The conversations surrounding women in medicine today are vastly different compared to when I graduated medical school 10 years ago. I am delighted to participate in discussions to understand how women achieve success and leadership and how this may follow a different path than for men. Often times, and certainly in my case, women tend to gravitate toward tasks that are meaningful to them rather than the “next step in the ladder.” Not surprisingly, the end result can leave a lot of work on a woman’s plate with not much to show for it.
The concern about Sheryl Sandberg’s concept of “leaning in” is that it can come at a cost — the cost of family time and rearing well-adapted and emotionally intelligent children. Yet interestingly, what I have actually seen develop, as one attempts to perfectly balance the demands of a medical practice and family, is not burnout but, rather, elasticity. Over my career, I am surprised at how much I am able to be stretched and still maintain my strong relationship to both meaningful work and family commitments.
Women — be prepared to surprise yourselves. In the process of pushing myself, taking on more tasks, and determining what my “value add” was (while trying to juggle two toddlers, maternity leave, etc.), I have realized my own elasticity and believe that you will too. Work and family is not a zero-sum game, such that the gain of an active professional career is at a loss of family time. For me, this has been intimately gratifying and comforting to know – even in the throes of “how will I do this” — that I have done this before and will succeed again.
So while the debates continue on work-family balance and “can you have it all,” I’m elated that women are gaining insight into their own elasticity, building compassionate yet powerful futures, leading teams and families, and, in the process, taking on more tasks to exceed their own expectations of themselves.
Shalini Shah, MD, is chief of the Division of Pain Medicine and director Pain Services at the University of California, Irvine. She chairs the Committee on Pain Medicine for the California Society of Anesthesiologists, and she is the 2017 recipient of the ASRA Chronic Pain Medicine Grant.