The Med Sisters Series is a series of interviews of women in various stages of their careers in medicine: pre-med, medical school, residency, fellowship and attending physicians. As women, I believe we face unique challenges within any field, medicine included. As I’ve moved along on this journey, I truly believe one of the biggest support systems we have is each other. Society works so hard to pit women against each other in every situation you can think of but, as feminists, I think it’s so important to combat that urge to try to ‘beat each other out.’ There’s room for all of us on the other side of the glass ceiling. The goal of this series is to shed light on the challenges women face in the field of medicine and how they achieve a work-life balance that works for them. This blog has always been a place for me to share the realities of this journey, both the highs and lows. I thought of this series as a way to share the perspectives of the other extraordinary women on this journey too.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue medicine as a career? How do you stay motivated on the difficult days?
A: I wasn’t one of those people that was 100% sure they wanted to be a doctor from the moment they were born. I have no physicians on either sides of my family and my parents never pressured my siblings or I to pursue a specific career. I have a lot of varying interests and I explored those in high school, but always found myself seriously considering medical school. In college, I took a lot of very different classes and was involved in a diverse group of extracurricular, which made me realize how much I enjoyed the sciences. I eventually started working as an ER Scribe and I LOVED it; that experience pretty much sealed the deal for me because I realized that medicine incorporated what I wanted in a career.
As far as the hardships go, medical school (and the process leading up to it) has it’s fair share. The uncertainty and stress can be a little hard to deal with at times, but whenever I’m down, I just remind myself that I worked so hard to get where I am and that I had other options/interests but I had carefully weighed everything and decided that medicine was for me. It’s also really important to surround yourself with people that are encouraging and understanding. My husband has been immensely supportive, as have both of our families, in helping me look at the bigger picture and let go of the small stuff.
Q: How do you balance marriage and medical school?
A: We’re very newly married, so I don’t consider myself an expert by any means. My husband and I are both in school together (same class, even) and that comes with its own unique set of challenges. There can be a lot of “medicine/med school talk” at dinner, which is nice because we’re both genuinely interested in the topic but we also make an effort to develop other interests and spend time doing non-school related things. We make it a point to go out for a nice dinner every weekend and we’ve managed to turn running errands into something fun that we look forward to doing together. We have dinner together every night and because I’m trying to be more active, we go to kickboxing classes a few times a week. We have similar schedules so it’s nice that when I’m studying, I know that he has to study, too. On the other hand, it also means that if there’s a test coming up, we’re both busy and there’s a lot more eating out, stress, etc. There’s a lot of adjustment that goes with married life, but what’s been very helpful to us is the support of both of our families and very open communication about what we expect from one another. It’s really easy to get caught up with the whole med school thing, especially when your spouse is going through the same thing, but we have our families (though they live far from us) to give us perspective every once in a while. Other than that, it’s a work in progress. And med school is a roller coaster so things are always changing and you/your spouse have to just roll with the punches at some point.
Q: What was it like moving across the country to go to medical school?
A: I’m a Southern California girl — grew up there, went to college there– so the transition to the South could not have been more different. It was definitely an adjustment at first, but it’s grown on me. It helped that everyone at my school is pretty friendly, and I found people I clicked with early on. But it took some getting used to. I wasn’t used to the lack of diversity, some of the lingo, and the driving, but it’s also been nice to have REAL Fall (who ever thought that leaves ACTUALLY change colors), I’ve realized that people, for the most part, are very friendly and nice here (Southern hospitality really IS a thing), and the food is amazing. Medical school keeps you busy, so you have a lot less time to sit there and sulk about how you miss your family or your friends or all the free time you had. I still get bummed out a little when I hear about important events I’m missing out on and people I don’t get to see regularly, but that’s life.Q: What has been the most emotionally difficult part of your journey thus far? How have you coped?
Q: If you could go back and be a premed student again, what would you do differently?
A: Enjoyed my non-science classes. I think that as pre-med students, we tend to get so caught up with thinking about how to make ourselves competitive and how to do better in school that we lose sight of ourselves. I wish I had taken more interesting classes and maybe slowed down on the science classes so that I could stress myself out less. It would’ve made for a more enjoyable experience, and I may have gotten to learn something new.
Q: Does your faith play a part in why you chose to pursue medicine as a career and how you interact with your patients?
A: Yes, definitely! Islam is all about charity and helping others and I felt that medicine was my way of fulfilling that part of my faith. Service to mankind, particularly the less fortunate, is very heavily emphasized and it’s an idea that been passed down from my parents growing up. We’re taught that saving one life is equal to saving all of mankind, and I felt like with medicine, you really have the opportunity to directly effect so many people’s lives in such a positive way. It was very important to me to do something where I could go home at night and know that I had done something to contribute positively to society, and medicine gives me that feeling. I’ve been blessed immensely with all the opportunities that I’ve been given, and medicine is my way of paying that forward.
Q: Who is a woman in medicine you look up to and why?
A: When I was working in the ER as a scribe during undergrad, I had the opportunity to work with one of the few female EM physicians there. Dr. Serna became more of a mentor/second mother and cheerleader to me very quickly. There were definitely moments of uncertainty and self doubt during the entire process but she’s always been there to give support and offer advice. Just knowing her own story and her persistence in the face of adversity makes me respect her so much; more than that, she’s someone that truly truly cares about her patients and their well-being and it was so encouraging to be in the presence of someone like that. I can only hope to be that empathetic to my coworkers and patients and equally helpful to those that need advice/guidance.
Q: As a woman in medicine, specifically a woman of color, have you faced any discrimination (either blatant or more subtle)? What advice do you have for women who go through similar challenges?
A: Unfortunately, even with the increase in number of female physicians, there is still some assumption that medicine is a “man’s world”. You’ll get the occasional comment about how working women can’t be good mothers, how I should choose a specialty based on the fact that I should be at home with my husband/kids, and most patients will comment that they don’t want to “speak to another nurse” and would much rather see a doctor (because all females are, by default, nurses). I’ve also been asked how long I’m planning on staying in the US, how I like visiting country, how I manage to speak English so perfectly, along with some other pretty ridiculous things. I’ve realized, though, that most of it comes from ignorance and a lack of understanding. For the most part, the comments are a nuisance more than anything, and you just laugh it off and keep going.
Thanks for stopping by our corner of the internet Anjum! We wish you the best on your journey.