in Medicine support group. Slides of bikini clad women were sprinkled through basic science presentations and, at the Grand Rounds honoring completion of Chief Residency, I was recognized as “someone you would want to be your aunt.” There was no recognition for my excellent clinical and diagnostic skills; my warm and caring bedside presence; my leadership of 3 classes of residents and medical students; or my competence in solving complicated acid base problems in critically ill patients.
These skills were invisible; and I realized that some of my colleagues did not look beyond the surface. I was viewed as one dimensional when I showed up as my authentic self.
I deeply believed that those occurrences would not and could not stop me from achieving my goals and “doing it all,” even though I did not know exactly what that meant.
Life unfolded with marriage, babies, moves to new cities, establishing clinical practice and accepting leadership roles, single parenthood, blending a family, burying a child, and being present for my mom in California during the last year of her life.
As I consider all these events, here are my thoughts:
ACKNOWLEGE the push/pull of being a caregiver at home and work. I became accustomed to never doing any job well. And, at my saddest times, when I was unavailable to patients, they became upset. And I had to let that go.
ACT to create guidelines for my life: “No success at work compensates for failure at home,” and, “Will it matter in 5 years?” These have served me well.
COURAGE to get up each day, the COURAGE to ask for help, and the COURAGE to admit that “I am not perfect.”
RECOGNITION that, as a female leader, speaking up did not always lead to outcomes I expected or wanted and speaking up had a cost. I was told to, “stop talking about women in medicine. It is irritating.” And I PAUSED to consider next steps. I was not going to let anyone put me in a corner. I would need to find other ways to make a difference.
I encourage you to PAUSE here and consider times where you felt this way or may have enabled this type of experience for a colleague.
SHOW UP as AUTHENTICALLY me – and bring my full self to work.
As I think about the future with many women leaving healthcare; as a mother, stepmother, and mother-in-law to four women; and a grandmother to a granddaughter, I believe things will be different.
They will realize it is OK to ask for help and that speaking up will lead to actions and outcomes. Diversity of voices will be encouraged.
My story is not unique; you may recognize yourself in parts of my story whether or not you are a woman in medicine.
My ASK on both an individual and system level is that we acknowledge the challenges we face; we create safe spaces for honest dialog.
And, as a healthcare system we demonstrate through actions that we matter – creating and implementing policies that address and support the complexity of our human lives.
Please feel free to share your stories in the comments below.