I traveled from UC Berkeley to Harvard Medical School and then to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where I did my residency in primary care—a straight line on my career path to becoming a doctor. Next stop: New York City, to join my husband, a surgical resident, and to complete a fellowship in General Internal Medicine.
Then came my first child and first detour… Instead of completing more training as was my plan, I changed course and took a faculty position at Columbia-Presbyterian, becoming a trainer of medical students and residents while taking care of patients and getting my Master’s in Public Health. Then we had our second child. After my husband finished his residency, we headed to UCLA for his fellowship. With my experiences and another degree, we decided that this one-year hiatus would give me time to write a book and have another baby. I put my clinical career on hold temporarily.
This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine, was published in 2002. During my training I had met so many talented women physicians, many of whom had families of their own. But few had spoken about the challenges of raising a family while juggling one’s own medical career. The idea that women should share their stories became my book. After its publication, when my youngest was almost two years old, I slowly re-entered clinical practice. As my children got older I began doing community work, teaching, and engaging in other administrative challenges. Now I work at a senior home and skilled nursing facility close to our home. I love my patients, I love my practice, and I love being a mother. I can have it all, and on my own terms. What’s important was that I allowed myself to make it on my own terms. It wasn’t always easy, but I always did what I thought was best at the time.
I love the connections I make to all the people in my life through the work that I do, whether it be in my office, at the bedside, in the community, or through my professional societies. And the one that is dearest to my heart is my work with the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA).
At my first national AMWA meeting in 2003, I had a new experience connecting with hundreds of women physicians who came from so many backgrounds and had so many of the same aspirations—and challenges. I found mentors. I found opportunities to extend my community work at home to a new avenue of advocacy. The history of this organization fascinated me, and I was inspired to keep that legacy alive.
Connecting with the many pioneer women physicians of the past, I took the reins of leadership. I began building bridges, making new friends, and making new connections. My term as president began at the 95th Anniversary Meeting of the AMWA, in conjunction with the 18th Annual Women’s Health Congress (which drew 1000 attendees). From meeting members of Congress to continuing the support of clinics worldwide through the American Women’s Hospital Service (AWHS), I used my abilities to connect with a number of different people.
During my term, I founded a Networking Alliance for women physician leaders, and together we have produced a four-part webinar series on the relevant nuts and bolts issues: gender equity, contract negotiations, mentorship, and career life balance. In doing so, we’ve all been able to forge so many partnerships and make even more connections. We connected to the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign to help prevent cervical cancer, addressed underage drinking prevention with the National Consumers League and DISCUS, gender equity with Vision 2020: An American Conversation about Women and Leadership, and childhood obesity with the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. These are only a few opportunities born of our ability to connect with others.
Of all, however, two particular experiences have always stood out to me.
The first was the 28th Triennial Congress of the Medical Women’s International Association, which was held in Germany in July 2010. My interests in globalization and public health piqued when paired with the opportunity to meet exciting, energetic, and committed women physicians who were doing important work all over the world. In just three days, 650 attendees from 48 countries came together and learned so much from one another on topics including clinical expertise, political obstacles and personal challenges. I am already looking forward to the next one in Korea in 2013.
The other was when I presented at the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN—an event that paralleled the international congress. I was so honored to be present at the launch of UN Women, the new UN super-agency dedicated to achieving gender equity on a global scale. I was inspired by the vision of Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of UN Women, who is also a physician and former President of Chile. I met a number of physician activists, including the renowned author, Jean Shinoda Bolen—a connection that I hope will bring me to the 5th World Congress for Women in 2015.
I have made many stops, starts, and wonderful detours along my journey, but each time I was at a crossroads, I discovered a new passion and pursued it. I learned that there is no one right path. And as a physician, I have the privilege to forge my own path. My life’s adventure, afforded me through my work, continues to grow and become more wonderful with each new person I meet.
In 2011, I finish my term as AMWA president with less sadness than I might have had because I know the ride is not over. In building the Networking Alliance, I am sure we will have an impact far beyond what we initially imagined. We are going to collaborate and communicate and connect. And that’s how we are going to transform the world of medicine, one relationship and one new connection at a time.