Career Tips From Female Physician Leaders

Stephanie Cajigal; Nancy W. Dickey, MD; Gail L. Rosseau, MD; Helena W. Rodbard, MD; Kimberly A. Skelding, MD


November 18, 2014

With women now entering medical schools across the country at almost the same rate as men, it's clear that the future of medicine is poised for a big change.[1,2] But although there are more women in medicine than ever before, the fact remains that the upper echelons of the profession are still mostly male dominated.[3,4]

Want to change that? We asked female physician-leaders from various specialties to give their best advice for not only making it in medicine, but also for rising to the top. The similarities—and differences—in their responses may surprise you.

Medscape: What encouraged you to go into medicine?

Dr Dickey: I was a reasonably good student in high school. I liked science; I liked people. I don't have any of those heart-wrenching stories of me or my family having been terribly ill and becoming enamored with the wonderful doctors and nurses who cured them. But I liked medicine in general, and when I looked at the variety of roles that were there, being a physician appealed to me.

Now, 40 years ago, that was much less common. In fact, my high school counselor told me that of course I could be a physician if I wanted to, but I probably couldn't be a physician, wife, and mother. So, I didn't go to college as a premed major; I majored in sociology and psychology. Then I worked my way through college doing nurse's aide work, and I really liked medicine, so before I finished college, I picked up the necessary sciences and applied for medical school.

Medscape: How did you balance your work and your personal life, especially being the mother of three children?

Dr Dickey: During the years when our children were young and probably up until high school, my husband and I had our careers and our children. We didn't do a lot of bridge club or garden parties. If the activity didn't include our children and it wasn't related to our careers, we didn't count on doing it. We didn't take childless vacations. When we went on vacation, the kids went with us. In fact, very often when I went on business trips, one of the kids would go with me.

Medscape: What challenges did you faced along the way? When you entered medicine, it was still very much dominated by men.

Dr Dickey: I think it's getting a little bit better, but I think women who have a career basically hear that of course they can have a career, but if they want a family, there are still roles that society and maybe their spouse perceive to be theirs. I have a remarkable husband who did far more than the men of his generation did. But I think, still today, whether you're a lawyer, a doctor, a minister, or teacher, women have a tendency to perceive or be told that it's great to have a career, but this other job (keeping the house, making/arranging the meals, etc.) is mostly theirs.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.