In 2009, eight years into my career as an Emergency Medicine physician, I was in my third trimester of pregnancy when I learned our 800 physician practice group (the largest in the state) was dropping our paid maternity leave option! Quickly I organized a grass roots effort, leading several female physicians on a year-long taskforce with our administration. After months of meetings, presenting hard facts, and pushing for open discussion, the taskforce proposed a paid family leave policy, which turned out to have more options for more people than the one before. Only what came before could have prepared me for this.”
I have to say that my career has been characterized by my determination to make a difference both for my patients and for other women in medicine. I hadn’t originally planned to enter academic medicine, starting out as the co-director of a rural emergency department, establishing the first board certified EM physician group in the county. The challenge of bringing modern emergency medicine to an ingrained, archaic system taught me that I loved listening, leading and finding the compromise that would let us move forward.
Next step: I moved into an emergency medicine clinical teaching position at Methodist Hospital, a large, urban, level one trauma center affiliated with Indiana University School of Medicine. In 2007, our practice group merged with the university; I was appointed an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine.
I found my niche in clinical bedside and didactic teaching in the lesser known areas: Neurologic Emergencies, Racing Medicine, Dysbarism (High Altitude and Diving Medicine), Travel and Wilderness Medicine. I created a curriculum for teaching each of these unusual subjects. I went on to lead a hands-on teaching expedition to rural Mexico, and served as a safety team physician while directing a mass gathering elective. Only a few years out of my training, by focusing on subjects not usually studied, I was invited to participate in writing a systematic review for one of our major journals on the pharmacological prophylaxis of acute mountain sickness. Every experience led me to another peak to scale.
I was perfectly happy teaching and caring for a myriad of patients as an emergency medicine physician. But then I began to encounter the realities faced by women in academic medicine. The barriers and challenges fueled my inherent passion to make things right and fair. Doors opened as a result, and I was asked to join the faculty development committees for both my department and institution’s Office of Faculty Affairs and Professional Development (OFAPD) as a voice for women in medicine and part time physicians.
I became an advocate, a role that has defined my recent years in academic medicine. An advocate is “one that pleads the cause of another, defends or maintains a cause, supports or promotes the interests of another.” I saw a need, researched the details and set out to lead the charge.
As only one of a handful of women physicians in our department, it became increasingly difficult to provide mentors and role models for all the women students and residents. Out of necessity we created a novel, sustainable mentoring program that utilized vertical and peer mentoring. Beginning as an informal chat session at a neighborhood coffee house grew quickly into the Emergency Medicine Women’s Mentoring Program. Researching and designing a curriculum that continues to tackle the pertinent, tough issues facing women in medicine, and I turned it into scholarship to share with others. I continue to lead this group and maintain a website offering details about our mission, goals, curriculum, a mentor list, calendar, and resources.
My work in women’s mentoring and work-life policies was recognized in 2010 with an award as “Outstanding Women Leader, part time” by Indiana University/ Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), an institution that includes undergraduate as well as several graduate schools including the medical school, dental school, and law school.
My leadership journey has been defined as recognizing a need, researching the details, and leading the charge. Although this approach has produced both beneficial and scholarly results, workforce issues involving women physicians and their challenges do not enjoy the support I need: protected time, funding, support staff and other resources. Although not part of the usual path for faculty, I am seeking training in negotiating and in becoming a more effective communicator, advocate, and leader.
As I look forward, I hope to excel, not only as a clinical physician educator, but also as a mentor, scholar, and champion for women in medicine. My intent is to identify, research, and address issues specific to female students, residents, and faculty, with the goal of improving the culture of the academic environment to welcome women, to educating both men and women, and to promoting physician wellness and meaningful work-life integration.