September is Women in Medicine Month. We are pleased to share the stories of some of our female physicians.
Dr. Mary Payne is our next feature. She is board-certified in Pediatric Neurology.
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?
My female (and really only) mentor is Dr. Ann Tilton. She is the chairman of the pediatric neurology department at LSU, where I went to medical school and completed my pediatric neurology fellowship. I met her as a medical student when I was interested in pediatric neurology, and she helped me with patient cases for articles we ultimately published. During fellowship, I identified her as the physician I wanted to be most like. Her patients adored her, and she had a special gift of making the patient feel important during the encounter. Whether it was a quick follow up visit or longer encounter, the patient and family knew they were her only priority at the time. Likewise, as fellows, we knew we could always ask her questions about professional or personal issues, and she was available for guidance. I finished my fellowship almost 14 years ago, and I still reach out to her with professional guidance. In addition to her outstanding professional performance, she is a loving mother of 4 children. As a fellow, my children were young, so I was in awe when her children, then teenagers, called her throughout the day for whatever they needed. I thought, "wow, even though she is at work, her children know that she is always there for them and is never too busy for them." So, this theme carried over with how she related to patients, her fellows, and her children! We all loved her and knew she was devoted to us!
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?
I have many pictures of myself in bikinis on social media. I am proud of my body! I’ve birthed 7 children (2 sets of twins), stay active, take good care of myself. I have no reason to be ashamed of my body, and I don’t see the pictures as being unprofessional. I believe that patients realize we have lives outside of work, too, and I’m going to be free to share who I am on my personal social media accounts. I don’t know if women are necessarily held to a different standard than men on social media— it may be more of the difference of how our bathing suits are skimpy and most men wear big long swim trunks. If men all wore Speedos there might have been a different outcry. Now, if I showed up to work wearing a bikini…
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?
Oh, definitely. We doctor moms live this every day. I actually find society more of an encouragement than my own colleagues. Outside of work, I hear comments like, "how do you do it all?" or "thank you for all you do." Meanwhile, within the medical community, I’ve had situations where I was late because of an upset child, or late to early conferences because I had to take my kids to school, etc. And often those most annoyed are the ones you would least expect! But, I am very grateful to have a chairman who allows me to have a flexible schedule, so I can work around my children’s needs. It is definitely possible to be a good parent and a good doctor! Schedule flexibility is key. And my children understand that I may not make every activity, but most parents don’t anyway! I also think it’s important that my children know I enjoy my work. Even though I miss them during the day, they see that I am excited about what I do. I really think this helps them understand why mom isn’t always home. Also, professionally, I am not going to be able to attend every function. There has to be a balance, and I understand I must pick and choose.
I am not sure how to advise to best navigate wrongful judgements. Judgement can come from a female coworker or even someone else with children. To me, I just know that people will judge or criticize others for really anything, and if I am judged because of how I balance parenting and doctoring, so be it. But, I will say to other doctor moms, if you have a work environment that does not accommodate somewhat to your children, then it’s probably best you work somewhere else! We have many job opportunities these days, and I see more and more female physicians leaving traditional medicine for other alternative work environments.
What advice would you give to a young woman pursuing a career in medicine?
My advice is: do what you love! Do what interests you! But, also think long term. Don’t take a short route now if you think you won’t be happy long term. Definitely invest in your future - which usually means don’t be afraid of long training programs, or having to relocate for a specific training program. Also, surround yourself with supportive people. My first set of twins were born at the end of my 4th year. So for me, the supportive people in my life were my nanny and my training program attendings. Also, don’t be hard on yourself. Others aren’t always honest about their own stress levels or inadequacies. So I guarantee if you feel a certain way, others do too. There were so many times in medical school and residency I wanted to quit and didn’t think all the stress was worth it. I remember as an intern crying in the mornings on my way to work because I wouldn’t see my children for 2 days. But, I took it one minute, one day, one week at a time and training was complete. I am so glad I am a female physician. As female physicians, we have a unique skill set and advantage that other women and moms don‘t have. Embrace your strengths and interests—- your patients will respect you for being confident and compassionate!
Date Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2021