There are many unique aspects to being a female physician. Being a female faculty member brings with it another layer of complexity to the relationships with female residents. As a mentor and role model for female residents, we have a unique responsibility to help shape their future. Like it or not, our residents look to faculty as not only teachers of medicine but teachers about life as a physician. And, a female physician at that.
The female residents in my program often seek me out to discuss issues not related to their education in family medicine but related instead to how they want their lives to look after residency or how they can balance residency with their current lives.
The residents want to talk about work-life balance. They want to hear how I do it. How I am involved in my children’s lives. What I do when my kids are sick. Do I cancel my clinic? They want to know how to manage life as a physician and as a mom. Should we treat our own children? How long did I breast-feed? Was I successful in pumping during the day without getting way behind in clinic? Do I work at home? How, oh how do I keep up with everything there is to do in academics? When did I decide to work part-time? How did my patients react to that? Do I sign out my OB patients? What do women think about that? These seemingly small things that we agonize over day to day are vitally important to our residents when they are deciding what kind of job to choose after graduation.
In addition to the mentoring that goes on about work-life issues, female residents want to talk about how to set up their professional lives to be happy and fulfilled. In this setting, we talk about whether to do OB or not, how to decide on part- or full-time status, or whether they should work in outpatient-only jobs.
We also talk about what their practices will look like as a new female physician joining a group and how to develop relationships with nurses and office staff. There are definite gender issues involved in those relationships that are distinct for female physicians, especially young female physicians starting in practice. As a part-time physician and full-time mom, I think that I have the credibility (and nonjudgmental attitude) that allows them to admit that maybe they don’t want to be an “old fashioned family doctor.” I am hearing more and more from female residents (and male residents too) that the vision of their life after residency does not include working all the time, and they feel a bit guilty about that.
Lawyers can look over contracts, but we, as their mentors, can make sure that our female residents negotiate specifically about maternity care, protected time for pumping, and flexible work hours. We can role model starting clinic early so that we can be home with the kids after school or getting coverage so that we can go to a school play. We can role model that it’s okay to say that we are not available to meet on Wednesday nights because of a yoga class. We can demonstrate to our female residents how to communicate our needs and the needs of our families.
As female faculty, we have a responsibility to our female residents to help them achieve their goals. I think our roles as mentors and role models can go a long way in terms of helping them design lives and practices that utilize their hard-earned skills while honoring their life principles.