I am a woman in a male dominated field. Once I started studying the heart, I was hooked. I enjoyed thinking about the heart, reading about it, and learning about it. There were probably other fields of medicine that I could have been happy practicing, but cardiology (for me, at least) was exciting, intriguing, and challenging. Given my background in research (I had been in basic science labs for many years), it seemed like a natural fit for me to spend my life in academic cardiology.
When I felt confident that cardiology would be my life career and I began sharing that with people, I was surprised by the responses I got from others. I had done very well in my training as a medical resident. When I compared my work with those of my colleagues, it seemed to me that I was at the very least comparable; based on comments from others, there was no reason to think I couldn’t or shouldn’t consider cardiology as a career.
So you can see that I was completely unprepared for the skeptical looks I got from people when I started to announce my life interest. While I was on the wards rounding on my patients in preparation for rounds with my attending, one of the cardiologists who practiced at the same hospital sat next to me and told me about how his wife, who was a practicing lawyer, now enjoys staying at home in her pajamas and reading the paper, now that she is married to him. Another suggested that what I really needed was a vacation. I am not sure to this day what he meant by this. Perhaps he thought that I was only imagining I could be a cardiologist, that if I took some time off I would get over the idea. I was told by others that I didn’t “look like” a cardiologist – no, I looked more like a pediatrician or a geriatrician. A male resident asked me what kinds of things I cook for dinner. When I told him my husband does the cooking, he paused and started getting red in the face. The resident, my senior, suggested he talk to my husband and tell him who does the cooking in a family.
All of these comments were made in 1995 – only 20 years ago. There were many, many more at the time and since then. These remarks did what they were intended to do – sow doubt. Despite my accomplishments, I began to think I was making a bad choice. Despite the fact that I was in love with the heart, I doubted my ability to practice cardiology.
Fast forward to 2015. Since that time, I have successfully completed a fellowship in cardiology, successfully performed several research post-doctoral fellowships, and published papers both in basic science and clinical science. I earned the esteem of scientists and clinicians and have been invited to speak internationally and domestically. Am I perfect? Of course not. I don’t see myself as the “triple threat” you hear so much about (academicians who are excellent practitioners, writers, and scientists), but I am certainly able and accomplished.
Would the world look different without my work? I would like to think so, but much more important, the women for whom I am now a mentor and a role model would not have had me to look at and decide, “Yes, I can do that”. And of course they can.
Perhaps the most important point I want to make here, and I will say this many times because it is so critical, is that I never had to take what those people said personally. Of course I did, but all that did was cause me to doubt myself. When I listened to my heart, I knew better. I spent many hours feeling hurt by their unskilled comments, but there was no reason I had to take their comments to heart. To be here now is more than revenge. I did what was inside of me, no more, no less. By taking what they said personally, I wasn’t able to live in the present. I gave precious moments to pain and doubt, when all I had to do was smile politely, and keep on going.