Electrophysiology is an exciting and rapidly changing specialty. However, over the last several years, there has been discussion regarding the lack of women in our field. In recent months, this conversation has continued to grow. For example, in February 2018, Lau and Wood published results of a survey on the challenges faced by women in the field of cardiology, and provided recommendations to improve recruitment into our profession.1 Women have also expressed concerns about childbearing and caring for their families, radiation exposure during pregnancy, harassment, unequal pay, and lack of promotion due to gender. Despite efforts to recognize the challenges that affect female physicians in cardiology, little progress has been made in the last 20 years.2 Although women make up the minority of cardiologists, they tend to be very satisfied in their career. Most enjoy their work and would recommend cardiology as a career path.2
As a medical student, I was convinced that I would become a surgeon. I was enamored with the operating room, and enjoyed the focus and attention required. I chose cardiology because it combined what I loved about the operating room with a long-term doctor-patient relationship. As the first to become a physician in my family, I had no biases about medicine, nor did I have a clue about what to expect. I knew that I wanted to have a relationship with my patients, and I knew I wanted to have an impact on disease treatment and prevention. I believe I ultimately chose cardiology because of Dr. Richard Conti. He was the most amazing clinician I had ever encountered. He palpated, auscultated, and listened intently to every patient. He expected professional dress and behavior from all those caring for his patients. He expected us to be honest, prepared, and curious. In my opinion, he was who I wanted to be when I “grew up”.
I was specifically drawn to the field of cardiac electrophysiology because each day was different. Ablations, device implantations, tilt tables, and interpretation of monitors or intracardiac electrograms were all in a day’s work, and no two days were the same. What is also unique about electrophysiology is that we have the potential to cure people, improve their quality of life, and improve survival. That is a gift that other fields of medicine don’t always get to offer. I remember the feeling after my first WPW ablation, and seeing the elimination of the delta wave and normalization of the QRS complex. I had just changed someone’s electrocardiogram, and I was immediately hooked.
As a fellow, I was fortunate to have Dr. Jamie Conti and Dr. Anne Curtis as attending physicians — as a result, it did not seem unusual to be a woman in cardiology or electrophysiology. It wasn’t until I completed my training that I became aware of the unique challenges faced by women. I was single when I started my career, and wasn’t sure if I wanted a family. I was the first women to join a large cardiology practice, and quickly realized it wasn’t a good fit. When I became pregnant with my first child, I learned firsthand about discrimination, the pregnancy penalty, and lack of promotion. I was shocked and unprepared. I have navigated my way by trial and error, and have probably made more mistakes than victories. However, it shouldn’t have to be this way. As women, we should be open about our experiences. I believe that by sharing our stories, we encourage others to follow, advance, and lead.
Over the next several months, EP Lab Digest will be highlighting women’s perspectives from the field of electrophysiology and cardiology. We will be addressing topics such as burnout, pregnancy, gender bias, and career advancement. These women are our current and future leaders. My hope is that young women in medicine will identify with these extraordinary leaders, and see a piece of themselves. I hope that it will inspire others to pursue their passion, as I did.
- Lau ES, Wood MJ. How do we attract and retain women in cardiology? Clin Cardiol. 2018;41:264-268.
- Lewis JS, Mehta LS, Douglas PS, et al. Changes in the Professional Lives of Cardiologists Over 2 Decades. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2016;69(4):452-462.