The Sekhmet Writing Project: 5|12: The Empowering Ones
The roles of mother and/or wife for a female physician do not pause. Women have been putting others' needs before ours, which often leads to a loss of self.Furthermore, for decades the system has not been favorable to women. However, female physicians are finding how to use empowerment to change the course of their lives. They are leading the way to a new form of leadership in medicine where women are included and represented.
Stillness. It is one of my favorite states of being. When achieved, it provides a moment of pause in chaos, even in the smallest of measurements. Breaths become deeper. The heart rate slows. Peace floods the body. For the life of a physician, these precious moments can be seldom. From the moment we wake to the moment we lay our heads down to rest, the activities and decisions needed to be made can be dense, making these moments of stillness unlikely. And for female physicians, these moments seem to be even rarer.
Though often away from our families for long periods of the day, the roles of mother and/or wife for a female physician do not pause. This means that while we move through the hustle-bustle of work - seeing patients, rounding at the hospital, answering pages, returning phone calls, there is an expectation that we are also required to wear the hats of mom and wife simultaneously. A female colleague and I were discussing this not too long ago. Just prior to this, while she was in the middle of a case in the OR, her son kept repetitively calling her. After the fourth time, assuming there was an emergency, she asked one of the scrub-techs to answer the phone for her. It turns out the emergency was a lost pair of cleats. When she told him, “I am in surgery, your father is at home with you, please ask him,” her son responded, “He told me to call you.” The OR laughed but she didn’t. While we are busy being many things to many different people, it is no wonder female physicians often lose a sense of self in the process.
When I was a young adult my grandmother used to say, “Give women the benefit of the doubt. No matter what they do, do not judge by reducing them to an anecdote. They are likely going through far more on the inside than what she is shown on the outside.” This set a standard to always support (rather than judge) women who are around me. Women have been putting the needs of others before ours for so long that it is hard to imagine what the world would be like if we only supported one another. Perhaps then, that lean, just might be the key to finding stillness and empowerment.
Dr. Amelia Bueche, the creator of This Osteopathic Life
Dr. Amelia Bueche is a family physician and life coach who teaches other female physicians about finding empowerment and in turn, how they can find stillness. In 2012 there was a shift in medicine as the enrollment of females in medical school began to exceed fifty percent of total enrolled students. However, since that time, we have not seen an equivalent shift in women in various surgical specialties and positions of leadership. “This didn’t add up for me,” she said, “If women were beginning to find a larger space in medicine, then why was that space not extending equally to all areas of medicine?” Understanding why this was occurring became the catalyst to her understanding where the solutions to solve this issue could be found.
“I wanted to find the health within our broken system. For decades the system has not been favorable to women. I discovered that in order to correct the wrongs of the system, I must first show women how to feel empowered.” What she found was that because of the competitive nature and rigor of being a physician, there is a tendency to silence the strengths innate to women. Women have been flexible and capable of changing to the system for decades however the system was proving to be less capable of such change. “I wanted to create a space where women could realize that the talents they already possess are exactly what the system needs to find health.”
Through her work as a life coach as well as through her work with her program The Osteopathic Life, she is empowering women to see the value they bring to the table. Though our exterior appears robust, the healthcare system has struggled internally for years. Physician burnout has been one of the greatest tragedies to come from the failing system. What Dr. Bueche is doing is teaching women how to push back past status-quos and challenge the policies that have led to such an uphill climb towards equity. “Being the mother to three children, I have found my stillness to come from upholding boundaries and declaring my intentions. It is not enough to think about a goal but vital that we say that goal aloud. We find our empowerment by making the space for ourselves to achieve our goals. If we are consistent and reliable to ourselves just like we are to others, we will find that the empowerment we long for, is already within.”
Not that long ago when I was just starting my career as an attending physician, I went to a seminar on leadership. I found the day-long experience to be interesting. As I sat there and listened to the speakers talk about leadership and how to be an effective team player, I realized none of the speakers were physicians. The characteristics of a leader I am sure don’t vary much from one profession to another, however the system in which a leader is called upon, very much does. When physicians are expected to be the calm amongst chaos, when the expectation for stillness is a requirement to practice good medicine, I wondered why in a course for physician leadership there was not an emphasis on how to find stillness. I would wonder this for many years, until one day I stumbled across a facebook post.
Dr. Sunny Smith, THE creator of Empowering Women Physicians
Dr. Sunny Smith is a family practice physician and former academic professor at the University of California, San Diego who was the owner of that Facebook post. Her post was about empowering female physicians to find their stillness so that they may be stronger allies for themselves as well as the patients they serve. A few years ago, Dr. Smith began her journey of finding stillness by becoming a life coach. At the time, there were only a handful of physicians setting out to gain the same set of knowledge as she. As said on her website, Empowering Women Physicians, “We are literally responsible for people’s lives at work and at home. Pretty much all day every day. We recognize this as an amazing privilege. However, we’ve also learned a lot of self sacrifice.” For women this self-sacrifice can often lead to a loss of self. We give so much of ourselves in our daily life, we struggle to make time to find time for ourselves.
Over the course of the past couple of years, I have been following Dr. Smith and her work. In a space where the challenges that face female physicians can be overwhelming, having a female physician to provide leadership is empowering in it of itself. She provides her leadership skills through classes and workshops dedicated solely to female physicians. Because of her work, female physicians are not just finding more moments of stillness in their day-to-day life, but they are finding how to use empowerment to change the course of their lives.
In a broken system, how are we expected to heal others when we ourselves have little time to heal? Stillness, just like all other emotions, is fleeting. However when we have the opportunity to collect many moments of stillness, we are able to achieve a state of fulfilment. This is exactly what the works of female physicians, Drs. Amelia Bueche and Sunny Smith allow us to accomplish. They are leading the way to a new form of leadership in medicine. A form of leadership where women are included and represented. Something that is long overdue. May they continue to spread their work to help generations and generations of female physicians.