The Daily Dose • Saturday, May 15, 2021

Key to Success in Developing A Career as a Woman in Anesthesiology

Allison M. Janda, MD

Over 40 women in various stages in their careers gathered early Friday morning, May 14, to share their insights and experiences in developing careers in anesthesiology as well as cultivating the careers of other women in the specialty during the “Women in Academic Anesthesiology Breakfast Networking Session” at the AUA 2021 Annual Meeting. Maya Hastie, MD, from Columbia University Medical Center, led a panel of established women leaders in anesthesiology including Jeanine Wiener-Kronish, MD, Teresa Mulaikal, MD, and Cynthia Wong, MD. Each panelist provided wisdom for what helped them navigate challenges in their career, find guidance and passion, and advocate for other women in the field.

Maya Hastie, MD, an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, Program Director of the Adult Cardiothoracic Anesthesia Fellowship and the Co-Director for the Faculty Development and Career Advancement Program at Columbia University Medical Center, introduced the first speaker Jeanine Wiener-Kronish, MD, Isaiah Dorr Distinguished Professor of Research and Teaching in Anaesthetics and Anaesthesia, at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Wiener-Kronish started by emphasizing the importance of mentorship and sponsorship in her career. She elaborated that a diverse team of mentors and sponsors to help address and promote different aspects of a mentee’s career is incredibly beneficial, as it was for her in her career. Additionally, learning from trainees and residents throughout your career is crucial. She went on to discuss the role and importance of behavior to an individual’s success. Behaviors that demonstrate trustworthiness, dependability and competence are key, and she emphasized that being effective is the goal. It’s not always about being “right” in a given situation and generosity cannot be understated, she emphasized. Additionally, behaviors and reactions are stressed by working with people that are difficult to interact with, but it is important to learn how to effectively engage with these individuals or groups because these interactions are unavoidable. It is also key to accept criticism and learn from it. Dr. Wiener-Kronish emphasized that it is never acceptable to make racist remarks, be culturally insensitive, commit sexual harassment, touch others without an invitation, or make disrespectful, demeaning belittling or mean-spirited comments. She also discussed the pitfalls of social media and emphasized that work information or patient information should never be shared on social media. Dr. Wiener-Kronish closed with some suggestions for success including maintenance of a balanced life with a focus on care of yourself, to have residents, fellows and other faculty remember you as helpful and supportive, to enjoy work and lastly, to never lose sight of the goal of helping to improve patient care and outcomes.

Teresa Mulaikal, MD, Associate Professor of Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine and the Core Residency Program Director at Columbia University Medical Center, was the next panelist and presented a talk entitled, “When to Say Yes.” She started by emphasizing that it is very important to know when to make the most of an opportunity, especially as an early-career faculty. First, establish your own vision and goals and work towards those goals. She recommended that you not be discouraged if you get turned down when you ask for what you want. Take any constructive feedback and apply it in a goal-oriented way to increase your experience. It is important to avoid being short-sighted; even those opportunities without immediate prestige or a title can be invaluable experiences to help prepare for other future roles. Additionally, aligning your goals with the needs of others can be incredibly helpful both in advancing your career and communicating your value. It is also important to return favors to those who helped you in the past. Dr. Mulaikal reminded the group that your actions and behaviors inspire the next generation of anesthesiologists as well. She closed with emphasizing how it is important to say, “yes” to yourself, your family and friends to preserve boundaries and maintain yourself outside of work, and that agreeing to something now, does not mean, “yes” forever and that your roles and involvement in various projects may change over time. You’re allowed to change your mind, she reminded.

Cynthia Wong, MD, Chair and Department Executive Officer and Professor of Anesthesia – Obstetrical Anesthesia at the University of Iowa and the final panelist, focused on how to advocate for yourself. Her first tip was to make yourself noticed by identifying and filling clinical, research or education gaps. This inspires leadership to view you as a team player and articulates your value by demonstrating how you can help address an issue. She also suggested aligning your education and research goals with your clinical goals to concomitantly and efficiently pursue your goals in a variety of realms. Additionally, a balance of too much or too little advocacy is key and advocating for yourself is not a one-time event but more of a continuous effort. You can advocate for yourself by advocating for others, such as residents, other faculty or your patients, as this demonstrates teamwork and a focus on the group rather than just yourself, Dr. Wong explained. Earning respect and attaining leadership roles is a challenge, which requires incremental work over time. You can inspire future support by finding a way for your mentors to help you while you help them. Most importantly, Dr. Wong closed with emphasizing how contributing to a team is crucial as we cannot get anything accomplished alone.

The panelists’ excellent talks were followed by an engaging discussion. The presenters and attendees discussed a wide range of topics from finding your passion to how to work through tasks you dread, to how to handle transitioning chairs in your department, to evolving roles in your career, sharing stories and advice for each subject.

The role of working as a team and as a researcher and contributing to your clinical colleagues is incredibly important and helps articulate value to the department. The importance of understanding your immediate and long-term goals is vital, especially when trying to prioritize projects or work to ensure that progress is made.

Imposter syndrome was also discussed, and the panelists stated that the key to help address this is to find kind, supportive people to serve as mentors and sponsors who will help promote you and your goals and provide you strategic advice.

The panelists also elaborated on how young faculty can best articulate their vision. They suggested meeting with your chair to start discussing your goals and vision early on to ensure that you’re progressing your career beyond daily care of patients. Establishing clear major and minor goals is key to make tangible progress and discussing these goals with your mentors is a great way to learn more about other individuals inside and outside of your department that have overlapping goals.

Advising to not see a change in chair in your department as a downside but as an opportunity, the panelists explained that most should expect to have multiple chairs in their career. A new chair comes with a different leadership style and often that opens up opportunities that didn’t exist under the previous chair.

Continuing to read and learn more about leadership and teamwork is extremely helpful to acquire skills needed for career development. Some of the recommended resources provided by the group included:

When faced with tasks you dread, they recommended turning to experts for advice and guidance, helping you work through difficult or challenging situations. They emphasized the importance of preparation and consultation with experts prior to engaging with people or groups in a tough situation. Mentees should keep seeking mentors as their goals or trajectories change over time to best prepare themselves and provide support for their careers.