This week, we’re thrilled to feature Dr. Michelle Lall, who is the current President of AWAEM, Associate Residency Director and Associate Professor at Emory. We talk about how critical AWAEM has been to sponsorship, and how— 10 years ago, she wouldn’t have called herself a feminist, and what changed her mind.
So tell us about your current position, both your institution and within AWAEM.
Michelle Lall: It’s been amazing. I think the thing that I have loved the most is getting to know a whole bunch of new people who are really active and involved in the academy. It’s been really amazing over my, I think about eight years of involvement with AWAEM to see kind of the initial founding mothers transition out and watch so many new and excited clinicians come in and be stellar academicians and representatives of the AWAEM where they are.
What prompted you to get involved in AWAEM?
Michelle Lall: Dr Gloria Kuhn. So she’s one of our past presidents and she actually was my small group teacher for physical diagnosis as a medical student. I remember being an offer then, and then, I didn’t see her for a few years. I went away for residency and then, I ultimately returned back to Detroit where Gloria was faculty, to be faculty along side her. I don’t know. I’ve been back maybe a year or so and she had these brochures for AWAEM and she invited all the junior women faculty to go out to dinner with her. She told us all about it and I was like, “I’m sold.” I was like, “What do you need me to do, Gloria?” So I started as the chair of a taskforce to bring in resident and medical student members and have just continued on since then.
How has AWAEM evolved since then?
Michelle Lall: Oh, wow. We have grown so much. When we first started, we had a fair number of members, but our membership has grown tremendously. We’re starting to actually make strides in the medical literature with publications, which are so important to what we do. We’ve also had a huge growth in our awards and scholarship program and I’m really excited with how much that’s growing this year in particular with this push for 10 scholarships and awards for 10 years of AWAEM.
Tell me more about how AWAEM has affected careers of women in emergency medicine?
Michelle Lall: I think two, probably the biggest impact has been in not only mentorship of one another, but sponsorship. To have somebody who is far senior to you that you look up to say, “You are ready for this. I want you to apply for this and almost tell you that you’re going to do it.” It’s not really an option and realizing how to value yourself and your contribution, I think is one of the biggest things we can provide to our members.
Michelle Lall: I think in terms of more tangible things, we publish our quarter newsletter to help women in the academy just know what we’re doing. Sometimes reading a column written by someone else, it just really resonates, and you’re like, “I’ve been there.” We’ve had huge, huge growth in our wellness committee and I think that we all recognize that burnout is plating medicine and then, when we know women are more affected by burnout than men. I think we’re working really proactively to try to mitigate burnout as much as we can.
How has your involvement in AWAEM affected your own career?
Michelle Lall: I think it’s been a huge accomplishment. I think it was part of the feather in the cap. It helped me get promoted in my institution. So I was recently promoted from assistant to associate professor.
Michelle Lin: Congratulations.
Michelle Lall: Thank you. Which anyone, who’s ever gone through the promotion process knows it is no small feat. But my mentor, he was looking at me and he’s like, “What do you mean you’re not sure if you’ll get it?” He’s like, “You are the President of national organization. How could they say no?” It was sort of hearing somebody say it back to me that I really begun to realize the impact, that being able to be in this position truly has. Not only for myself, but for others and trying to grow the web of AWAEM and spread ourselves further across the country.
What was your perception of how leadership in a gender-based organization was perceived with regards, to advancement?
Michelle Lall: I think when I started, I sort of felt like it was just another committee on the list and that it wasn’t any higher value than anything else. But I think now, with so much in the lay press with the “Me Too” Movement and the kind of shining of the light on gender bias that still really exists in pretty much every industry at very high-levels. I think I’ve really grown to appreciate the importance of this position and of this group and this network and what we can do when we work together.
What motivated you to pursue the President role within AWAEM?
Michelle Lall: I think that I truly wanted to give back to the group. This group and many women who were a part of it and really instrumental for me, gave me the courage over five years ago, to leave a job that I wasn’t happy in and to transition. I’ve been offered several other, pretty prestigious job offers. They have been my sounding board and have said, “You are trying to talk yourself into this. Just stop. Just say no. It’s okay.” I think that I wanted to give back to the organization. These are women that I’ve looked up to for a long time and still do and I hope to be that for the next generation. That three years from now, if you have some kind of question and you don’t feel like you have a reasonable sounding board, that you know you can call me. Or that we’re here at ACEP and we can have a coffee and we can talk about it.
How will AWAEM evolve to better meet the professional needs of women in academic medicine over the next 10 years?
Michelle Lall: I mean, I think we’re already making strides to get there. I think some of our new initiatives for this year, including developing the letter writer to bureau will really help to propel women, truly to the next level in academia. With this project, we are collection associate and full professors across the country who are willing to write external letters of support for women going up for promotion in their own institution. And I think we all know that as women, we don’t like to ask for things. Science will tell us that we won’t ask until we are 80 to 85% ready. Whereas, men will as when they are about 40% ready. So I think it’s critically important that we develop this group of people that our members can reach out to and it may be in the pre promotions process to just say, “Hey, if I send you my stuff, will you just look and really tell me if you think I’m ready?” In my many institutions, who’s ready or not is chair driven promotion, but there are places where it can be individually driven and I think it’s important for those women to have an outside person look at their portfolio and say, “Yes, you are ready.” And help give them that confidence to promote themselves with their chair to go up for promotion.
I think in addition to that, as an off-shoot, we’ve talking about creating a repository or personal statements or statements of intent, whether it be for a jo- … a certain position at a new job. A position in leadership or even, a portion of what goes into your promotions portfolio, so that women can see strong examples written by other women. Because we tend to use adjectives that are not as strong as adjectives that men tend to use when they write. I think it’s important for people to have mentorship, even if it’s from a far. Even if it’s from our website, but just a tool kit and a repository for how to take care of these documents and write these documents that you don’t really know how to do and maybe get a skeleton outline from your institution about what they require.
Anything else I haven’t asked, specifically about AWAEM that you would like to share?
Michelle Lall: I think when I was at that dinner with Gloria Kuhn, and she said AWAEM will be your family. I mean, I sort of believed her. She’s my grandma Gloria, but I just thought to myself, “Well, I’ve heard things like this before.” Like that this organization’s really going to help me and I put in, in, in and maybe don’t get out as much as I thought. But this, I can truly say is an organization where I have put in a lot, but I have gotten out so much more and it has paid me back in spades.
In a broader sense, how has gender affected your career development?
Michelle Lall: I definitely think, when I finished residency, I was a chief resident. I was moving to an area of the country where it’s kind of hard to recruit people from the outside and I was highly recruited. I made one phone call and I had three different department chairs call me within 48 hours to offer me interviews for jobs. I think I had on blinders. I thought to myself, “Okay, like there is no … There’s no gender issue.” I’m being sought after and recruited. This is what it’s supposed to look like. Then, I kind of had a rude awakening in my first practice group, where there just were some things that were truly antiquated. Rather than being a leader and pushing things forward to make things more equitable for women, the group was really opposed.
I think that was the first time in my life, where I really felt like me gender was affecting my ability to do my work and be compensated fairly for it. That was when my AWAEM family took me under their wings and really opened my eyes to some of, the other things that I have sort of brushed off as not being a big deal and really emphasize that they were a big deal and sort of the precursor to a much larger issues that surfaced.
What do you think your proudest career accomplishment to date is?
Michelle Lall: I think being asked to be in program leadership as a truly, brand new attendee was really exciting and I’m an associate residency director still. So I’m still incredible involved in the GME community. I think becoming the President of AWAEM has been huge. I was really nervous to run and the women my senior were like, “Are you kidding? Who else is going to run? We need you to do it. We’ve been grooming you to keep moving up.” And I was like, “Oh. Okay.” I guess I didn’t realize there was so much intentionality behind it, but of course, there was. I think now, the next thing I’m most excited about is that I was nominated and selected to be an oral examiner for AWAEM, which I think is pretty cool.
What advice might you give to a younger version of yourself or perhaps an AWAEM member at an earlier stage of her career?
Michelle Lall: So I definitely got involved in AWAEM early in my career. So I would say to someone else, “Get involved.” Because what you get back truly is so much more and the people I have met, the network of people, they have been part of what has connected me to AWAEM to FemInEM, to Revive. I mean, I received a lot of speaking opportunities from things that started as something small in our AWAEM didactics and has grown into something big. Which I think is, is what is most important, and I think when you are 300 members strong, you have someone who’s been there before.
Even if you feel like you’re on this island of isolation by yourself, you’re not. I can guarantee there’s somebody who’s been there before and if it hasn’t been me, I probably know the person it’s been. I think just this network of comradery and mentorship and sponsorship is what is so important to find and hopefully, AWAEM is the place you find it.
I think to my younger self, I would tell myself to promote myself. Not to wait for somebody else to say, “Good job.” You should really tell people about this. I think I would tell myself that it’s okay to be proud of what I’ve done and to tell people what I do.
Please name three other AWAEM members that we should consider interviewing.
Michelle Lall: I think in terms of those who are more junior to myself, I would recommend Tracy Madsen, Melissa Parsons, Sarah Perman. They’re all great people to talk to. My stage, I would say Stacy Poznanski, Esther Choo, Dara Kass, Neha Raukar.
That would probably be the first that come to mind. Then, in terms of senior, there are so many phenomenal women. Of course, Gloria Coon, first and foremost. But Stephanie Abbuhl, Kathy Clem, Wendy Coates. There are just a lot of amazing people. Marna Greenberg.
Too many amazing women to name.
Any closing thoughts?
Michelle Lall: Find what you love and if it’s a little bit outside of what you anticipated, it’s okay. I love AWAEM. If you would’ve asked me 10 years ago, if I was a feminist, I probably would’ve told you no. And if you ask me that now, it would be an emphatic, “Heck yes.”
Perfect. Thanks again.
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