It’s now 10pm and like many working moms, dinner is finished but dishes need to be done, the kids are in bed but I still hear cackles of laughter from my older girls’ room as they are talking before sleep, I’m finally sitting down but I have a lot yet to do. Tomorrow is the 2nd annual “National Women Physicians Day” and I’m thinking about what that means.
I’ll admit it, last year when the 1st National Women Physicians Day was announced, I may have rolled my eyes just a little and wondered why we needed a day to celebrate women only. Either by luck, sheer optimism, or choice of specialty, I’m fortunate enough to say I’ve never once felt held back by my gender. To the contrary, as a pediatrician, being a woman and a mom is actually an asset rather than a liability.
But when February 3rd arrived, and I watched social media light up with new profile pictures of my fellow women physicians celebrating the day, along with photos at work in scrubs, performing surgery, giving lectures, in rescue helicopters, in military uniforms, I was moved. The face of medicine has changed and it is beautiful. In that moment, I was truly proud to be part of the sisterhood and was thankful for a day to remind each other of all we have in common and all we have accomplished.
Celebrating National Women Physicians Day on the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, puts our careers and successes in context. We stand on the shoulders of giants. From Elizabeth Blackwell, to Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Mildred Jefferson to Linda Brodsky—countless women physicians not only broke through barriers, they paved the way and mentored others. They left medicine better than they found it. This commitment to the future of our profession has never been more pressing.
As it stands, nine out of ten physicians do not recommend medical careers to their children. Those that do, do not recommend primary care. This is a tragedy. Our world needs good doctors, and who better than the children of healers to carry on this calling? There are many things we do for our children to prepare their future, from teaching them to read to saving for college. We need to take a hard look at the problems in medicine with them in mind. What can we do to make medicine a better career for them, how can we ease their way?
Before my girls went to bed tonight, I asked if they’d ever consider being doctors. My oldest, who is genetically wired to be an engineer, gamely said she’d think about it only after making a complete list of the pros and cons. I think the engineer mind is strong with that one! My younger daughter said she’d be interested, but wasn’t sure about “that blue cross stuff”. My heart sank as I realized my frustrations with bureaucracy, MOC, and third party payers were far more transparent than I’d realized. “But if I can fix those things, what would you think about being a doctor, like mom?” Her eyes brightened and she responded, “Spending the day around babies? Sign me up!”
On this 196th anniversary of Elizabeth Blackwell’s birth, it is interesting to note that despite all her hardships and challenges as the only female medical student among 150 men and subsequently the only female doctor in the country, she loved medicine and recommended the career to other women. Just five years after Elizabeth graduated from medical school, her sister Emily became the third woman in the United States to receive a medical degree, one sister paving the way for the other.
This is what being a woman physician means to me now. It’s no longer about passing the next test, proving myself, and advancing in my career. I am happy and fulfilled where I am. Having reached my goals, I can look beyond myself to the next generation of physicians. Within the next 6-8 years, my girls will be making their career choices. If I do my job and “fix those things”, medicine will be better than I found it. I truly hope one, or both, of my daughters will look at this wonderful profession with bright eyes and say, “Sign me up”.