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?
A: When I was 5, I wanted to be a princess and a doctor when I grew up. I explored a few different options in college, but I’ve basically been premed my entire life.
I think everyone chooses medicine for the same basic reason – a love for science and people. At least, in my opinion, that’s why people should go into medicine. This quote form Sir William Osler sums up how I feel —
“…let me congratulate you on the choice of calling which offers a combination of intellectual and moral interests found in no other profession … a combination which, in the words of Sir James Paget, ‘offers the most complete and constant union of those three qualities which have the greatest charm for pure and active minds – novelty, utility, and charity.’” Sir William Osler
Q: How do you stay motivated on the difficult days?
A: For me, it always comes back to the patient. There are days that are long and hard, but I still consider it an honor to do what I do. Some of the best advice given to me before third year rotations is that “It’s not the patient’s job to make you feel good. That’s what your family and your friends are for.” That really helps me deal with “difficult” patients. It’s my job to give them all that I have – my knowledge, my compassion, and my time. They have no obligation to give me anything in return. This, by definition, is draining so it is very important that I have mechanism in place that recharge me. For me, that’s my family, my friends, my boyfriend, Netflix, photography, and sleep.
During the preclinical years of medical school, it was really my genuine interest in learning and my dreams of becoming a physician that kept me going. Yes, it was a lot of information, but it was interesting (Emory only has 3 months of generic classes like biochem/pathology/etc. The rest of the preclinical years are organ system based.)
Q: What has been the most emotionally difficult of your medical career thus far? How did you cope?
A: I think every medical student goes through a time where they wonder “is medicine right for me?” There’s no way to understand the system that you are getting yourself into until you’re knee deep (and several thousand dollars deep at that). Since I’d dreamed of becoming a doctor since I was a child, the reality of our healthcare system hit me hard. It’s not pretty. There was a point duringmedical school that I considered non-clinical careers because I would rather not practice medicine at all than only practice good-enough medicine. It was very important to me that I only bring honor to the profession, and at that time, I wondered if that would be possible in today’s healthcare system.
Luckily, once I dealt with my disillusions, I was able to love medicine again. There are some people that after soul searching realize that medicine is not where their heart lies. I respect those people for following their passions.
Q: If you could go back and do undergrad and medical school again, what would you do differently?
A: I would study abroad for a semester – London or Paris.
Part of me wants to say I would be less laser focused in undergad on getting into medical school and explore other avenues, but it’s that laser focus that allowed me to excel. I’ve started to explore other things that interest me in intern year and it’s very fulfilling, but it’s also exhausting. There is something to be said for knowing exactly what you want and going for it. Too many options and choices can become overwhelming. We only have so many hours in the day.
There’s nothing I would redo in medical school. There are plenty of things that didn’t go as well as I would of desired – I didn’t do as well on step 1 as I would have liked, I went through a lot of break-ups, etc – but the ending was worth it. I left Emory with friends more amazing than I can imagine, a wonderful boyfriend, and my #1 match choice in my dream career.
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?
I had some pretty bad experiences with my medical school application process at UA that I don’t think would have happened if I was a more traditional candidate (working on more details for the blog now). I was lucky enough to do my medical school training at an institution that celebrated diversity. My biggest piece of advice is to go where you are celebrated. Sure, you may be able to break down barriers anywhere, but we have a limited amount of energy, and your time is better served helping yourself and your patients than battling discrimination on a personal level. I gave up a very nice scholarship to medical school in Alabama for this reason.
The hardest thing about being a minority in medicine, for me, has been the fact that I am culturally very different from my friends and colleagues. It’s not a regret. I am so appreciative and in awe that I can call such amazing human beings my friends, but there are times that I feel very isolated. My friends don’t know how to take my weave out. They don’t die and come back to life when Beyonce releases a new video. They don’t care that it’s my sorority’s founder’s day. Luckily, my family was very close. I would come home during those times and recharge. I do wish I had more black friends in medicine because it is a unique experience to be black and to be a doctor.
My second piece of advice is to believe that you are worth the highest honors. You are where you are because you earned it. I think many minorities create a mental glass ceiling for themselves. The few times I’ve been able to truly go into something thinking that I have the chance to be the best, I did my best. Work hard and remember that you are capable.
One subconscious bias you will face throughout your career is the “he reminds me of my son bias.” It’s unconscious, but attendings will bond more easily with people who remind them of themselves – people who listen to the same music, understand their movie references, and attended the same schools for a few examples. You will have to work a little harder to overcome this bias, but it’s far from impossible.
Okay lastly, pick your battles wisely. There are a lot of injustices happening in the world, even if they’re not happening to you. Everyone has their own opinion on this, but I believe you can’t fight every battle. Remember, you have a limited amount of energy. Figure out what you are truly passionate about and figure out how you will champion that cause without sabotaging yourself. If something angers you, but you’re not willing to work to change it, keep your mouth shut.
Q: What are some of your favorite medical apps to use while working?
A: Epocrates is a lifesaver for prescribing medications. It’s really the only app I use. I use it to look up medication dosing, pharmacology, the generics or name brands of a certain drug my patient is taking. I also use the medical calculator to calculate stuff like fractional excretion of sodium or corrected calcium.
I also really love visualdx! My medical school had access, but my residency program doesn’t. You can describe a rash and it will give you a differential or you can look up detailed information on rashes – including presentation, differential, and treatment. It’s also a good way to improve your dermatology terminology – you can describe a rash first then look it up to see how they describe it. Also, they have quizzes that I liked to do sometimes during down time on rounds. Can you tell I really like rashes? haha
This isn’t an app, but my co-interns that are going into ophthalmology, dermatology and radiology and I love New England Journal of Medicine image quizzes! If we’re all in the resident lounge doing nothing, we’ll pull it up and go through them together. It’s really fun and it’s a great way to learn from other people and see how they think. (btw – I highly recommend studying with a partner. Teaching something to a friend will help you remember a concept better than anything else. Study questions will help you learn to apply the information.)
Q: How do you balance being in a relationship during residency?
A: We’re obnoxiously, head over heels in love with each other, so it’s pretty easy. Being with the right person makes it pretty low drama, but it also helps that we both have our own things going on. I think very highly of Alex both as a kind, gentle human being and as a brilliant, compassionate doctor. He is my best friend, my muse, my colleague, and my mentor. There are times where he’s super busy and I’m just like “okay. I’ll be over here doing something else until you’re finished.” He does the same with me.
We’re also both in the same field – dermatology – so we speak the same language. I can send him a picture of a cool rash that I saw or explain my day without having to translate things into non-medical terms.
Q: What has been your favorite part of your medical journey so far?
A: There is no greater gift than the time I get to spend with my patients.
Second best is the day I matched dermatology. It was a mind blowing experience. I worked really, really hard and I wanted it so bad, but I never expected to match my first choice (or to match at all)! I was in shock for 24 hours. Honestly, I still thought I didn’t match weeks after match day. I kept waiting to receive an email about a computer glitch!
Q: Who is a woman in medicine you look up to and why?
A: Dr. Susmita Parashar is a cardiologist at Emory that specializes in women’s health. She has also recently developed the cardio-oncology department at Emory that follows patients who have received chemotherapy drugs with cardiotoxic side effects. I worked with her for a month and loved every moment of it. She has the most wonderful, warm personality that translates into amazing bedside manner. She has a successful career and also makes her family a priority. She has been very helpful in my journey by giving me advice that fits both my professional and personal goals.
Thank you so much for stopping by our corner of the internet Dr. Love! We wish you the best on your journey.