I’ve always said that I wish I had FemInEM back when I was in training. I was pregnant with my first child during the last year of my medical toxicology fellowship. I was the first fellow in over a decade to be pregnant during training and I felt very isolated and unsure about my future. Watching some of my co-residents navigate pregnancy during training made me feel that being pregnant was a liability — that it would be difficult to be taken seriously or negotiate on the interview trail. Most of the advice I had received from mentors over the years was that as a woman in medicine I would just have to work harder and be better than everyone else, which isn’t as helpful when you’re about to have a child. Truthfully, I probably didn’t even know what to ask or what I needed at the time to even seek out realistic advice. I had spent my entire life up until that point being defined by academic and career achievements and it was scary and disorienting to feel like I was coming off that track. Ultimately I ended up graduating from fellowship without a job lined up. Perhaps I had made choices more out of fear than a realistic understanding of my worth or potential; had FemInEM been around, maybe I would have been inspired and more confident to navigate having a new job and child. Eventually I did get an academic job in New York City. I was 0.6FTE and initially it felt like I had figured things out — I gave a few lectures a year, helped teach a medical student toxicology course, and worked with amazing residents. It was during this time that I was introduced to FemInEM and had the opportunity to join this dynamic community. I joined the board of Gender Equity in Medicine Research Foundation (GEMRF) in part to give back to FemInEM in an actionable way. But like so many working parents, after a few years I hit a tipping point. There were culture changes at my work due to a merger, I had my second child and started having more childcare issues, and professionally I started hitting walls because I wasn’t core faculty.
I was burnt out and overwhelmed when I went to FIX18. You’ll remember that FIX conferences always have a lot of tissues available because of the raw and emotional presentations. I cried at the conference, but not just from listening to the amazing talks. I watched women who were absolutely killing it. They were doing interesting work, taking leadership roles, being creative problem solvers, and many were caring for families. I’m sure their lives were chaotic and stressful, but they clearly were passionate and excited by what they were doing enough to make it work and I didnt have that. I couldn’t do it. It felt too hard to hire even more childcare and home help, work even harder to try to earn a little protected time, and I realized I couldn’t fake enthusiasm for a toxic situation anymore. I realized I was mourning an expectation, not necessarily a dream, of what I thought my career was going to look like. A traditional academic medicine career path no longer felt achievable or desirable for me. After this epiphany from FIX, I crafted an exit strategy and started doing per diem work in suburban community EDs near my home while I figured things out. I felt good about the change and fell back in love with EM, but like so many of us neurotic overachievers in medicine, I was anxious that I should be doing more. I was in the process of figuring out my non-clinical pivot and ways to incorporate toxicology into what I was doing when the pandemic hit and you can imagine how that went.
For most of us, these past 18 months have been the hardest we’ve ever faced. Our personal lives were greatly altered, we had horrible stress working the frontlines, some of us had financial setbacks as hours were cut or jobs were furloughed, and we struggled with childcare and remote schooling. Even though it feels like we are almost returning to normal (of course now there’s the delta variant), it’s still unclear when we’ll feel comfortable, safe, certain, or even optimistic again. When you’ve been living with that survival mentality for the past year, living day to day, it’s hard to develop and plan your future. What I hear from so many of you is fear and uncertainty as to what your careers and lives will look like in a post-pandemic world. Many of you mentioned concerns over productivity gaps from the pandemic and how it will affect promotions as well as fears over job security with the dismal EM jobs report that came out recently. As I spoke with Dara, Jenny, and the FemInEM team about making this transition, I thought a lot about what FemInEM’s role should be during this difficult time. All of this uncertainty and this pause during the pandemic gives us a chance to reimagine and refocus our efforts to help support you and advocate for a better future. FeminEM has the potential to develop tools to help people regain their footing after over a year of upheaval as well as continue to advocate for women in emergency medicine. As we rethink our revenue sources and start a membership model, we want to offer things to you that are valuable and helpful. We still want to be a place of support, safety, and inspiration, but we are also a community of doers, innovators, and problem solvers and we can create more actionable and tangible ways to help all of us navigate this uncertain time. One positive of the past year is that it caused many of us to reprioritize and evaluate what really matters. It also brought to light how tenuous the circumstances were for so many and it’s clear that covid didn’t create these inequities, it just exacerbated them to the point where they couldn’t be ignored. So my hope is that we don’t just return to normal and go back to ignoring these issues, but that we learn from these experiences and emerge better as a community and a society. Thank you so much for your patience and continuing to support FemInEM. I look forward to working with all of you in the coming year.