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A Year Away From Your Family to Advance Your Career: What Women Physicians Have To Say and What They are Willing to Do

WMDR Post Confirms Women’s Commitment to Career Advancement

superwoman ready for great things

superwoman ready for great things

The WMDR March Newsletter polled our readers, “Would you live away from your family for a year or more for the sake of your career?”  The response was astonishing!  43% said “Yes”, 43% said no and 17% were not sure.  Fourteen unique women answered this question.  Granted we know little about them.  Are they married or have a partner?  Do they have children? Where in their career cycle are they?

So what information can really be gleaned from such a broad question, with no qualifiers to characterize these women?  And how valid is the opinion of a mere 14 women?

But first, some background as to how this question came about.  More than one of our WMDR coaching clients have been faced with these types of decisions.  “I want more training to do exactly what I love in medicine, but I have to leave my young child and husband for a year.”   Or, “I want to change career directions and found a great job in another city and could commute on the weekends.  My kid is in school and I don’t want to disrupt his life.” Or, “I have to start a new career because I really don’t like what I am  doing.”  Or, even, “I lost my job and have to leave the area.”

Each one of these reasons gives rise to a different set of circumstances to consider.  But what they all have in common is that these women did not give up.  They faced hard choices and all of them made the decision to stick with it.  This is no easy choice.

Today, thousands of doctors are moving around and even leaving the profession.  The reasons are many, but most are around the basic themes of other job opportunities (to move) or physician burnout (to quit).  And the myth is that women are disproportionately abandoning all their education and training to take the path of hearth and home.  It is clear from our small survey that this may not really be the case.  Are we telling the wrong stories?  Asking the wrong questions?

It’s time to find out about the work habits and experiences of women physicians and how and why they make their decisions.  Assigning action and motive to this ever increasing demographic is demoralizing, unfair and a not too subtle form of gender bias.

We must help these women in their choices.  One young woman surgeon who is taking a fellowship and is leaving her new, small family for an extra year of training–create new work scenarios for her choice to live apart during that time.  Her new program was amazingly helpful–they really wanted her and all she had to do is ask.  Another woman, much later in her career fashioned a 2 year “sabbatical” from clinical work to pursue an extraordinary leadership role, which she has leveraged to an exciting “retirement” career in medicine.

With these “wins” come too many less favorable stories.  Too many women deal with leaving their “jobs” and starting over–early, middle and late career.  Harassment, discrimination, and just plain old, “You don’t fit in.”  “You are no longer needed in our new reorganization.”  “You are not a partner and we are not doing well.”  Each situation left them with no where to go in the short term.  Some found the strength to re-group.  Others did not.

Women in developing countries often leave their families for a better life.  We support them because it is out of necessity to live their dreams. Why not support women physicians with the same dreams (or nightmares)?  We all have difficult choices and women doctors make them often enough to indicate that we are committed to all of our roles–wives, mothers daughters, and as women physicians.

2 Notes

  1. I am spending a year away for my career. Only time will tell the value of the decision. It was the best one I could make at the time.

  2. Great article!


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