Taking the Leap: Forging Your Own Path as a Woman in Medicine

Theresa Sevilis, DO, writes on picking a career path in medicine as a woman, and how deciding to jump ship from a traditional path was among the best decisions she's made.

My love for the field of neurology began in my first year of medical school with neuroanatomy. The limited understanding of the intricate workings of the brain struck me as the final frontier in medicine, and I was excited for any role I could play in the discoveries that would come during my career.

As I began my journey in neurology, it became clear early on that I was destined for acute stroke care. But I fought my future right up until fellowship applications. I tried to enjoy outpatient subspecialties so I could have a subspeciality that fit in with the lifestyle I wanted for my family, but it all just came back to acute stroke care for me. Luckily, I was at a program that was developing a telestroke system, which allowed me to see the potential for an acute stroke career that allowed for better work-life balance. So, I gave in to my future and applied for a vascular fellowship with telestroke aspirations.

Like many early-career physicians, I was afraid to jump fully into this nontraditional pathway of medicine, so I started my career with telestroke in the academic setting. It did not take long for me to realize that the standard hierarchy of medicine was not designed for women (or any parent) that views their family and career as equal. I saw my future in my female colleagues, and I knew it was not the future I wanted for myself or my family. I had to make some extremely difficult and scary decisions. Would I sacrifice my baby years for my career, or my career for years with my babies? Not a decision anyone should have to make, but an all too common one. For me, the answer was neither. I would put my babies first and pick a path that allowed me those very precious years with them but also allow me to continue to grow in my career. I decided to jump ship from a traditional medical career path and still believe this is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I was fortunate that while searching for the right option, I came across a telestroke company that allowed me to find not only the work-life balance I was after but continue to reach my professional goals. I was able to provide high-quality care for acute stroke patients across the country who otherwise would have limited access to care. In addition to direct patient care, I was also able to work with individual programs on developing and improving their stroke programs. But, the icing on the cake was that I did not have to leave teaching and research behind either. I have helped to develop a national program for residents and physician education. The relationships built with hospitals across the country not only provide neurology education opportunities but have provided a large network for research. This network allows for large-scale research studies that can be done by only a few others. I have found my place and my balance.

I encourage all female neurologists to stop and think about what they want, not what options have been laid out for them. Look beyond the academic vs private practice mindsets that are typically presented to you. These models were designed around an outdated patriarchy. We need to start creating our own models that allow for more work-life balance for all physicians, regardless of gender. So do not be afraid to take that scary leap out of a system that was not built for us and forge your own path.

This piece was put together in partnership with the Women Neurologists Group. For more information about WNG, check out their Twitter account, @WNGtweets.