Although she’s a board-certified emergency medicine physician who wears a white coat, Hala Sabry, DO, is occasionally asked to clean coffee spills off the floor and empty trash cans.
Many of Dr. Sabry’s female colleagues also had similar stories of gender inequity and wanted to find a way to raise the visibility of female physicians.
With the help of her peers, Dr. Sabry took action by founding National Women Physicians Day (NWPD) on Feb. 3, 2016. Friday is the second annual NWPD. In this edited Q&A, Dr. Sabry discusses the challenges women face in practicing medicine today and how raising awareness of these issues can help improve physicians’ lives and patient care.
What led you to found NWPD?
I founded NWPD because women are still facing gender inequity in the medical field despite so many years of training at a professional level. I am also the founder of the Physician Moms Group. With more than 65,000 members, we’ve shared stories, and we’ve realized that the vast majority of us experiences gender inequity.
So many times, we’ll finish explaining a treatment plan to a patient and their question at the end is, “OK, but when will I see the doctor?” When scenarios like this happen, I know it’s because I’m a woman.
Physicians are often trained not to ask for help or self-promote, but if we want to be respected, we have to raise awareness of the issues we are facing, and we have to celebrate each other.
What issues are important to be aware of on National Women Physicians Day?
Women who aspire to be physicians question the logistics of balancing medicine and having a family. Our role this year is to show aspiring female physicians that we are paving the way for them. We want to break the perception that you have to choose between being a physician and being a mom.
I hope our male colleagues can celebrate with us and remember the next time they’re in a situation with their female colleagues that we often deal with scenarios they’re privileged not to be facing.
At the same time, many male physicians who are parents will understand where we’re coming from. Raising a family is challenging for all physicians.
National Women Physicians Day highlights the story of the first female physician. What can be learned from her trailblazing journey?
Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, was accepted to medical school as a joke, and many people discouraged her from attending. Many of us identify with this and have a story about being advised against advancing in medicine. Often, we were told we wouldn’t be able to have a life or spend time with our families.
Even now, we feel pressured to dedicate our entire lives to medicine or to our families. The less time we dedicate to medicine, the more we’re perceived as not caring about our patients. The field of medicine is evolving, but further changes are needed to better support work-life balance for all physicians, including moms. If we don’t support and take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to provide the best care for our patients.