“Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.”
I saw that quote on my favorite Facebook group recently, called Physician Moms Group (or PMG). This is a group of women who, like all of us, are just trying to “do” life every day. Because of our integrity and intellect, we are trying to do it better than anyone else. I think that’s from a Type A personality, combined with leadership and wanting to be perfect at absolutely everything. Make sure the kids are happy, our finances are in order, our trip to Disney World is fun, the house is clean, the co-workers aren’t mad we’re on maternity leave, ensure we are the go-to specialist, the spouse feels loved, and the list goes on. But don’t let any one of these Jenga pieces fall!
As women in medicine, and especially as women in surgery, our formidable years in training teach us how to be strong and courageous. For some reason, we occasionally feel as if we should lose parts of ourselves. That maybe, we lose our soft approach to speaking with families. Or that we should be brash in the trauma bay to make people to listen to us. Maybe it is that we feel obligated to look on new interns with disgust when they say a wrong answer. Perhaps, we feel we should only dress in the frumpiest (yes, that’s a word) of clothes in order to not draw attention to anything besides our intellect. Do not ever cry! Do not wear cute shoes! Do not let “them” see you cower!
But since when did being beautiful, and being a woman, and being all the beautiful things about being a woman, become a bad thing? Since when did things like kindness, and generosity, and the ability to multitask like a boss, become perceived as less important attributes of our profession? I think if we consider the mentors that have come before us, the ones that we truly respect and admire, they are all of these attractive qualities, and they are phenomenal surgeons.
There is a trauma/acute care woman surgeon at a community teaching hospital. During a trauma activation with a teenager whose Glasgow Coma Scale is rapidly deteriorating as fast as his blood pressure is, she is calm, cool, and collected while she firmly but kindly tells everyone in the room what to do. And we listen. The next day, she does a robotic case in the operating room in the morning, and then takes her boys to the zoo in the afternoon, regardless of the talk that may happen as she walks out of the hospital. She tells me, “This is the perfect kind of day.” And I listen.
The hard, complex cases and the hard, crashing traumas? No doubt we can do those hard things. But the mean co-workers? The eye-rolling staff? The judging administration? The sometimes annoyed-with-us family at home? We can do that, too. And we can do it with kindness, and with joy. We can do it with a woman’s touch, together. Because beautiful girl, you can do hard things.
Brittany Bankhead-Kendall is a general surgery resident. This article originally appeared in the Association of Women Surgeons blog.
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