September is Women in Medicine Month. We are pleased to share the stories of some of our female physicians.
Dr. Kathleen O'Hanlon is our final feature for this week! She is board-certified in Family Medicine and the Clerkship Director of the Family Medicine clinical rotation here at Marshall. Her clinical interests include dermatology and primary care.
A career in medicine is a collaborative experience, and support from others is incredibly important. Was there a female mentor in your life that helped you navigate any obstacles in your medical career?
It truly “takes a village” to make a doctor. There are so many people who helped & supported me that I would be unable to adequately acknowledge them all. Most of all, my own husband was behind me 200%, and that helped to propel me along more than anything. When I matriculated through college in the late 70s & 80s, the first professors who encouraged me to consider medicine were actually male faculty at Marshall (Chemistry & Biology) — but one of the doctors who interviewed me for medical school, Joye Martin, would later become one of my faculty advisors as a family medicine resident, and was a fantastic female mentor. I found her so smart, so genuinely kind & caring to her patients, and she so believed in me that along with the support of many others, I gained the confidence I needed to have in myself.
Last year the #medbikini broke the internet when a journal article listed wearing a bikini on the beach on personal social media as unprofessional behavior. Do you feel that women are held to a different professionalism standard than men?
Looking at the big picture, I think we all have to realize that doctors are held to a higher professional standard than others, and just like women are breaking the gender barrier in all walks of life, the same thing goes in medicine. Because we are confidantes of very personal information, we are trained to care for the person before us without bias or judgement, and help patients with long range health decisions or even life or death decisions, we will be held to different standards. Although I don’t feel we should be pressured to alter our behaviors when we are with our own family members & loved ones, I think we should be cautious about exposure on social media.
For those of you that have chosen to have children, do you ever feel that society (or even fellow colleagues) attempt to dictate that it is “impossible” to be both a good doctor and a good parent? If so, how do you handle this criticism in your own personal life, and how do you propose we navigate those wrongful judgements in the future?
I am so pleased with the changes I’ve seen in medical education since my own residency in the late 80s. I find it completely acceptable now (but not then) to experience pregnancies, child birth, parenthood, and, if necessary, to train “off track” in order to have a family (which is totally age-appropriate!). I also believe that persons growing up with female physicians, or working alongside female physicians, will help this transition along as time progresses.
What advice would you give to a young woman pursuing a career in medicine?
Looking back, I truly can’t imagine another profession which would have been more challenging, would have given me a better sense of team work, or would have been more rewarding for me as a person. Although medicine has changed a lot – and you now have to become good at so many things (ie: IT, the electronic health record, the business of medicine, and scholarly endeavor which will help “pay it forward” …) the greatest joy for me remains the doctor-patient relationship, and the ability to use my knowledge to care for & advise another human being. If you can accept the hardships, medicine remains a really gratifying profession, and my advice would be “do what you feel called to do."
Date Posted: Friday, September 10, 2021