The physician workforce has changed significantly over time, particularly when it comes to gender distribution. In fact, the annual Physician Specialty Data Report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reveals there was an increase of nearly 124,000 practicing women physicians in the US from 2007 to 2019. 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 the perspective you’re after, take a look at what a few women in medicine have to say about their experiences in medical school, residency, and beyond.
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 like you. Some of this advice could even help you get ready for your first year of medical school.
1. Use the resources that are available to you
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 practicing or completing their training at hospitals that have residency programs 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 recognize what types of interactions and procedures you most enjoy, it’s equally as important to recognize that you might change your mind during clinical rotations.
“Keep an open mind,” offers Dr. Maham Mahmood, an SGU graduate and anesthesiology resident physician at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “Give every single rotation your best effort, put your 100 percent 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 pediatricsbecause working with children sounded like a great way to make a living. But once she realized how much she enjoys being in the operating room and performing procedures, it became clear that anesthesiology 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. ‘
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 just 9.5 percent of the physician workforce, according to the AAMC’s Physician Specialty Data Report 2020. The gender gap is actually part of what inspired her to enter the field, particularly when she realized 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 p.m.”
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 coworkers 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.
Join the network of women in medicine
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.
If you’re interested in becoming part of this growing network, it’s a good idea to begin having important conversations with the medical schools you’re considering. Find out how to prepare by reading our article “8 Questions You Should Be Asking the Medical School Admissions Team.”
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