Today, we speak with Dr Melissa Parsons, an Assistant Professor at University of Florida, about getting involved in AWAEM early and how she turned lemons into lemonade by transforming her personal journey with infertility into a career niche. Please note, this interview was recorded prior to FIX18 and includes excited references to that conference!

M. Lin:                          Tell me a little bit about where you are right now in your career.

M. Parsons:                  I would be considered early career, in my fourth year of residency. I’m currently serving as the assistant residency director at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Florida. Then in addition to that, I previously served as assistant medical director of a community emergency department.

                                    I initially went and worked at our community center and took over as the assistant medical director there and then slowly transitioned back into a more academic role. I took over as assistant program director. At one point, I was wearing both hats, and now have turned over to being full-time assistant program director.

M. Lin:                          What motivated you to get involved with AWAEM initially?

M. Parsons:                  Michelle Lall really reached out to me and kind of pulled me in, roped me in to getting involved in the wellness committee last year. I started last year as just a member of the wellness committee. I started writing a little bit and really kind of got involved that way and then took over as one of the two chairs of the wellness committee this year.

M. Lin:                          How would you say that AWAEM has affected your career?

M. Parsons:                  Absolutely. You know, I think first of all, having a group of women as a whole, that you’re surrounded with and able to network with, has certainly kind of helped some of the things I’ve seen in my own career, that I found out were pretty normal across many women in emergency medicine. In addition to that, it gave me opportunities.  I was able to kind of share interests with people, then I got tagged for those things. So, in the last two months, I think I’ve been tagged for three to five AWAEM didactics for next year’s SAEM, just because people knew what my interests were and wanted to pull me in on them. That really is the kind of the thing that AWAEM has brought to me – this other group of people that were happy to kind of help promote my career in different ways.

M. Lin:                          What motivated you to seek a leadership position?

M. Parsons:                  I knew that Jeanette Wolfe , who was previously the Chair for the wellness committee, wanted to step down and was looking for somebody to take over. We always talk about how women don’t ask, that women don’t really volunteer themselves or step up. They think that kind of hold themselves back until they are sure that they are ready. She asked and I said, “Oh sure, I’ll do it.” I had no idea what it entailed or if that was a good choice, but it was kind of my niche of wellness and women in medicine, and it seemed like it made sense for me to tackle it.

M. Lin:                          How has leadership in women’s professional organizations impacted your opportunities for promotion?

M. Parsons:                  I think between my involvement with AWAEM and speaking at FIX this year has certainly become a niche. My FIX talk is actually on infertility in female physicians, so that’s kind of niched about them that is leading to research. It will hopefully help me in promotion in the future. Then I think the other way is that seeing how much women-focused groups, research, networking we do have. I really realized that there was a time for those of us once we kind of get out into practice but I didn’t see as much geared towards the younger generations, towards our med students and towards our residents and really outreach there. So actually one of our other AWAEM members, and I created, which is a group that is specifically trying to reach out to med students.

M. Lin:                          That’s really great. Can you describe a particular experience that now helps you really reach out to that younger co-part?

M. Parsons:                  Sure. I think for me, the biggest thing was once I infertility, that’s kind of become my niche, but I realized that, you know, coming right out of residency, and 31, being potentially too late for me, really speaking to that younger generation about how they may not want to wait, that may not be best time. That really was what kind of pushed me towards outreach to that younger group. I mean, how do we share, you know, the things that we learn and we’ve talked about now as faculty with the women that our community hand us so that they don’t have to wait until they become faculty to figure it out.

M. Lin:                          How do you anticipate the professional needs of women in academic emergency medicine will change in the next 10 years?

M. Parsons:                  That’s a really good question. I think that we’ve kind of already done a pretty good job of saying we have a problem and identifying, “Hey, there’s something different for us”, and starting the conversation. I think now the big push and hopefully the big push in the next 10 years will be how do we get more data so that we can create better policies? We’ve started doing that and it’s been super refreshing to see but I think continuing to really try to get data numbers research that will help us advance our career but will also help us to be able to say this isn’t just something worth talking about but this is something we can really prove and show what we do from here to create a change.

M. Lin:                          Can you describe a way that you recall gender has affected your career development?

M. Parsons:                  Sure. I remember as a resident really getting community-mixed signals as far as how I was always very outspoken and I was always pretty comfortable in my own skin and so of part of being overly confident, overly aggressive, overly assertive – I’d been getting that feedback from some of my faculty and then, on the other hand, getting pushed to make a decision because when I didn’t want to say, “Oh I’m sure it’s this.” I really got a lot of push back. Well, what do you want to do? But then I also realized that with my nursing staff, I had to go out of my way to kind of play nice, in ways that I didn’t see as mine.

                                    So actually as an intern, my program director nicknamed me the pelvic princess, because I think I did more pelvic exams than anybody, but also cleaned the pelvic room, because we had a specific room at that time, like every single time that I used it, whereas a lot of the males weren’t ever having to do that. Somebody was just cleaning it for them. I was impatient maybe, but it was just something where I started to notice how I was having to do things a little bit differently than some of my colleagues, to make sure that the nurses were my friends and wanted to help me to take care of the patient.

M. Lin:                          What career accomplishment, thus far, or accomplishments, would you say that you’re most proud of, and I’m sure you have much more to go, but you’ve clearly accomplished a lot so far?

M. Parsons:                  I think right now with FIX coming up in the next two weeks, really been kind of developing my talk for that. Getting through my talk will really be the most refreshing, or the biggest award I suppose. But I think that having this, creating this opportunity of something in my life and creating opportunity to talk about it and hopefully to get some research and be able to actually kind of push that agenda a little bit. That’s kind of been my biggest success so far.

M. Lin:                          What advice would you give a younger version of yourself or an AWAEM member at an earlier stage of her career?

M. Parsons:                  Together, we’ve gotten both there, instead of having to be kind of worked into a position. But really, just going out of my way to say, “Hey, how do I get involved from day one? Instead of waiting two or three years and then kind of feeling like I had to be ready instead of somebody saying, “Hey, you’re going to sign up and you’re going to do this job.”

M. Lin:                          Name three other AWAEM members who you think we should interview for this. Maybe one around your stage, one who’s more junior, and one who’s more senior. If they’re all the same level, that’s okay too. 

M. Parsons:                  Absolutely. So Michelle Lall would be my first choice. She’s our president. I’m assuming you guys have your own priority, but she definitely is the one who kind of pulled me in. Lexie Mannix is also on an AWAEM committee, and is my co-creator for She’s awesome. She’s early career. She is in her first year out of fellowship and is already doing awesome things. Then Maria O’Rourke, who’s my wellness co-chair.

Listen to the complete podcast here.