Women in emergency medicine face many hurdles their male counterparts do not. Addressing these issues is central to the mission of the ACOEP Committee for Women in Emergency Medicine, one of ACOEP’s fastest-growing sections, providing clinical lectures, career advice, and networking opportunities.
One of the foremost differences women in EM face compared to male physicians is managing the balance of responsibility between home and work lives. Our male counterparts often more easily release the pressure or guilt of “getting things done” at home. Whether that is regarding children, home maintenance, dishes, or laundry, in general women find themselves pulled in both directions more frequently, particularly when it comes to childcare. Mom guilt is a very true entity and wears on a female physician intensely. This dichotomy is a very real contributor to physician burnout.
Maternity leave and breastfeeding are also a major barrier that women in emergency medicine face. Often, hospitals do not provide paid maternity leave, creating significant financial and personal burdens for physicians. When seeking assistance in covering shifts, physicians often feel guilt for putting colleagues in harder positions. This can often result in physicians returning to work too soon or leaving the ED altogether.
Once returning to work, new mothers not only deal with the expected stress of establishing child care and returning to professional life but logistics such as breastfeeding and pumping also come into play.
Federal standards and advocacy for support of working mothers will not only assist physicians who have had a baby but allow the entire ED to function with more clarity and consistency when these issues arise.
THE B WORD
Females also face the challenge of owning our role as a physician. Imposter syndrome is especially felt and internalized by female physicians. This can be exacerbated by “the boys’ club” that often permeates the ED.
Women are frequently not included in golf trips or beers after a shift. Often, these experiences not only build bonds among coworkers who depend on each other but can have real world ramifications when it comes to career advancement and support.
Women in medicine often face the challenge of the difference between being aggressive versus assertive. It is a fine line that male colleagues do not face. Sometimes the only difference in the perception of our response is our gender. A male colleague may respond to a situation in a way that’s perceived as authoritative, but if a female physician responds in the same way, it can be seen as aggressive or “bitchy.”
This is further exacerbated by patients who mistake female physicians for nurses or more easily defer to male physicians, nurses, or residents.
As female physicians, we walk a fine line. If women are too friendly with nursing staff, we risk losing a sense of authority, and if we remain distant, we are seen as noncooperative.
The great news is that in the face of overt and systemic bias, women have incredible tools at their disposal to overcome these obstacles. The first step is removing internal barriers. Feelings of inadequacy often hold women back. Women are more likely to wait to apply for positions of leadership until they can prove they meet every criterion or wait to be asked to run join committees or apply for leadership positions. We encourage women to move past these invisible obstacles. The simple act of trusting your abilities and putting yourself out there can surprise you.
Some ways to get started include:
- Running for a board
- Volunteering for a committee
- Writing an article
You have experience and expertise to share. If you run and lose, your name is now more recognizable as someone eager to lead and serve and will find more doors to walk through as a result.
Furthermore, finding a mentor is an incredible step. Successful women in EM are everywhere and often are willing to take younger physicians under their wings, showing them the ropes and how to navigate difficult situations. A mentor can make a profound professional impact.
It’s important to remember that if you are experiencing a roadblock at work, chances are there are other women experiencing something similar. Seeking out others is an incredibly powerful means to create success. Groups such as FemInEM, ACOEP’s Committee for Women in Emergency Medicine, and more share resources, tools, education, and create a strong community and pathway for success.
SEND THE ELEVATOR DOWN
No matter where you are in your career, you can help those coming up behind you. Attending physicians can take residents under their wings; residents can in turn help students assigned to their EDs. Women are often eager to see other women succeed, and those who have reached the top floor can send the elevator back down for those just starting. By helping to guide doctors coming after you, you can make lasting, substantive change.
Women in EM do face more challenges than their male counterparts. However, these roadblocks do not put a definitive end to your aspirations. We also have the benefit of a strong community and can walk on a road paved by the pioneers who have come before us.