This is a guest post from my former medical school classmate, Dr. Yana Barbalat. She and I entered med school together as twenty-something year old sprites, and we have reconnected many years later over our love of sharing a positive message about working in our respective surgically-oriented fields. Here she is to share her own personal story. It makes my heart sing! Here’s her take on thriving in the world of urology. -Barbara Hamilton, MD
Tired Superheroine asked me what it’s like to be a female in the male-dominated field of urology.
It’s empowering, fun, and challenging at times. Being a female in urology makes me a minority in most professional situations and that’s a place where I happen to feel comfortable and thrive.
Since I was born, I have been a minority. My family is Jewish and when I was born, we lived in Petrozavodsk, Russia. There were very few Jews, and antisemitism was rampant there. Thankfully, we immigrated to the United States by the time I was 8. As a kid in America, I found myself a minority once again, first because I did not speak any English and second, because we were poor. I dressed, looked, and sounded different which made elementary and middle school difficult, to say the least. But during those years, I built the resilience and work ethic that would serve me well.
As a young physician in residency, I was a minority once again. I had two children during residency, with the first one born two weeks into my intern year. For about five years, I was the only female surgical resident who had a family. At first, my goal was to blend in and not draw any attention to myself. I did not want to be judged poorly because I chose to have kids so early. But the reality is that residency was really difficult for me, not just because of the physical exhaustion but because of the constant mom guilt. Sometimes, I remembered an elderly lady who told me that urology was not a field for a woman with kids.
There were many nights that I would walk the hallways in the hospital and think of switching into another field. But with the support of my husband and my parents, who never believed in feeling bad for oneself, I held on and focused on the future. I learned to sleep less, be more resilient, and feel less guilty for not being the perfect mom. Proud of what I was accomplishing, I found my voice and began to advocate for myself. I started to share my experiences with others. I told junior residents and medical students to have children when they thought the time was right, not when others felt it was appropriate. And for my own sake, I stopped feeling ashamed of working four days a week, with the fifth day OFF, not on “administrative” duty.
Overall, I am really glad I picked urology. It’s a fun field with a lot of inappropriate humor. We use cutting-edge technology and cool gadgets- from lasers to prostate staplers, prosthetics, and robotic arms. As a woman, I bring a unique perspective to the table and I am somewhat of a wanted commodity because many female patients want to see only female physicians.
Being a woman also puts me in a position where I can advocate for women’s health in Urology. Pelvic pain, female sexuality, and recurrent urinary tract infections have traditionally been considered the less interesting topics in urology. Care of the female patient can be more time-consuming, and the visits typically don’t result in any procedures or surgeries. Adding to the challenges of caring for my female patients, the data on the management of predominantly female conditions is not robust. With more women going into urology, topics in female urology are being brought to the forefront, studied, and discussed more at meetings and events.
But being a minority can be lonely and can also put you at a disadvantage when negotiating equal pay and career advancement. Studies show that women in practices with other female urologists are more likely to be paid the same as their male counterparts, as compared to women with all-male partners. I think women in male-dominated fields should connect, mentor one another, and most importantly, support each other.
Hope this story of thriving in the male-dominated world of urology inspires you!
Push yourself, connect, ask for help, and don’t be afraid to be different.
The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.