#IAmYourDoctor International Women's Day Breakfast
In Australia and elsewhere, more than half of commencing medical students are women. Generational change has ushered in more opportunities for women to excel, but also growing recognition of the work still needed to combat persistent stereotypes, unconscious bias, under-representation in leadership roles, and the gender pay gap. On Tuesday 3 March, MMS held a speed networking breakfast event, #IAmYourDoctor, for all first-year Doctor of Medicine (MD) students. Five MMS clinician scientists and alumni spoke of the challenges they have faced and the resources they have drawn on to meet them, and what it means to strive for gender equity in medicine.
"Health equity is not possible without gender equity," said the host, MMS Director of Clinician Scientists Pathways, Associate Professor Margie Danchin. Margie spoke on the challenges of juggling, family, clinical work, and a thriving research specialisation in vaccine acceptance. "Sometimes the wheels fall off… but everyone seems to be ok". She stressed the value for young medics of taking time out of the expected career trajectory. "The path is long. There's no end to it: explore opportunities. Work with people you like … you have to love what you do. Be generous with your time and be generous in supporting other people."
In recent times, hostile workplaces for women surgeons have attracted extensive publicity and started valuable conversations. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Claudia di Bella told students that although the climate is changing, men who aspire to careers in surgery are usually met with practical questions about applying for various opportunities to help them secure a foothold. By contrast, women immediately cop the "family talk".
Claudia advised: "Don't let anyone say 'No, you can't do surgery – you're a woman, how are you going to have a family?' I did my last hip replacement at 38 weeks pregnant. It's not because I'm a superwoman, it's because I love what I do."
Associate Professor Elif Ekinci, an endocrinologist, spoke of her commitment to tackling diabetes in remote Indigenous communities. "If you find something you're passionate about, go for it, because you're going to be doing it every day." She also recommended regular exercise as a mindfulness practice to ease the pressures of career and family, and to have early conversations with life partners about the household division of labour.
Elif and Margie were unanimous in emphasising that dealing with setbacks is a critical skill, whether it's missing out on a grant or getting a knockback from a journal. "I've had to learn that rejection is the norm," Elif said. "You have to pick up quickly and the more quickly you can do that, the more resilient you can be. Sometimes it hurts, because you've spent the summer putting in the application for the big grant. But sometimes you do make really big discoveries and people give you the money to do the research."
GP Dr Deepthi Iyer spoke of her newly completed PhD on women's perceptions of dating and dating violence, through the Department of General Practice. "We see a lot of chronic illness in general practice, mental health and sexual health issues tied to intimate partner violence and abuse." Deepthi's childhood in Saudi Arabia meant female career role models were in short supply outside the permitted professions of medicine, nursing and teaching. But she was surrounded by family members who encouraged her to develop an appreciation of role models whatever their personal characteristics. "They made me believe that I could be inspired by men and well as women." At 14, she decided on her path in life when she was diagnosed with Grave's Disease. "The doctor who looked after me was a white, middle-aged male endocrinologist … He wasn't female, or a person of colour like myself, but he treated me with kindness and respect. He doesn't know that he was my turning point to become a doctor."
Dr Nardine Elzahaby, a Master of Psychiatry alumn and AMA Junior Doctor of the Year in 2019, spoke of her realisation early in her career that she was drawn to a more holistic, patient-centred approach. While junior doctors are rewarded for fitting in, she said letting go of people-pleasing tendencies can be a catalyst to unearthing a passion: in her case, volunteer opportunities to improve doctors' health via committees in the college system. She also stressed the importance of not letting a hostile workplace compromise a sense of one's own value. "It's about how you value yourself and bringing your authentic self [to work]. Don't ever accept denigrating behaviour at any point."