To be a practicing electrophysiologist at one of the pioneer cardiac institutes in a country of 1.3 billion people takes courage — even more so when you are a woman. The journey through medical school to becoming a clinical electrophysiologist has been one I have very much enjoyed.
However, has it been easy to survive successfully here? I hope the following article will answer this question.
Most of us are aware of the gender issues prevailing undisputedly in certain parts of the world. India, in particular, struggles with gender bias — it’s a part of the world where the birth of a male child is celebrated, while that of a girl could be remorseful.
I believe women in the healthcare field are often more easily imagined in roles such as obstetrician, gynecologist, pathologist, or ophthalmologist. But a cardiologist? Each time I am introduced as a cardiologist, there is an expression of wonder and awe in the eyes of the beholder. Further, to be introduced as a cardiac electrophysiologist makes people wonder why I chose this field.
What makes my breed a rarity? Women account for only 2-3% of the EP community in India, and even lesser in the cardiology field! It is reflected in similar numbers even in the West. In the U.S., approximately 10% of electrophysiologists are female.
Women in the medical profession often face specific challenges that can reflect directly on their lives. For example, the commitment associated with being a part of the medical profession often means that one is essentially “wedded” to it. This can have an impact on work-life balance, marriage, and even childcare. Personally, I am fortunate to have a husband and in-laws who have supported me and allowed me to pursue my dream in EP. To try to pursue a career in EP without this support could be a daunting task.
As a woman, being away from your family can be particularly challenging. I believe that mothers especially feel the pain of separation from their children when work demands their time. Even as a grown woman, my daughter will still call me with the same question: “Mamma, when will you get home?” We don’t have working hours since we don’t leave the lab until we have successfully ablated the last tachycardia. This often results in rather long and unplanned hours.
Lastly, protecting myself from radiation exposure during EP procedures has been an ongoing concern throughout my career. For instance, it has been a constant battle with technicians in the lab to reduce the frame rate while I fluoro. Finding a special lead apron designed to suit my size and style has also not been easy.
I believe going above and beyond are the keys to a successful EP career. Female electrophysiologists must be especially tenacious in doing so. Here are my ten tips for other female electrophysiologists on how to build a successful career in the field of electrophysiology:
1. Be academically visible.
No matter which profession you are in, excellence ensures visibility. Aspire to excel in what you do. Being academically ahead gives you the confidence you need to be visible.
2. Manage your time.
The cornerstone of a successful career is managing your time well. You will be shifting many gears (physical and emotional) in your daily routine, from home to work and back. This means judiciously managing your limited time. My day has always begun early, so my day is perhaps longer than some of my fellow colleagues. Some male colleagues have scoffed at me at certain times, of which I pay no heed.
Ensure that boundaries are broken by teaching — take every opportunity that comes your way! I have always believed that if I could impact even a single life when delivering a lecture, that I had done my job well. I am certain we do more than that.
4. Embrace your younger female fellows.
If we want to increase our clan, then it is our responsibility to help our younger female fellows excel. Make an attempt to engage with them and understand them better — many of their challenges are the same faced by us.
5. Achieve more.
To have a successful career, it is important to never stop learning. Keep yourself abreast of the latest technology, and aspire to learn newer frontiers.
6. Travel wide.
Meet people within this fraternity, and share your experiences. Be visible. It always gives a wider perspective to medicine and life! I was recently with Assoc. Professor Harry Mond from Australia, sharing a faculty position with him. It is a great privilege to be with people who have helped to shape this specialty.
7. Drown your ego.
Be a student for life. Steer your ship where you think you see more light. Keep learning from everyone around you. Your fellows can be great teachers too.
8. Be grateful.
Thank your mentors and seniors, for you are who you are because of them.
9. Push your own boundaries.
Exercise regularly — it’s only a healthy body that can take the radiation and stresses of electrophysiology.
10. Stay happy!
You are in the best profession! Happiness is homemade and infectious. You are fortunate to have the ability to heal your fellow humans.
I wish you all a very successful and bright career ahead!