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 choosing a specialty?

Dr Rosseau: I don't think I'd say to anyone to go into a field in order to better represent your minority. It should be your passion. You go into your field because you just couldn't not go into it.

Having said that, there are good and bad aspects of going into a specialty in which you represent a minority. One is that you stand out. This could be a bad thing or a good thing. If you do well, you'll get benefits you wouldn't otherwise get, but you will be noticed, so your human foibles will be noticed as well.

Medscape: Was there a specific moment you realized neurosurgery was the right specialty for you?

Dr Rosseau: I do remember one moment in particular, when I was watching the chairman of neurosurgery operating on the brain of a young man, a 32-year-old lawyer. It was a long operation, and I remembered the residents—the people senior to me, but junior to the doctors—were shifting from foot to foot, ready to move on, and I realized that I had been spellbound and hadn't moved for hours. I thought, "Wow, this really holds my interest the way nothing else has."

Medscape: What should women do to rise to leadership positions?

Dr Rosseau: Every organization I know of needs women in leadership positions. My advice to women is that when you're choosing your passion and your career, also recognize that you're choosing a community. You want to be part of the health of that community—just like when you move into a residential community, you may volunteer to be part of the beautification committee or do something with the PTA or town council.

In many organizations, women are underrepresented in the membership. If you want the best for the specialty, you need to draw from everyone in that specialty; you can't just draw from a narrow slice. Diversity at the top makes an organization stronger, flexible, and more resilient. In the plant kingdom and animal world, those species who can diversify, who are supple, are those that grow and thrive.

We started a group called Women in Neurosurgery in 1989 to encourage female medical students to go into neurosurgery. It's very much about trying to keep the door open for the next generation and push it open farther.


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