High praise to The Ophthalmologist journal for celebrating Women in Ophthalmology! Excellent recognition of the tireless and positive leadership of Lisa Nijm Cynthia Matossian Georgette M. Pascale and Mariya Moosajee and pioneers Marguerite McDonald and Patricia Bath.
I was asked specifically about gender issues experienced in residency, I ended in positive celebration and recognition of my wonderful Cedars Aspens colleagues and in celebration of our incredibly egalitarian new generation of ophthalmologists. I pledge my ongoing support to them.
When I started my residency, women were outnumbered 20 to one. Although my experience was positive overall, there were definitely times I felt left out by my male colleagues. I’m not just talking about the ‘guys’ poker nights’ I wasn’t invited to. It was the overt expressions of sexism – harassing comments that male colleagues simply wouldn’t get – that made me feel discounted. Motherhood was an issue, too. We had a couple of residents deliver while I was there and I was shocked at the disdain they incurred from the men: “How did you enjoy your vacation?” and “I can’t believe I had to cover your call.” Yet when two male residents required a leave of absence, it was met with phenomenal support. Why can’t pregnancy be met with the same? Of course, some discrimination was more subtle. Female residents were described as bossy, rather than assertive. Emotional, not passionate. Demanding, not precise. Unfortunately, it is still common to hear women addressed by their first name while men are referred to as “Dr” in clinic, on panels, and in internet colleague chat groups. I don’t think it is always intentional, but those words limit and diminish power – and I’m more comfortable in correcting it with collegiality and kindness.
Things are moving in the right direction. There are more female residents than ever before and though there are still going to be problems in the next chapters – fellowship and private practice versus academia – and the different glass ceilings that exist, we have a chance to make it easier for them. The way to do it is through feel-good stuff, putting a spotlight on heart-first leadership – like the kind championed by OWL, who acknowledge and award supportive leaders. I am fortunate enough to have had the support of many wonderful colleagues – including my friends at the Cedars/Aspens group. These men are some of the most I’ve ever worked with, and they deserve to be recognized.
While serving on mentorship panels at Millennial Eye 2018 this fall, I was delighted by our young ophthalmologists’ egalitarian and meritocratic world views and supportive attitudes and actions towards each other. We have a golden opportunity to support the future leaders of our field and I feel a personal responsibility to help smooth the way. The future looks bright indeed.