As a woman in medicine
Medicine is an amazing opportunity to have a career that allows you to care for people while making a living. Personally, I believe caring for people is key. To have someone come to you, seeking your professional knowledge and wanting help, is a huge honor. However, this also means that there is a large commitment required.
Medicine is not for the faint of heart. Medicine is evolving. Your role in the field can be what you want. But physician burnout is real, and I believe part of this is due to medical students letting fear lead them into the wrong field and a lack of mentorship. You must love what you do in order to allow yourself to tolerate the time it takes away from other parts of your life. I challenge all of us in medicine (or interested in medicine) to learn to listen to yourself and push past your own boundaries. Learn to understand what drives you, and strive to constantly reach for something that makes you want to get up every morning.
I am passionate about supporting women in medicine. I want all young women to believe that any career is a possibility for them, and I want to help inspire those to work for what matters. Don’t let fear or self doubt hold you back. Here are questions I am constantly asked:
1. Why did you go to medical school over other healthcare options?
I always wanted to be a doctor. I understand that now there are many options available for young professionals interested in health care, but I wanted to be the expert and the one who made the ultimate decision. I like to be in charge. For me, the sacrifice (time/money) was well worth the reward. I think other options in healthcare are essential and amazing, but they were not right for me.
2. What advice to you have someone trying to get into medical school?
Getting into medical school was my goal from the start. I made this priority #1 in college; however, this does not mean that I didn’t have any other fun, school was not my life. But I did learn how to study, and how to manage my time, and this was crucial to my success. I took early classes while my friends slept, and made a study plan daily before doing anything fun at night. I turned down daytime activities with friends to study, but I rarely studied at night – and that balance worked for me.
3. How did you study for the MCAT?
Let me start by saying I get asked this all the time, and I must admit – I took the MCAT a long time ago, and it is a different test now! For real, when I took the test it was still on paper. See, a long time ago. But I did take a course over the summer (Kaplan) which allowed me to focus on just the content and not have to multitask other priorities during that time.
4. Is the medical school you pick important?
Yes, but maybe not how you think. The environment is most important, and this is highly personal. Where will you excel? Where will you have freedom to develop into who you are going to be? Where will you allow yourself to grow and learn the best? Is this close to home or far? Is this a traditional curriculum or a progressive one? I believe that putting yourself in an environment to succeed is much more important than the prestige of the school.
5.How to pick a specialty?
Listen to yourself, find a mentor, and don’t be afraid. Don’t let pressure about lifestyle, motherhood, money, etc. push you away from a field you would love. Pick what inspires you. Pick a field where you love the physiology and want to dedicate your life to being an expert in that subject matter. Pick a field that allows you to have the contact with patients that you want/need. Understand that this is a very personal decision and don’t compare yourself to your peers. Find a mentor in a field you are interested in and learn to be a good mentee. I switched residencies after I realized that Emergency Medicine was not a good fit for me, and although that decision was hard, reproductive endocrinology and infertility is the 100% right field for me. See more in my blog post about finding your specialty. I love my job and my patients!
6. Advice for applying for residency or fellowship?
Apply broadly and don’t limit yourself by geography. Training is finite, and a wonderful opportunity to grow and develop into the physician you are meant to be - so go and see what all is out there. View interview season as an investment in your future, the more interviews you go on, the greater your odds of matching will be. Take out a loan if you need to. In addition, when we talk about fellowship, the world is small. Meet the leaders in your field. This will change your entire future – I know you don’t believe me, but they will remember you. When you want to sit on a national committee, you will be surprised how that one interaction (fellowship interview) put someone high in your field in your corner.
7. What is REI?
REI is Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, an OB/GYN subspecialty. This means that after medical school, I completed 4 years of OB/GYN residency and then a 3 year REI fellowship. Although OB/GYN residencies are notoriously demanding (and mine was as well). Fellowship is a much easier time. REI includes all reproductive and endocrine disorders (abnormities of puberty, menstrual abnormalities, mullerian anomalies, thyroid disorders, ovarian failure, hormone replacement, etc) and infertility. The vast majority (90%) of the patients I see each day are struggling with infertility. Infertility is a fascinating field which involves clinic time, surgery, procedures, and advanced technology. I love that I get to know my patients well as I help them through a difficult time. I love that my job required education of my patients. I love that I have day to day variety but also continuity of care.
8. How do you find a mentor?
Two keys here are knowing where to look and knowing what to ask. What do you want out of a mentorship relationship? Mentors are busy, although they want to help you, it is up to you to know what you need. I’ve realized that lack of mentorship was a huge detriment in my choosing a medical specialty (and why I choose Emergency Medicine first before switching fields).
9. What advice do you have for premed students?
1. Learn how to balance your time. All of your friends do not want to be doctors, so you probably have to work a little harder (or different) than they do.
2. Learn how you study. Figure out what works for you now. This will help you loads in med school.
3. Do something you love to prove your dedication to med school. This will largely help your applications – volunteer, go on a medical mission, do research, shadow physicians. Do something.
4. HAVE FUN!! Have a lot of fun. College is fun, it is supposed to be fun. Enjoy it. Things will not always be this fun.
10. What advice do you have for medical students?
1. Remember learning is fun, try to enjoy it and not be stressed about every test. Remember the goal is the knowledge and not the test score. Try your best and understand you won’t always be perfect.
2. Keep your options open – even if you always thought you would go into one specialty, be open to each rotation when you do it. Take an honest assessment of what you like and what patient population and problems you want to be taking care of. It may be different than you originally thought. I never would have predicted I would be where I am- but it is perfect. Find a mentor who you trust to help you.
3. Don’t let fear make your decisions for you. Say you love neurosurgery but are afraid of the (hard) 7 year residency -- who cares?!! Seriously, 7 years will pass no matter what. You could be an awesome brain surgeon. Go for it. Don’t be afraid of what might be hard, it will all be hard. You might as well work for it and love it in the end. Otherwise, you will not be happy.