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Six Female UHealth Physicians Offer Advice on Healing and Hope

In celebration of Women’s History Month, six female UHealth physicians shared their stories and words of guidance on overcoming obstacles and staying hopeful amid change and challenges

Joan E. St. Onge, M.D., senior associate dean of faculty affairs at the Miller School of Medicine, reflected joyfully on a note she found recently in her eighth-grade yearbook. It read, “Joan, you are the greatest!” The note wasn’t written by a teacher, or her best friend. It was written by Dr. St. Onge herself.

A drawn image showing female health professionals.

Dr. St. Onge shared this anecdote as she considered what advice she would give to her younger self during an hour-long virtual panel held in honor of Women’s History Month. The discussion — “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” — was sponsored by Women in Academic Medicine and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (ODICE), and it included six female physicians from the Miller School. In addition to Dr. St. Onge, the panel featured Dr. Kassandra Bosire, assistant clinical professor of family medicine; Dr. G. Patricia Cantwell professor of clinical pediatric critical care; Dr. Sheila Conway, professor of clinical orthopedic oncology and orthopedic surgery; Dr. Elizabeth Crocco, professor and chief of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry; and Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, professor of otolaryngology.

“I have to give credit to my parents for providing a good foundation,” Dr. St. Onge said.

Themes of self-trust, persistence, perseverance, and courage were echoed throughout the session. The following includes advice from the panelists.

Motivation Comes from Within You — and from Lifting Up Others

Dr. Bosire: I stay motivated to give the residents the experience that I did not have. As an underrepresented minority, you don’t get opportunities to train with people who look like you. I want [residents] to be comfortable in their own skin, to give them community, and to alleviate imposter syndrome. This allows people to freely think outside constraints and fosters innovation.

Dr. Crocco: I used to tell people that I had a brain like a man. But no, I have the brain like a female clinical scientist. I wanted to achieve things and didn’t have many people like me to show me the way. I’m motivated by being a person who mentors both men and women — to show them the way and to show them that you don’t have to be like everyone else.

Dr. Cantwell: My motivation stems from growing up as a little girl in a generation where there weren’t many opportunities for girls. I was a sports fanatic, and it was devastating to me that we could not play football and baseball. I figured out a way to make that happen even before it was okay for women to play sports. Throughout my career I kept going through the different hurdles, and I never accepted that something can’t be done. Keep going, and make it happen, and then let others know that these things can be done. If I did it, you can do it.

To Overcome Obstacles, Find People Who Will Tell You the Truth

Dr. St. Onge: I have to say as a woman in medicine, and as one of eight children, not a lot really bothers me. At the same time, one of the challenges I had was the overwhelming amount of work and pressure I felt when I was a resident. I get the sense that it didn’t have to be like that. My internship was the best time and some of the darkest, but my colleagues encouraged me to hang in there. The people around you can see things so much more objectively. I have people who I turn to for guidance when I have those difficult times.

Dr. Bosire: You have to surround yourself with people who tell you the truth, and you have to be willing to accept that truth. Also, three things that help me to overcome obstacles: a good perspective, being prepared, and being persistent.

Self-care Is Not Just a Trend, It’s a Necessity

Dr. Cantwell: Late in my career, I signed up for tae kwon do and got my black belt. Give me something to hit, and I am good to go. The endorphin response from whatever form of exercise is beneficial. The other thing is — and I never thought I’d fall in love with a yappy dog — my Shih Tzu who is the best medicine ever. Lastly, I always attempt to find humor in a situation.

Dr. Conway: I have a dog that changed my life, as well. Also, exercise and stick with your hobbies. Don’t let yourself think that you don’t have the time. You have to choose those things, choose them early, and hold yourself accountable. It’s harder to incorporate habits into your life than it is to maintain them — start early. Hold on to your passions, find time for them, and maintain them.

Advice to Your Younger Self and Those Just Starting Out: Trust Yourself and Play the Long Game

Dr. Franzman: Don’t waste time comparing yourself to others. You have what it takes to be special. You have it, and you will do it. You can’t waste your time wondering if you measure up to the person next to you. Most of the time it’s not even accurate. Focus on what you bring to the table.

Dr. Cantwell: Never let failure become an obstacle. Without knowing it, I determined that quitting is not an option. I wish I didn’t take myself so seriously. Envision yourself successful.

Dr. Bosire: I would tell the next generation that it gets easier. It seems hard, but it gets easier. And a reminder to the Instagram, TikTok generation: life is not a snippet. It’s not instantaneous. What you see your peers doing is not short-term success. Look at the long term, and focus less on what is going on right now. Know that it gets better, and with sacrifice there are rewards.

Dr. Conway: Celebrate the wins; we rush through everything in this world, even our own accomplishments. Take the time to acknowledge your work. You don’t always get external validation. You should stop and celebrate your victories. And respect your time, because it’s your most precious commodity. When you are young in your career, you will be asked to join a lot of things. You need to be selective and strategic with your time, you don’t always need to say yes.

Dr. Crocco: You have to be true to yourself. As a physician you cannot be put into a box. I see so many young physicians who try to fit themselves into a box because their mentor told them to do so. You have to be who you are and capitalize on your strengths. At the beginning you have the imposter syndrome, where you feel you’re not good enough. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH. Then when you think you are good enough, you think it’s so easy anyone can do it. Just because it’s easy for you, it’s not so easy for someone else. Congratulate yourself when you do achieve things. It’s normal to feel at the beginning that you know nothing. As you progress, realize and appreciate your own expertise.

The virtual event was moderated by Nanette Vega, Ed.D., assistant dean of ODICE. Attendees received a complimentary copy of Luminaries: Profiles of Women in Academic Medicine, published by Dr. Jaclyn Kovach. The book is a compilation of autobiographical vignettes of 24 female faculty members at the Miller School.

Tags: Dr. Elizabeth Crocco, Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, Dr. Joan St. Onge, Dr. Kassandra Bossire, Dr. Patricia Cantwell, Dr. Sheila Ann Conway, Miller School of Medicine, Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Community Engagement, Women in Academic Medicine, Women's History Month