The rapid evolution of new technologies, drugs, and devices to treat arrhythmias has made cardiac electrophysiology a fertile field for research and development. Such progress was made possible by the brilliant male and female scientists who paved the way before us. Unfortunately, the number of physician-scientists spearheading such research and translating it into clinical medicine has declined over the years.
A 2014 report by the NIH Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group found that physician-scientists made up only 1.5 percent of all U.S. physicians.1 Furthermore, women are underrepresented amongst MD-PhD students and physician-scientists. In the field of cardiac electrophysiology, the number of women who perform procedures and conduct research are few and far between. Last year saw the highest number of women in first-year electrophysiology fellow positions, and yet it was only 19%.2 Therefore, it is no surprise that there are even fewer women who successfully publish papers, attain leadership roles, and obtain research funding.
A recent study of almost 35,000 scientists showed that women individually held fewer grants, submitted fewer applications, and were less successful in renewing grants.3 Fewer than one-third of grant applications and awards went to women, and a high attrition rate was observed among women in early stages of their career.3 The dwindling of an already low number of female scientists suggests there is an increased need for networking, collaborative investigations, and mentorship among women — both within and outside of one’s institution — to initiate and continue to grow their career.
Personally, I am grateful for the mentorship I have received within Columbia University through Dr. Steven O. Marx, Professor of Medicine, and Dr. Hasan Garan, Chief of the Electrophysiology Service, who have been my major supporters and mentors. I am also fortunate to have established women scientists at Columbia who have been role models for me, including: Dr. Anne Taylor, Vice Dean of Affairs, Dr. Penelope Boyden, Professor of Pharmacology, and Dr. Marianne Legato, Founder of The Foundation For Gender-Specific Medicine. At Columbia, we also have a transdisciplinary group for the Center For Women’s Cardiovascular Health for all practicing women physicians focusing on women’s health. I am very fortunate to have past and current colleagues who have always treated me as an equal and been supportive of women. Over the last 10 years, Columbia’s EP program has trained 7 women electrophysiologists who are now practicing all around the nation.
Being a part of a promotive network within my institution has been just as important as having role models outside of it. The successful women I have met along the way include: Dr. Lee Eckhardt (University of Wisconsin), Dr. Kris Patton (University of Washington), Dr. Mina Chung (Cleveland Clinic), and Dr. Andrea Russo (Cooper University Hospital, and also President-Elect of HRS). They have given me advice to strengthen my career and build visibility.
For all women in electrophysiology, including physicians, nurses, technicians, and assistants, there are many national and international resources to find support. Committees and conferences sponsored by the American College of Cardiology,4 American Heart Association,5 Heart Rhythm Society,6 European Society of Cardiology,7 as well as industry-sponsored conferences such as Abbott’s Women in Electrophysiology Arrhythmia Symposium, BIOTRONIK’s EPIC Alliance, and Medtronic’s Women’s Leadership Conference are all excellent platforms to meet women in science and industry. When I go to these conferences, I bring my female electrophysiology fellows along, because it is important that women support each other and pay forward the mentorship and guidance to the next generation.
My current second-year fellow, Dr. Salma Baksh, has benefited from networking during her cardiology fellowship, and credits Dr. Janet Han of the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center for inspiring her to choose electrophysiology. Dr. Baksh has started using her second year of training to participate in outcomes research at Columbia. I am delighted that she considers me a friend and mentor. After graduating, Dr. Baksh plans to be a role model for women in medicine and electrophysiology, and looks forward to offering mentorship just as she received during her training. Dr. Baksh believes in supporting not only other women in medicine, but also her female patients. Like me, she practices tailored care for female patients by making small incisions and subpectoral device implantation for a more cosmetic closure after shared decision-making.
We write this article in hopes to initiate a wave of propagating support and mentorship forward to the future generation of women physicians and scientists. We must work together to improve care and to ensure that women continue to be a part of developments in science and technology.
The way to achieve success is together!
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Elaine Wan, MD, FACC, FAHA, FHRS is the Esther Aboodi Assistant Professor of Cardiology (in Medicine) and M. Irené Ferrer Scholar in Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. She is grateful to be a recipient of a NIH K08 Mentored Career Development Award, as well as to have supportive parents and a husband who is understanding to her early mornings and/or late evenings in the lab and weekends of grant or paper writing.
Salma Baksh Chaudhary, MD, electrophysiologist, wife, and mother is available for an attending position next year.
- Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group Report. National Institutes of Health. Published June 2014. Available at https://bit.ly/2DCrLen. Accessed November 13, 2018.
- Resident & Fellow Workforce Data. American Board of Internal Medicine. Available at https://bit.ly/2RUIgWj. Accessed November 13, 2018.
- Hechtman LA, Moore NP, Schulkey CE, et al. NIH funding longevity by gender. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2018;115(31):7943-7948.
- Women in Cardiology Section. American College of Cardiology. Available at https://bit.ly/2RUKfdd. Accessed November 13, 2018.
- Go Red For Women. American Heart Association. Available at www.goredforwomen.org. Accessed November 13, 2018.
- Heart Rhythm Society. Available at https://communities.hrsonline.org/home. Accessed November 13, 2018.
- Women in ESC. European Society of Cardiology. Available at https://bit.ly/2wqGxAg. Accessed November 13, 2018.