In 1980 women physicians represented 11.6% of all U.S. physicians. In 2003 they represented 26% of the total physician population.1 Drawing from the ranks of internal medicine and pediatrics, in which women physicians represent 41.8% and 65.6% of all residents, hospital medicine will likely reap the benefits of these increasing numbers.2 Indeed, hospital medicine appears to offer many advantages for women: an intrinsically collaborative working environment, flexible work hours, and the opportunity to participate in forming the structure for a new specialty. But do enough opportunities for advancement exist in this relatively young specialty?
The Hospitalist recently talked with women hospitalists, SHM leadership, and a researcher on gender discrimination in academic medicine. All shared their perceptions about how hospital medicine fares regarding inclusion of women—both in the ranks and in leadership positions.
A Career that Works
“As a woman hospitalist, I’ve had many opportunities to advocate for patient safety and quality being the primary guiding principle in reorganizing care,” says Lakshmi Halasyamani, MD, associate chair, Department of Internal Medicine and an academic hospitalist at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Ann Arbor, Mich. “I think as women we do juggle a lot of responsibilities, but I think those skills probably uniquely position us to be very effective in managing groups and being members and leaders of teams.”
As a mother of two young children, Dr. Halasyamani enjoys the flexibility of her current position. “I have a very busy life, but I make sure I have time to do the other parts of my life because those will never come back to me. Today, I went to my daughter’s school and helped her class with some of their math problems, and I chair a multicultural committee at her school as well.”
She finds that she brings the same type of organizational skills to both her working and family life. “Whether it’s preparing for a school assembly or preparing for a patient safety committee meeting,” explains Dr. Halasyamani, “there just isn’t time to focus on what is not important or to come unprepared. Every minute is incredibly precious.”
Like Dr. Halasyamani, Sheri Chernetsky Tejedor, MD, a clinical instructor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, has also been able to carve out a clinical and academic track that suits her present needs for family time. Under a supportive supervisor, Mark Williams, MD, FACP, professor of medicine and director, Emory Hospital Medicine Unit, and editor of the Journal of Hospital Medicine, Dr. Tejedor has worked part time as a hospitalist in a nearby community hospital; has worked in academia, including writing and research in quality improvement; and essentially has been a full-time mother when she is home. “I haven’t felt that any doors have closed, and the only ones that have closed are ones that I’ve closed myself—just accepting that I can’t do everything,” says Dr. Tejedor.
According to the AMA, 62.6% of all women physicians fall within the specialties of internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry, and anesthesiology.1 That is one reason the numbers of women in hospital medicine are also increasing, says Larry Wellikson, MD, FACP, CEO of SHM.
“Because hospitalists come from the ranks of pediatricians and internists, as those specialties attract more women, I think they will also find hospital medicine very attractive as they are looking for their career choice,” says Dr. Wellikson.
As a woman hospitalist, I’ve had every opportunity to advocate for patient safety and quality being the primary guiding principle in reorganizing care. As women we juggle a lot of responsibilities, but I think those skills uniquely position us to be effective in managing groups and being members and leaders of teams.
—Lakshmi Halasyamani, MD