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Digital Supplement | Sponsored by Visus Therapeutics

Elevate & Rise: A Female Surgeon’s Perspective

An important part of learning the art of medicine is gaining the empathy necessary to understand the patient’s perspective. It might be just as important to try and understand the unique struggles that colleagues face as they attempt to navigate professional and personal responsibilities.

In a recent YoungMD Connect workshop, Zaina Al-Mohtaseb, MD; Audina Berrocal, MD; Constance Okeke, MD; and Dagny Zhu, MD gathered to offer insights on the inequities they have faced as women surgeons in the field of ophthalmology and perspectives on how they have thrived in the face of adversity.

Audina Berrocal, MD “The discussion we are having should include our male colleagues—sometimes these topics about our lives, about the challenges we face, and about being a mother and a surgeon are not talked about; men certainly don’t talk about the many roles they fill.”

Gender Bias in the Workplace

Dagny Zhu, MD

“Progress has been made: Explicit bias is gone, but now it’s implicit, and it is so ubiquitous that we may not even recognize it.”

  • What you experience in school and in training may not reflect what you see in the real world. Advancement in academics and training is largely merit-based. And so, your training environment can provide a false sense of security that gender equality is a given.
  • During the interview process, while looking for my first job, I was asked when I planned to get pregnant.
    • The question was startling … and illegal!
    • IF you get asked something like that, think about using it as a pivot: “What is your family leave policy? How does this program accommodate women who choose to start a family?”
  • There is a terrible stereotype that women are not going to be as productive as men, and that may be a factor in hiring and salary decisions. Fortunately, there is an entire industry of professional consultants who can help supply data on fair compensation.
  • A small investment in professional help literally pays for itself.

Achieving Work-Life Balance

Zaina Al-Mohtaseb, MD

“Achieving work-life balance is a myth: It is a process. Learning to say ‘no’ was one of the best things I learned in my life.”

  • A career in medicine is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes during the race, you will feel inspired, and at other times, you may feel tired, or even feel like giving up. All of these are perfectly normal feelings. You don’t have to succumb to negative thoughts but accept that they are real.
  • There will be times over the course of your career when your priorities will shift. Sometimes the emphasis will be on your work life, and sometimes family will have to be the most important thing in your world. Every decision implies a sacrifice, and that is OK.
  • Be honest when you set boundaries and don’t compromise. If you’re not passionate about a task or something you are doing, don’t do it just to say you did it.

Reaching Out and Reaching Beyond

Constance Okeke, MD

“Ideas come often, and at random times, but when they keep recurring—when you can’t get away from them—you are on to something.”

  • Nurturing ideas into reality takes confidence—in yourself and in your ideas. It also takes courage to put yourself out there and face potential rejection. But the good news is that if you are passionate, there will always be room for you to follow your ideas.
    • Have the courage to ask advice of people who are doing something similar.
    • Be open to the advice from all sectors and all directions.
  • Although not always explicit, women face some additional challenges in being taken seriously. There have been times when people mistook me for a nurse.
  • “There may be times where you have to insist on being called doctor so you are afforded the seriousness you deserve.”
  • So how do you find time for it all? You may not and you probably won’t. The secret is in finding balance and about being present in the moment: When at home, give it your full time, and when you are work, do that to your fullest.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Audina Berrocal, MD

“I have not met a woman in our field who doesn’t have at least one of the characteristics of Imposter Syndrome, but as women we have to call each other on it.”

  • Early in my career there was a need to “play with the boys” to be successful. Fortunately, that mindset is slowly eroding (although it is not completely lost to history). Now, with women often competing for the same positions, the challenge is in resisting the urge to be competitive with each other.
    • Women need to be very mindful of empowering and lifting each other up. Don’t give in to the tendency to tear other women down to lift yourself up.
    • Reinforce to each other that, yes you can do this, you are an expert. Take the leap and do the thing that scares you.
  • You are the first and most important person you have to convince you have what it takes. Once you prove to yourself that you can be successful, you can do anything.