The American Medical Association recognizes September as Women in Medicine (WIM) Month, celebrating the accomplishments of women physicians as well as highlighting advocacy related to women physicians and health issues impacting women patients. MountainView Hospital is very lucky to have passionate, skilled female physicians caring for our patients. Below are stories from a few of our own Women in Medicine that showcase what it means to be a female physician, advance equity, and create change.
“I’m still not exactly sure how I wound up here because I, like many female medical students, was discouraged from pursuing a career in orthopedic surgery. In a field where 14 percent of orthopedic surgery residents and 5 percent of practicing orthopedic surgeons are female, not only are female role models few and far between, but male orthopedic surgeon mentors are also sorely lacking for women interested in the field. My medical school professors warned me that I had to protect my fertility and I should choose a different residency to make my pregnancies easier; my fellow male students talked about how I didn’t have “the right personality” for orthopedic surgery. This continued through a rotation where a resident said to me, “Get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich,” and another one where the department head said, “We will never have a female resident as long as I am department head.” Against the better judgment of dozens, I wound up as the third female resident in orthopedic surgery in the history of Western Michigan University.
I struggled. Month after month my mid-cycle evaluations continued to report “patient skills are good, needs to work on operative skills.” I was tasked with giving patients bad news, consenting patients for invasive procedures, and doing piles of consults down in the emergency room, but when it came to surgeries I was generally advised to stand to the side with my hands folded. An attending surgeon once complimented my retracting and then said “I don’t want you to get full of yourself.” I tried to explain that I wasn’t going to get better without practice, but by the middle of my third year I was already viewed as a lost cause for surgery. “She is not naturally good with her hands,” was a comment that showed up on my evaluations around that time. I was working 80 hours a week while reading up on my cases and perfecting my reductions in the ER, and I felt I was being judged unfairly.
Since I wasn’t being given any opportunities to improve at my own program, I took courses in shoulder arthroscopy and advanced intramedullary nailing. I spent two days in Chicago practicing extremity approaches. I made it a goal to read the entire Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery every month; later on I chose articles for journal club. And I did this all while continuing to treat my patients as I would want myself and my family members treated. And slowly, I came to earn top marks on my evaluations. I scored in the 90th percentile on my in-training exam and matched to a prestigious fellowship in Orthopedic Trauma at Allegheny General Hospital.
And yes, sexism continues to this day for me and for many women in medicine, even after training. I had a patient’s father tell me he wanted his son to have a “regular doctor, not a lady doctor.” An orthopedic surgeon once called me to tell me he was looking through some of my recent postoperative radiographs and why didn’t I fix the lady’s medial malleolus? I’m aware that other physicians are sometimes scrutinizing my results and patients will occasionally laugh at me when I tell them I’m their surgeon. But I’ve continued to improve. I was invited to be the director of orthopedic trauma at MountainView Hospital two years ago when preparations to become a level 3 trauma center were beginning. Six months later, I was invited to take over as Chief of Orthopedics. I’ve started a pelvic trauma program at MountainView and decreased the need for inpatient transfers. I’ve drafted protocols for hip and pelvis fractures. I’ve given lectures. I've worked to decrease the waiting time for patients needing hip surgery. My next goals include publishing my research on geriatric ankle fractures and starting classes for my MHA.
I saw one of my postoperative geriatric patients in clinic the other day and he said “I want to meet the man who did my surgery.” I informed him I was the one who did it and he said “I just paid you a very big compliment then, didn’t I?”
We have to keep working our hardest so the younger generation understands why that’s not a compliment.” – Dr. Jessica Kingsberg, MountainView Hospital Chief of Orthopedics
“Being a professional woman in medicine has many challenges, but the rewards are priceless. A woman is an integral part of the family unit, wearing many hats ranging from wife, mother, cook, teacher, nurse, counselor, to chauffeur. There is a constant juggle between work, family, friends, and personal time. I sometimes feel torn: when I’m at work, I can feel like my kids need me; when I’m at home, I can feel like I need to be there for my patients. Finding that balance can be hard, but over the years I have learned that it is essential to happiness professionally and personally. Most physicians have personalities that seek to overachieve and that sometimes overflows into other aspects of their lives. I’ve learned to let go of the small things and focus on what’s important. If I won’t remember it in five years, it’s a small problem for today. Personal time is also so crucial for happiness. As female physicians, we are constantly trying to help and heal others whether it be patients, friends or family. Sometimes we neglect the self-care that we need and don’t allow ourselves time to do the things that make us happy, whether it be exercising, enjoying a hobby, or spending time with family and friends. These little things can lift our spirits and make us a more productive and empathetic physician. Despite all the juggles, knowing that I have touched so many patients’ lives in positive ways over the years is the biggest reward I have received during my career in medicine.” – Dr. Saovaros Michaels, OB/GYN
“After receiving my Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from the University of North Texas Health Science Center: Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth, I committed to a five-year residency in general surgery at LSU Health Shreveport. Surgery is one of the top areas of medicine comprised of mostly males, with only 20 percent comprised of women. And, looking back, I realize now that I never met a female surgeon until my third year of medical school
In surgery, the nature of the field and the atmosphere in the OR traditionally calls for “take-charge” attitudes. Being more reserved in my personality, this was a challenge for me, but my reviews and feedback would oftentimes call me to speak up. It was difficult to show that not being as vocal as others did not indicate level of competency.
As a breast surgery specialist, I get to work with many female patients. I provide care to women who are experiencing, possibly, one of the most challenging moments of their lives. It’s very rewarding and inspiring to see my patients overcome cancer and continue living their lives; doing what they love.
I am passionate about educating the community about breast health and early detection of breast cancer, as well as surgical or treatment options for those who have been diagnosed. Additionally, I like to encourage the next generation of women in medicine to not be afraid of following their own unique path and vision when it comes to their practice and patient care.
For my female peers and rising female physicians, I look forward to seeing the equal opportunities to pursue their ideal career as a physician, specialist, or private practice provider, and to strive for dreams and goals without barriers.” – Dr. Rachel Shirley, Breast Surgeon
"Whether it's in the classroom, a patient's room or on the board, women in medicine should not underestimate the value of their perspective or their knowledge. We have earned our place in medicine and we must continue to push forward, expanding boundaries and paving new paths for the next generation in medicine watching us. I have been very lucky to have many female mentors on my journey to medicine but one in particular stands out. Proactive, determined and inspirational are just a few words to describe my chemistry tutor. By paving the foundation, she helped mold me into a woman that grew passionate for empirical knowledge every day, she was a true woman of science.Through her guidance and wisdom, I saw my path ahead with such clarity. These traits have solidified in me and I hope to mirror such actions in our future men and women in medicine." - Mina Bhatnagar MD., MPH, Sunrise Health GME Consortium Internal Medicine, PGY-1