September is Women in Medicine Month. We are pleased to share the stories of some of our female physicians.
Our last feature of the month is Dr. Katrina Brown Briggs. She is a board-certified anesthesiologist at Three Gables Surgery Center, St. Mary's, and Cabell Huntington Hospital. She is a MUSOM graduate, Class of 1992.
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?
Two female physicians really stand out in my mind as having influenced me. Dr. Mary Wiss was a female surgeon in my hometown of Pikeville, KY. Dr. Wiss was the first female surgeon in our community when I was growing up. I shadowed her in high school. I think her passion for medicine was truly an inspiration to me. She inspired me to believe that I could do anything in medicine that I set my mind to. As a matter fact when she learned I was accepted to medical school, she gave me her original alligator doctor's bag that she carried to make house calls, signifying to me that she believed in me and supported my goals. Dr. Wiss devoted her life to carrying for people from eastern Kentucky.
Dr. Indira Malempati is an obstetrician/gynecologist, who also practiced in my hometown. I was fortunate enough to see her not only in a professional light, but also as a mother and wife, as I grew up spending sleepover nights in her home with her daughter. Dr. Indira showed me that as a woman, I could be a great doctor, spouse and mother, because she exemplified all three.
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?
Deciding on anesthesiology as a career path at the time I did, there were not many female physicians that worked alongside me in the OR arena. Navigating the OR waters can be treacherous at times, and female physicians are often stereotyped into either being a “she-devil” or a “cry-baby." I learned quickly in order to be taken seriously and professionally, there is a fine line I walk. Very often, patients assume I’m a nurse because I am female, even though I introduced myself as “Dr.” and my hospital badge says “Dr."
I think the #medbikini movement brought to the forefront that there are some gender biases in medicine. I honestly feel as though these gender biases are placed on both males and females. So often, my male nurse colleagues have faced them as well. My hope is that this movement sheds light on those biases and makes society realize it doesn’t matter what gender you are; you can be an amazing professional in medicine, and also have a life outside of medicine as a spouse, parent, friend.
…And maybe, just maybe, your child will possess the same passion of caring for others.
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?
As the old adage says, "parenting is both the most rewarding job in the world and the most challenging one." I think medical training and practice make this role even more challenging. My advice is there is no right or wrong time in your medical training or career to have a child, however, having a support system is key. Also like the adage says, it takes a village to raise a child. Choosing a caregiver that loves your child and cares for them when you are meeting the demands of your medical career is paramount. In addition, quality time with your children is essential and beats quantity. I’ve been blessed to be able to juggle call and work schedules in order to be there to do things like be “homeroom mom”, be there for choir and orchestra concerts, and be there for dances. Most people will tell you that you must find work/life balance. In my opinion, this is truly a misnomer and a unicorn, because life happens and it’s not always in “balance”, but if you live each day doing your best and living by example, your children will see it. They will see your passion and learn that you can be both a good mom and a good doctor. And others will see it as well, but in reality, other's judgments do not really matter. What is most important is what your children see.
What advice would you give to a young woman pursuing a career in medicine?
First, be kind to yourself. Take care of your physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. I think this sometimes is hard for those of us that are caregivers. But, in order to take the best care of others, you must take care of yourself. Second, be kind to each other. Medical training can instill some egotistical and cut-throat behaviors. Lose them if you possess them. Providing the best care to patients takes collaboration and respect for each other’s disciplines. Lastly, never forget why you chose medicine. There is no higher honor than to have another person bestow trust upon you to care for them or their loved ones. Remind yourself of this daily.
Date Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2021