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

Medscape: What advice do you have for medical students and young physicians who want to eventually reach leadership positions?

Dr Dickey: Start relatively early, and start getting involved in the organizations that address the issues that concern you. Maybe they include your specialty society or your state medical association. These organizations are about knowing people; being there, being interested, and being willing to do some of the work will cause people, when they are looking for leaders, to say, "You know, that young lady from Timbuctoo, she was very well spoken, so let's see whether she's interested." Don't decide that you don't have the time to get to know folks and wait for your children to grow up and then say, "Now I want to be president," because others will say, "Well, wait a minute; I just put in 20 years while you've been doing other things."

The second thing I would say is that you have got to know the issues. You've got to be well read about what's happening in your specialty and medicine in general. That's not mutually exclusive to your personal life. These organizations usually hold meetings in these really nice places, and often entire families come. For me, it couldn't be time away from family because I spent enough time away from the family, so we spent many, many times at medical meetings.

My third piece of advice is about management. There are lots of physicians who will say, "You know, my family needs to come first; I've got to cut back on my practice." The role I'm in now at the health science center suggests to me that it is very hard to step out of medicine for a period of time and then step back in. Slowing down—perhaps spending 50% of your time instead of 100%-150% of your time with your career—is one thing, but to cut back your practice to almost nothing or to step out of practice may present a hurdle that you just won't get over when it's time to come back. Increasingly, boards and hospitals and even group practices are asking for some assessment of whether you have remained current and competent to practice.

Medscape: Do you think that the medical field is becoming more welcoming to women?

Dr Dickey: I do think it is, but in doing so, I'm concerned about what the changes that make it easier for women might do to the caring part of medicine. And it's not just women; it's a generational thing.

One of the challenges in the 1970s and 1980s was that, at least in the town I practiced in, most people took care of their own patients 24/7. I think many young people are saying now, "I don't want to work those kind of hours. I am willing to work X hours a week, 40 or 60, but when I'm off I want to be off."

I think that's very welcoming to women and I think it's probably a relief to a lot of men, but I do worry that if we become too much like shift workers, the patients are the losers from that. If nobody really knows the patient, where do they go for that advocacy—for that, "Gee, doctor, what do I do? I've got three different opinions, and I'm not sure how I select among them."


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.
Post as: