Celebrating Women in Medicine Month

September 3, 2020

Established by the American Medical Association, Women in Medicine Month was created to highlight the contributions of women in the field of healthcare, and bring awareness to the under-representation of women physicians, and research surrounding women’s health issues. While progress in these areas has improved substantially over the last half-century, there is still a great deal of work to be done, especially in the field of surgery.

“I find it helpful to look for ways to improve things, rather than focusing on all that is wrong,” says associate professor of vascular surgery with the Department of Cardiothoracic & Vascular Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, Sheila Coogan, MD. As we work towards a future that narrows the gender equity gap, Women in Medicine Month allows us to reflect on the contributions of female providers who have spearheaded progress in clinical care and research.

We have also compiled pearls of wisdom, advice, and background from several members of our administrative and clinical team. Check out their input on Women In Medicine Month here.

Advice and words of wisdom from our female faculty:

Associate Professor of Vascular Surgery, Sheila Coogan, MD:

On pursuing a career in medicine: “Find a mentor and learn to say no; time management is critical. It’s hard to do, but try to imagine what you expect your life to be like in ten years, and then work towards that vision; too often (and I have made this mistake myself), people react to opportunities rather than working towards a dream,”

On overcoming the challenges in medicine: “Challenging operations and experiences happen to every surgeon, hopefully not too often. My colleagues and mentors are invaluable for perspective and support when overcoming such adversities.  There are always new techniques–new ways of treating old problems and there is always a better way to do things. I find it helpful to look for ways to improve things rather than focusing on all that is wrong.”

On the best part about her job: “I really enjoy my patients; They are every race, every nationality, every socioeconomic group. They provide a window into humanity.  Despite their differences, needs, wants, and family background, people are remarkably the same.  I am committed to finding ways to help them if I can.”

Assistant Professor of Vascular Surgery Rana Afifi, MD:

On pursuing a career in medicine: “Follow your dreams and do what you love. It is not an easy career, but very fulfilling, so choose what you enjoy; it will be easier to endure the difficult times. Try not to give attention to all the nay-sayers or the people that would put obstacles in your way; keep going and pushing through. They will not have a choice and will move out of your way.
Lastly, seek and look for mentors. You will come to find that having a mentor can be very helpful and valuable in building and advancing your career.”

On overcoming the challenges in medicine: “Colleagues and mentors are a great source to go to for advice and consult with them on challenges cases, operations, or any difficult decisions in your career, learning from others is a crucial tool. It is important to remember that we as physicians are humans too, meaning that we are also affected by those challenges. So I try to “refill my cup” by ensuring that I do the things that bring me joy outside of work as well. I need to refuel my soul, so I ensure to make time, for a workout, family and friends, hobbies, and travel.
And usually remembering why I started this journey to begin with helps me get refocused, endure the challenges, and overcome the obstacles.”

On the best part about her job: “I love the human connections and the impact that I have on my patient’s lives. I enjoy the process of planning treatment, and tailoring it to each patient. I also enjoy teaching our students, residents and fellows, I feel that it is an essential part of our job. I have learned from the best, and was impacted by my teachers and mentors, and I feel honored to be able to take part in educating the next generation of physicians and vascular surgeons.”

On gender bias in medicine: “I am lucky that I haven’t personally encountered gender bias from my supervisors or colleagues. But I have been in situations where patients assumed I am not the surgeon, since I am a woman, or have asked for a male surgeon (in my earlier years of residency). Gender bias exists and is real. My advice for women who may be experiencing gender bias, is, if you are experiencing it or see someone else experiencing it, speak up; Sometimes it is unconscious bias and you might raise awareness to the issue. And my advice is to surround yourself with like-minded people, it is empowering to have that support, it gives you the strength and courage to fight through all the obstacles including gender bias.”

Assistant Professor of Vascular Surgery Sophia Khan-Makoid, MD:

Advice for pursuing a career in medicine: “Just like Nike, ‘Just Do It’. It’s the best and most rewarding job in the world. There is this pre-conceived notion that women who work in medicine, especially surgery, cannot ‘have it all’.  That is far from the truth. Instead, I think there is a delayed gratification. You can go into medicine and still hit those life-milestones, it just might not be at the time you were expecting.”

On the best part about her job: “The patients. The best part of this job really is helping patients. I love when patients come to post-operative appointments after surgery, and tell me they feel better than when they first met me. I live for these moments. In particular, the best part of surgery is that it can have immediate results – there was a blockage in the artery and now there isn’t one. Instant gratification.”

On overcoming the challenges in training and in practice: “I really rely on my entire support system. On challenging cases, I talk to my colleagues and mentors. When I’m having a bad day, I call my husband. When I need to feel like someone has had a similar experience, I text old co-residents. Also, with how widespread social media is, I’ve found online groups like “Gorgeous Ladies of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery” and “Part of the Solution” that connect me with surgeons just like me who I can relate to from all over the country.

On gender bias in medicine: ““I have been very fortunate that in my immediate circle, I have not faced gender bias. There are times where I think someone may think I’m not as good of a surgeon as my male counterpart, but I say, let your surgery results do the talking. It’s a waste of time and energy to listen to the nonsensical chatter; I try to focus on my dedication to patient’s optimal outcomes, and no one can argue that.”

We are determined to lead, inspire, and encourage women to pursue a career in surgery, if they choose. We commend our female surgeons and faculty members who have overcome adversities and challenges while aspiring towards a career in medicine.  We commit to working towards a future that offers gender equality in medicine, and beyond.