On the shoulders of giants: inspiration for aspiring physician leaders
Vanessa E. Zannella and
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Although the number of women in medicine has increased dramatically in the past two decades, this has not been reflected in physician leadership positions. The disproportionately fewer women in positions of leadership and administration has meant fewer opportunities for mentorship. This article presents words of wisdom and inspiration from 10 female physician leaders.
KEY WORDS: medical education, work–life balance, family, well-being, professional relationships, gender bias, mentorship
Medical training is a unique period in one’s life. It’s a time to become your own person, to grow into a professional, to conquer your craft, and to develop meaningful relationships with your patients and peers. It is the greatest time of your life, but also the most difficult. We’ve all had conversations with our mentors — about burnout, managing uncertainty, remaining humble — but for female medical trainees interested in leadership, talking about family planning, work–life balance, and job advancement may be more difficult. And the disproportionately fewer women in positions of leadership and administration has meant fewer opportunities for mentorship. Top
Although the number of women entering a career in medicine has increased dramatically in the past two decades, this is not reflected in physician leadership positions. New research studies investigating the underrepresentation of women in academic medicine have revealed important themes, including experiences with gender bias, a lack of role models, and concerns about finances and work–life balance.1,2
Despite these challenges, trainees continue to be motivated to participate in leadership endeavours. To explore the perspectives of physicians on medical leadership, we sought the wisdom of 10 female physician leaders across various subspecialties — surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry, obstetrics & gynecology, family medicine, emergency medicine. Their words and stories offer inspiration that is worth sharing. We hope you find what follows as transformative as we have.
On time and work–life balance
On personal well-being
On professional relationships
On gender bias
What we are sharing is honest and humble opinions of some of the most ambitious, kind-hearted, and loving female physicians we could find. Although this is certainly not a scientific, rigorous list, the advice is genuine, truthful, and thought-provoking.
What was so intriguing about this process was that these women — clinicians, administrators, researchers, teachers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends — could offer such a plethora of optimistic, enlightening, and hopeful reflections to young female physician leaders in training. Moreover, the opinions demonstrate that our unique strengths as women position us perfectly to learn from and alongside our male colleagues. Top
If nothing in this piece resonates, remember to always embrace the fear, exhaustion, joy, and uncertainty associated with your unique path toward leadership. Consider physician leadership a privilege, an honour, and a blessing presented to few; it can either define you or be defined by you. So go on, enjoy the journey.
1.Edmunds LD, Ovseiko PV, Sheppard S, Greenhalgh T, Frith P, Roberts NW, et al. Why do women choose or reject careers in academic medicine? A narrative review of empirical evidence. Lancet 2016;Apr 19. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01091-0
2.Wehner MR, Nead KT, Linos K, Linos E. Plenty of moustaches but not enough women: cross sectional study of medical leaders. BMJ 2015;351:h6311. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6311
We thank all the physician leaders who offered their time and advice in the creation of this article.
Vanessa E. Zannella and Liza S. Abraham are medical students in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto.
Author attestation and disclaimer
VZ and LA contributed equally to this work and are co-first authors. We did not receive any support or funding from any public, commercial, or not-for-profit agency for this work.
This article has been reviewed by a panel of physician leaders.