Over the last decade, professional communities as well as institutional healthcare policymakers have turned their attention to ensuring professional development in early and mid-career female physicians. Through various skill-building programs for effective work-life balance, professional societies have forums that set recommendations for advocacy on family, parental paid leave, and gender equality. Most importantly, Women in Medicine forums promote enhancement opportunities for education and promote practices that remove biases and create equity. It is sad to observe that this advocacy is often not being implemented in healthcare workplace environments.
I chose to work in the hospital medicine division because defined shifts in patient care were important to me. As a single mother, I need to ensure that my time treating patients doesn’t interfere with the care of my daughter, or the time that we share together. But my experience hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve found that I’m still receiving numerous requests from the hospital on my days off.
As much as I loved taking care of my patients, I started to feel incomplete. I wanted to be able to ask the powerful question “why?” I wanted to know why my patients continued to be admitted and discharged from the hospital, but hospital medicine practice limits the in-depth (and expensive) panels due to the long turnaround time of the test results. I wanted to know more about the patients I was seeing, but with up to 16 acutely ill patients on a given day, I didn’t have the time to follow up with them.
This began the awakening of shifting my career to focus on the “Bench-to-Bedside” where I can finally get the in-depth answer to the “why?” The financial implication of this change was huge, as going from a faculty member to a fellow meant my salary would be less than one-third of what it was. But I also struggled with colleagues that didn’t have family obligations and could commit to longer work hours and thus more opportunities. I had to struggle for more than a year to decipher my productivity pathway and to finally realize that I needed to factor in other challenges on my clinician investigator track.
I have learned to openly discuss these limitations with my mentors and collaborators before starting a project. I have learned to set my calendar for academic conferences months in advance to line up childcare help around that time and yes, I have learned to create a school mom’s network of support for childcare for unintended long hours of work. At the end of the day, if these endeavors can help me find my answers to the “why?”, it will be worth it. Women in medicine shouldn’t be afraid to transition their careers if they feel incomplete. We all need to raise our hands and support each other’s transitions.
Dr. Nowreen Haq