As a female first-year attending, I am 100% about women’s equality in the workplace, but that’s just not everyone’s reality right now. Over the last year while working at a community hospital in rural CT, I’ve heard many unabashed, gender-biased comments from my colleagues. Though none of them targeted, it still often makes the environment seem a bit unfair. Through learning from various scenarios that have come up with me, I have the following five tips for future female physicians to achieve respect and a gain a cordial workplace environment.

  1. Err on the side of being affirmative to all suggestions without compromising on patient care. In general, as a new attending, you should already be more receptive to suggestions. However, there are times where you may feel it is more appropriate to take a different path than that suggested. Still, you should try to make the other person feel like their suggestion is well received. This sometimes takes tact…  E.g. “Let’s call this code.” “Yes, we should. Let me just check one more thing first.”
  2. Learn to recognize when people signal that they are either not convinced or uncertain of your plan and invest extra time with those colleagues, either with asking them to voice their concerns or in education. People will feel that you care about their professional judgement and that you are open to criticism, which will garner you more respect. Though it often feels exhaustive and maybe unnecessary, this extra effort will go a long way, especially for first years. Every conversation is a small step away from their feelings of uncertainty about you and your medical judgment, towards feelings confidence that you know what you’re doing.
  3. Practice having difficult interactions without 1. raising your voice, 2. becoming emotional, and 3. becoming irrational. In other words, though it may feel or may even be personal, try not to show that you’ve taken it personally. Furthermore, you should only really engage if you feel like it is extremely important to a patient’s care. How you engage in conflict will often shape the way people judge your character, so maximize every instance as a way to show your professionalism and leadership skills.
  4. Try to reach out to friends and family in healthcare and/or female colleagues at your workplace for advice when you feel stuck or support to get you through tough times. They might have insights about you or your workplace that could be helpful with moving forward in developing a trusting and respectful relationship with your colleagues. If you do not feel like you can talk to anyone you know, there are many folks in the FemInEM community that you can be connected with if you ask.
  5. If you feel like there are certain people who are central to your negative experiences, reach out to them for a conversation to 1. clear up any misconceptions about you, and/or 2. try to find common ground on which you can work together (a good one is something relevant to patient care). If nothing else, you can use this conversation to communicate that you want to better your relationship for the betterment of patient care. Letting them know you value them as a colleague is also a good thing to try to communicate. Without portraying weakness, make yourself vulnerable to them to be more relatable and perhaps help gain their empathy. E.g. “You are an extremely talented colleague, and I care what you think about my professionalism and patient care, so please let me know if you see areas for improvement.”

If all this seemed extremely obvious to you, then keep up the good work! Also, perhaps you can find other female colleagues to mentor.

Do you have any other tips? Share them in the comments section!