Women in Anesthesia: Developing the next generation of leaders

  • Saffary, Roya, MD
| Nov 21, 2016

Saffary In a time when women chair many academic and private  anesthesiology departments, it may be arguable whether a  committee on women in anesthesia is necessary to provide  resources for career development and leadership opportunities.

However, recent figures on ASA leadership positions make it very clear that there is still significant work to be done in our own national organization. Only four percent of ASA Directors (two out of 50), 12 percent of Alternate Directors, and 26 percent of committee chairs are women, indicating that the gender gap, while smaller, is still significant.

The first official meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Women in Anesthesia took place at this year’s ASA annual meeting in Chicago. Preceding the meeting, a panel of four highly accomplished female anesthesiologists convened to discuss their views on leadership, and how to become involved as a young anesthesiologist starting out in a career.

The panelists included:

  • Linda Hertzberg, MD, a past President of the CSA, and the chair of the new Ad Hoc Committee on Women in Anesthesia

  • Patricia Kapur, MD, past Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at UCLA

  • Asha Padmanabhan, MD, Chief of the Department of Anesthesiology at Plantation General Hospital, in Boca Raton, Florida

  • Jane Fitch, MD, past President of the ASA, and Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

panelThroughout the discussion, the panelists emphasized that “showing up is half the battle.” They explained that your mere presence at the table and interest in a subject will often lead to new opportunities. Therefore, a good start for interested individuals is to identify committees within their own department or hospital and attend meetings. The same is true at state component anesthesia societies, where involvement at the local level can lead to committee membership and other opportunities at the national level in the ASA.

However, while showing up will open the door, the panelists stressed that “working hard” and networking are essential to ensure longevity and advancement. As Dr. Kapur stated, “Everything that you do that solves problems will build social capital,” and will be beneficial when new opportunities arise. As part of networking, all four panelists advised the audience to identify mentors and sponsors early on, and seek their support.

                                 Linda_Hertzberg                            kapur_patricia

                                  Linda Hertzberg, MD and Patricia Kapur, MD 

Once in a leadership position, Dr. Kapur stressed that building a team of people “that are smart, and smarter than you” is essential. Other important points are to give credit and share credit with the team, not to tackle all problems at once, and to ensure that the key stakeholders are supporting you.

Dr. Fitch emphasized that involvement does not have to be limited to one’s department or hospital. She encouraged interested individuals to look beyond regional contribution and participate on a state or even national level. In addition, Dr. Fitch listed the AMA and medical boards within each state as great opportunities to represent one’s specialty.

However, with all these opportunities before us, Dr. Padmanabhan remarked that young anesthesiologists are bound to ask, “Why add one more responsibility to my plate? What is that going to do for me?” Starting out in practice, they are often faced with long clinical hours and busy schedules.

Her response is simple: “If we don't sit at the table, we don’t affect the changes that will affect our lives.” This is particularly important in a time when healthcare is undergoing dramatic transformation that is likely to have significant effects on our specialty.

Although in some respects the glass ceiling has been broken, a committee on women in anesthesia is important. Its mission is to encourage women to become involved, and support their efforts so that our interests are represented.

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  1. asylwest@shaw.ca | Jan 25, 2017
    I still believe that Women in Acute Medical specialties such as Surgery and Anesthesia have challenges that are unique for working mothers. The operating room structure was set up by men, during the Madmen era, to benefit them. I have been an anesthesiologist for over 20 years, and the challenges of being a competent clinician, contributing to my department, and trying to raise a family, can leave a person completely exhausted and unfulfilled. I shared my story (along with the stories of my female surgical colleagues) in a book called Something's Gotta Give. The Art of Balancing Medical Career, Teenagers and Relationships Without Prozac. Available on Amazon by Anna Sylwestrowicz MD

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