We speak with Dr. Wendy Coates, Professor Emerita at UCLA and a pioneer in emergency medicine education. She speaks about what it was like being one of the only women in emergency medicine earlier in her career, and why mentorship has been the most rewarding aspect of her career.
M Lin: Please tell us where you are right now in your career.
W Coates: Right now, I am a very proud member of AWAEM, and just so thrilled to see how it’s taken off over the last 10 years. I’m at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. My title there is that I’m a senior faculty and education specialist. I’ve dedicated my whole career to training the next generation of emergency medicine educators, and education scholars. I have a chance to focus on that, and try to advance new talent in scholarship in education.
M Lin: That’s so wonderful and important. When did you first get involved with AWAEM?
W Coates: Well, I think I first got involved in AWAEM before AWAEM existed because there was nothing like this, and as maybe some of your members have already said on their interviews, [that] they found AWAEM to be a great place to meet other people and to gain mentorship. There were many, many years where many of us felt isolated, and needed a place just like this, and there was really no place to turn unless you just knew people. We basically knew each other, and we formed our own little groups, but of course that didn’t really address the greater, much broader needs of all women in emergency medicine. We were just so excited to learn that AWAEM would be supported, and are thrilled with how it’s really developed into what it is today.
M Lin: Tell me more about how AWAEM has changed over its 10-year period.
W Coates: Well, I think in the very beginning, a lot of visionaries in the leadership of SAEM recognized that women needed different kinds of support because there was a lack of mentorship for women in academic medicine in general, not just emergency medicine. As a specialty, emergency medicine, [which] has AWAEM, has been a leader in developing things that its members need. SAEM had a great vision, and I think it was Bob Hockberger, who was instrumental in helping AWAEM get off the ground. I can say that from my institution’s perspective, he was a very supportive chair to have as a woman. It’s no surprise to me that he was one of the ones who was involved in getting this off the ground.
For my career, I would say that AWAEM has been weighed more heavily on me being a mentor for people who are coming up behind me, but as we all know, there’s so many different kinds of mentorship. The most common one is people who are younger or more junior than you. I have been so impressed and pleased to be part of the career development of so many younger and more junior [doctors] over many, many years. Also, this is an amazing group of peers, and people who are pioneers in the specialty, and people who are accomplished across many, many different areas of emergency medicine. To just be right in the mix with all those people who are willing to just sit down, and talk, and give you advice without any expectation of something in return is a wonderful thing.
M Lin: Definitely. You mentioned earlier this unmet need that AWAEM is filling. Can you compare and contrast that potentially to other women-focused organizations?
W Coates: Well, I’m not really an active member of other women-focused organizations at this point. I’ve mainly dedicated my efforts toward AWAEM, and follow a lot of the other organizations, such as FemInEM, and organizations that are really making progress. I think it’s the same idea. It’s women who are talking up other women, and just making things so good for each other, and celebrating each other’s accomplishments, and finding opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship when something comes your way, and you can’t do it or you have something that comes your way, and you think a junior person would really benefit from it. I think these are great forms to get partnerships together, and mentorship dyads, and groups together to accomplish great things.
M Lin: Can you describe any potential mentorship or sponsorship relationships you’ve developed in AWAEM that you may not otherwise have encountered?
W Coates: It’s really hard to separate AWAEM from just the fantastic friends that I’ve made through AWAEM. It’s almost impossible to draw the line. Well, did it start with AWAEM and now we go out every time we ever go to a national meeting together because now we’re just great friends or is it vice versa? I would say that that’s really one of the greatest benefits too is that there’s all these dynamic women who are leaders in such different areas within emergency medicine. You know what? We’re all just friends because we have so many more things in common. It gives us a broader view of our specialty, and just being able to sit down with somebody who invented the such-and-such, whatever that might be. You share the same issues of work-life balance. It’s nice to just realize that you’re not alone.
M Lin: How do you anticipate the professional needs of women in academic emergency medicine will change in the next 10 years?
W Coates: I’m hopeful that the work that the people of my generation have done, which has I think led to the ability of women of the up-and-coming generation, to really be out on a platform that most people listen to, will even grow more. So that we don’t need to have something that says, “Oh, well, women need to have a boost.” That we will just be perceived by all people as equal. We will be able to make the same progress in our academic lives, and in our personal, and other professional lives because we’re a person who is doing the best job, and we’re not the woman who comes in to do this job, and we’re not hired because we’re a woman. We’re hired because we’re the best. We’re chosen because we’re the best. That’s my hope for the future is that the differentiation is just erased.
M Lin: Yeah, I mean, I certainly hope so. Can you comment on how perhaps leadership roles in women-focused professional organizations might be considered for the purposes of academic advancement, for example promotion?
W Coates: Oh, of course. It’s difficult. Everyone has heard of the glass ceiling, and that does exist. I think we all feel it to different degrees, but it’s a moving target that you’re not really able to put a finger on exactly how that really impacts any individual person. If you are working with an organization like AWAEM, and just looking at the people who are in leadership roles now, okay, these people are more junior than many leaders in very big specialty organizations. The work that comes out of AWAEM today, academically, with committees, with just productivity in general is, I think, it’s incredible. These women have had the opportunity to be given just the chance to show how accomplished they are. They know that they can just look to their right or left, and there’s someone there to support them, and they know where to send them. These are opportunities I don’t think would be available in the general pool of organizations.
M Lin: Can you describe how gender has affected your career development?
W Coates: Well, there’s a long pause here because I always start out by saying that when I went on residency interviews, in general, I was the only female who would be on any interview day. Then we would go on a tour of the hospital, and back then, frequently there would be a tour of, let’s say, the OR suite because you had a surgery rotation. They would lead the tour group to the doctors locker room to change into scrubs. Then they would look at me and say, “Well, I think the nurses’ locker room is over there. We don’t really know, but we’ll just see you later.” Then they would go. I think that from the very beginning, that was a very visible place.
The other thing is related to family because our culture decides that maybe women have more responsibilities than men in the traditional family for taking care of the house and other things that maybe some people around you think that you’re not as serious about your career. When in fact, you are just as serious, and many times more serious about your career than anyone around you. I would say that those are two discrete examples of just how being a woman is different than maybe just growing up being a man, and falling right in.
Oh, I do have one other one. On every single medical school rotation, it took about the first week or two to prove that I was at least equal to the men. The men walk into the rotation. They’re just assumed to be at some basic level of knowledge. It would really be about two weeks before the women on the team could be granted that level of baseline knowledge. Well, and then, it was inevitable that we just proved that we were just the best. We supported each other back then too. I think that there was sort of a back door, “Hey, when you get there, this is what you should do. This is how you can do it.”
Then to just jump forward to AWAEM, now you guys have something like that that’s available and that’s fantastic.
M Lin: What career accomplishment or accomplishments would you say that you’re most proud of?
W Coates: Oh, that’s super easy. I am the most proud of the accomplishments of my proteges. That goes from medical students to residents to fellows, junior faculty, and my colleagues in my specialty. I feel like these people are so brilliant. I mean, I just feel so energized when I see one of them have some award or they are accomplished, and they’re published, and all of these things. That’s just so fantastic.
M Lin: What advice might you give a younger version of yourself or an AWAEM member at an earlier stage in her career?
W Coates: The first thing that I would say is to believe in yourself, and that if you think that you’re right about something, you probably are. Don’t be afraid to sit at any table and have a voice. When you have an opinion, then you should voice your opinion. You should not be militant about it because that just draws criticism, but you should be calm, and knowledgeable, and be able to back up what you say with actual knowledge. Very, very importantly, you should find a team of mentors and trusted colleagues, both men and women, that you can go to for different pieces of advice, and people who can just travel the course with you as your buddies. I’m including men and women in that because it’s really important that we do this all together if we want to reach our eventual goal.
M Lin: Can you name three other AWAEM members we should consider interviewing? One who is approximately at your career stage, one who is more junior, and, well, this one says, “One who is more senior.” And I don’t know how many AWAEM members are more accomplished than you are, but if you can think of one, we’d love to hear.
W Coates: Okay. Well, first of all, there’s a ton of people who are accomplished. All right, well, one of my all-time mentors for my life is Gloria Kuhn, and I think that no interview would be complete without talking to Gloria about all of this. She would be the person who is just a little bit before me that I would name. One of my just about exact age mates would be maybe Mary Jo Wagner. Just to highlight, okay, about the fact that this isn’t all about work. Mary Jo and I escaped from a whole fleet of scorpions when we, let’s say, visited one of the Scottsdale hotel pools after it closed during an SAEM meeting. Scorpions attacked us, and we ran through the lobby in our bathing suits. We were really, pretty much too old to do that. It’s not all about everything being official. Then I would say another member would be Jamie Jordan. She is one of my fellowship graduates, and is highly accomplished in her career right now, and publishes things, and is the most organized person I know, and one of the nicest people ever. She would be a great person to choose as well.
M Lin: Those sound like great recommendations. Anything else I haven’t asked about AWAEM or about yourself that you’d like to share?
W Coates: I think that you’ve done a fantastic job of hitting highlights. I’m sure I’ll think of something as soon as I walk out the door.
M Lin: That’s how it always happens, right?
W Coates: It does. I really commend you for keeping this ship on course, and having such great leadership of the organization, and I just feel so lucky to be part of it, and to have all of these great people surrounding me.
M Lin: Thanks. Well, that’s how I feel too, which is why I’m doing it. That’s a wrap, and thank you again, Dr Wendy Coates.
W Coates: Thank you so much, Michelle.
Listen to the complete podcast here.