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Women in medicine: Insight for future female physicians

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Medicine offers several avenues for physicians to shape their own career.

The physician workforce has changed significantly over time, particularly when it comes to gender distribution. There are clearly many opportunities out there for female physicians, but it’s still useful to hear insight from those who’ve succeeded.

To gain perspective, St. George’s University School of Medicine female graduates share what they have to say about their experiences as women in medical school, residency, and becoming doctors.

5 insights women doctors want future practitioners to know

There’s a tight-knit community of women in medicine, and they’re happy to share what they’ve learned with aspiring doctors. Some of this advice could even help physicians get ready for their first year of medical school.

1. Use the resources that are available

Medical schools offer an array of student support services designed to help future physicians succeed, so it’s wise to leverage any resources that can help you perform to the best of your ability. You might consider attending tutoring sessions, group reviews, and workshops to help you develop good study habits.

“We actually have a Department of Educational Services that provides those services for free,” says Dr. Devon Thomas, a St. George’s University (SGU) graduate and urology resident physician at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville. “They can help you and tell you exactly what kind of test-taker you are and what kind of studier you are.”

Dr. Thomas also recommends tapping into your professional network as you progress through your education and career. For her, contacting other SGU graduates proved invaluable as she prepared for residency. It can be even more beneficial if you’re able to connect with graduates who are practising or completing their training at hospitals that have residency programmes in your chosen area, according to Dr. Diane Day, an SGU graduate and family medicine physician at Gainesville Family Physicians. She herself has put in a good word for students.

“I’m able to vouch for them,” Dr. Day says. “And I had left a good impression, so they wanted more SGU students.”

2. Keep an open mind during clinical rotations

After you’ve started school, you need to begin thinking about which medical specialties you’re interested in sooner than you might expect.

While you should explore options and recognise what types of interactions and procedures you most enjoy, it’s equally as important to recognise that you might change your mind during clinical rotations.

“Keep an open mind,” offers Dr. Maham Mahmood, an SGU graduate and anaesthesiology resident physician at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “Give every single rotation your best effort, put your 100 per cent into it, and see what you end up loving the most.”

In fact, Dr. Mahmood changed her career trajectory by remaining flexible. She initially thought she would pursue paediatrics because working with children sounded like a great way to make a living.

But once she realised how much she enjoys being in the operating room and performing procedures, it became clear that anaesthesiology was the best fit for her.

“I’m very happy with what I do on a daily basis, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she says.

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3. Pursue what you’re truly passionate about

It’s true that certain specialties attract more female physicians than male. That said, you should feel empowered to carve your own path—even if that means choosing a field that’s heavily populated with male practitioners.

Dr. Thomas chose urology, a specialty for which females make up a very small percentage of the physician workforce. The gender gap is actually part of what inspired her to enter the field, particularly when she realised how many female patients she would see.

“I thought I could be there for women who wanted a female physician who kind of understood them a little bit more,” Dr. Thomas shares.

4. Know that women in medicine can achieve work-life balance

Medicine offers so many avenues for physicians to shape their own career, and it’s helpful to know that ahead of time. Think about the lifestyle you want, and then you can start determining ways to achieve it. This is possible even for female physicians who pursue procedure-oriented fields.

“I get to be in the operating room. I get to do all the procedures I want,” Dr. Mahmood states. “And also, I can eventually have a job where I can be done at 5 pm.”

Aspiring female physicians who plan to have children should feel encouraged to know it’s possible to balance a medical career you love with family life. Dr. Day recently became a mother, and she enjoys her life at home and at work.

“My youngest patient is five years old, and the oldest patient I saw today was 92, so it’s wonderful,” she says. “I’m really happy, and I’m also able to have a home life and tailor my patient load to have that balance.”

5. Believe in yourself

Remember, the gender gap in medicine has nothing to do with female doctors’ capability. Many of the most respected and influential physicians have been women. Furthermore, you might be surprised at how many of your future patients turn out to be males.

“There are a lot of men that want a female physician,” Dr. Day says, reflecting on your own experiences. “They feel like they can open up and better talk about their problems.”

Women who are somewhat small in stature should also feel confident that it’s their skill—not their size—that matters. Dr. Mahmood says her co-workers have been surprised by her ability to expertly perform procedures like intubation despite her petite frame.

“Once people see you doing your job well, they start to trust you more,” Dr. Mahmood offers.

Female physicians are an undeniably important part of the medical workforce. They’ll continue to make positive contributions as even more join their ranks as women in medicine.

This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.  

TAGS: Leadership
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