10 Rules for Brilliant Women in Healthcare

I recently encountered a great blog post entitled “10 rules for Brilliant Women” by Tara Sophia Mohr. This list is so applicable to women in general the world over that I felt compelled to tweet about it and share it with the many brilliant women that I am fortunate to have reading my blog.

As physician, I thought it would be interesting to see how this empowering and insightful list would apply specifically to women in health care. I shared it with some of my female colleagues (other doctors, nurses and technicians) to get their take on how this list would apply to us and here is what we came up with….You will note that so many brilliant women in all fields of medicine, business, fine arts and media have similar concerns and a similar inability to realize and appreciate their brilliance. So you will notice only subtle differences in the list specific to the health care profession.


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10 Rules for Brilliant Women in Healthcare

A doctor establishing trust with her patient 1) Make a pact – In so many careers we can get so busy that we don’t take the time to really build the life we want. Make sure you are taking time for yourself and striving to be the best YOU you can be.

In medicine, we are often dealing with a stress filled life and death situations. The nurses are on the front lines day in and day out dealing with many of the physical and emotional aspects of patient care. The doctors have the stress of making decisions that impact the care, well being and lives of our patients.

When we go into medicine we make a pact to do the best we can for our patients. We must also make a pact to do the best we can for ourselves. It is the old oxygen in the airplane scenario. When the oxygen mask comes put your mask on before trying to assist others. If you are not making a pact to take good care of yourself how can you possibly have the energy to take care of your patients?

2) Imagine it – Remember why you did this to begin with and never lose sight of your dreams. What really matters to you? What resonates in your soul? Maybe you love helping people, but your specific job is too draining for you. In medicine we are often dealing with emotionally charged situations. Try to find a way to tailor your schedule to follow the dreams you have for your life and your career.

3) Gasp – Start doing the things that take your breath away. I think if we all made sure that in every week of our lives there was some encounter or event that truly amazed us and took our breath away it would recharge us to face the challenges of any job. Seek out these experiences, people and events.

4) Get a Thick Skin – For success in any profession it is imperative that you listen to your own voice. As women in medicine (considered to traditionally be the “old boys club”) this can become even more important. There are people that may not agree with the career path you have chosen but what matters is that it is right for you. There will always be naysayers to discourage you from any endeavor. Do not ever let someone else derail your dreams and ambitions. Follow your heart.

5) Be an Arrogant Idiot – This seems like an odd item for this list but Tara is encouraging us to be a bit bolder and confident in your actions. We all spend so much of our early years searching for the validation of others. As we mature and become more self assured we hope that this need to please diminishes.

I read an interesting study out of the Harvard that looked at how many more men in the professional schools like medicine would ask questions than women. It seems that if men have an idea they voice it, if women have an idea we play it out in our brains over and over again, afraid to say it for fear that we may look stupid. Usually we wait so long someone else (usually a man) brings up the point or asks the question and it is received very positively. Don’t over analyze. It is important to put yourself out there and take a risk for what you want and what you believe in.

6) Question the voice that says “I’m not ready yet” – If we wait to be 100% sure before we make a move we will never do anything. It is very important especially in the medical field to be competent and knowledgeable. Yet if you have trained and studied hard, at some point, even if your knees are knocking, you have to take the plunge and actually do it.

I will never forget all the times during my internship year when I had to take a deep breath, approach with confidence and get in there and do something. There were times when I was the only one there to help. One such instance was on the maternity ward when I had to deliver an undiagnosed breech baby all on my own. The obstetrician was in the OR doing a stat C-section and the family doctor had not arrived yet. I was it. And all I could remember in my mind was the diagram from the text book with a bold caption underneath “do not pull on the neck or head” as it slides out of the birth canal. Everything went well and I am not advocating this approach to patient care but there is no question that I had to make sure I silenced the voice in my head that said “I’m not ready yet”. As they say in the Nike ads I had to step up and “Just do it”.

7) Don’t wait for the Oscar – This point is so important. I think so many of us wait for the accolades or at least the validation before we really know we are taking the right path. In life, as well as the medical profession, you can’t always wait to be invited to the table.

You have to prepare yourself a seat and step up to the table with confidence. I remember a political issue at the society of specialists that I felt passionate about. I forced myself to go to the board meeting, speak up and volunteer myself to be on a committee to address the issue. I remember feeling so nervous and worried that I spoke up without being asked. Now I know if I waited to be asked it may not have happened and I would not have been heard. Use your voice. Approach with confidence. You have the power.

8 ) Filter Advice – Stand guard at the entrance to your mind and never let negative people or comments derail you from your dreams. Some may feel threatened if you decide to pursue a career plan that does not fit into the mould they have created for you. Maybe you want to be a Neurosurgeon when others see you as a nurse or maybe a pediatrician. Know what is right for you. Brilliant women in all careers, not just medicine must listen to the whispers of the soul and know and do what is right for them.

9) Stretch out of your comfort zone – Practice constant and never ending improvement whether in your medical career or your personal life. Feel the fear and do it anyway because on the other side of your fears lies your greatest growth.

10) Let other women know they are brilliant – This point cannot be over emphasized. The nurses are great at supporting each other and connecting. The female physicians could do a better job of this. I think it would be wonderful if we all made it our mandate to mentor another woman trying to pursue the area of medicine that we practice in. It is so important that women support other women to step into their power and impact the world.



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  • Karrie

    What a great list. #7 is so true, but you know it goes hand-in-hand with #9. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway has helped me tremendously in life. Susan Jeffers wonderful book by the same name really helped me get past the basic fears that were holding me back. Thanks so much for putting it on this terrific list.

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  • Carolyn

    Hi Karrie,

    Thanks for the feedback. I also loved Susan Jeffers book and found it life altering. So often we feel like we are not enough and we shrink from our potential. In the words of another great author Marianne Williamson “Your playing small does not serve the world.”

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  • http://www.nawhc.com Anna Garrett

    Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks for sharing this! I am a pharmacist and recently started the Nat’l Assn of Women in Health Care to help address some of the self-care challenges we face as caregivers. Creating this has brought me up against just about every point listed here, but I keep moving anyway! It’s been a terrific learning experience and so gratifying to see the results our members are getting by participating in what the association offers.

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