We sat down with Donna Rhoden, M.D., FAAP, FAAC, pediatric cardiologist at Pediatrix Cardiology of Broward in South Florida. Dr. Rhoden has been with the group for more than 24 years, caring for patients in the Boca Raton community. She serves as the primary pediatric cardiology provider at Boca Raton Regional Hospital and is an affiliate assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Medicine.
Watch the video for the full interview or check out the highlights below!
Did a woman inspire you to pursue a career in medicine?
So interestingly enough, I’m one of four girls—three of us are doctors. My sister, who is six years older than me, first went down the path of medicine, and she’s a pediatric surgeon and went to the same med school I did. I initially went to Clemson University, and when I went there, I thought I would do law, but I couldn’t write a paper without my now husband’s help, so I decided law was probably not the field for me. So, I decided to change to pre-med, but I was already so far in my career that I ended up going to the University of Georgia and getting a degree in zoology after my degree at Clemson before going to med school, and I went to the Medical School of Georgia there. My younger sister, who is two years younger than me, went to University of Georgia and went to med school at Mercer in Macon, and she is an emergency room physician in Los Angeles.
What are some of the challenges?
I tell med students and residents all the time, when you’re in medicine, med school is hard—no doubt about it. Residency, harder. Life, harder. Everything is harder as you go on. I think people, when they’re choosing their field, they don’t look far enough down the road. What does my life look like when I’m 35, 45, 55, 65? Because you are a woman—theoretically, you may want to get married and have children, and you’re going to be the mother. So, if you pick something very difficult where you’re never home, you’re setting yourself up for struggles. And I always tell people in med school, “You will like a lot of things.” Very few people show up to med school and say, “I’m going to be a neurosurgeon, and I am not deviating off this path.” So, you go through things, and you like them, and you find what you’re good at. And I always tell them, look at the people in the field, the other physicians, look at the patients, look at the nurses who gravitate to that—is that something you want to see your whole life? Because if not, look elsewhere—because you need to look at your life down the road so that the challenges you face are not as difficult as they might be if you choose something harder. I think that’s why women go into peds and other specialties that aren’t as vigorous—of course, they’re in every field, but I think in the field of pediatrics alone, the residents are over 50% women now. And that tells you that women are natural nurturer’s—they are eventually going to be mothers, and they relate to the patients and the mothers. Not to say men don’t, but it’s a natural field to go into, just like family practice.
What are some of the positives?
If you go into pediatrics or any pediatric fellowship field, again, we’re everywhere—so you have people to talk to, commiserate with and people that will help you on the path. I am very much in agreement with the mentor system where you take someone who’s young and help them when they’re making their decisions going forward for fellowship, and even if they pick something and it’s very hard. For example, in my specialty, there’s a lot of sub-subspecialties. So, you can be an interventionalist, which can be very long, long days doing difficult things in the cath lab. You can be an EP specialist, a fetal specialist, outpatient or critical care, which again is a lot of sitting by beds, as I call it. So, there’s a lot of different things you can do within pediatric cardiology to help with your need to be an intensivist or whatever your specialty is. A lot of those things have to be done at a tertiary care center, so theoretically, you’re going to have other people in that sub-subspeciality so you can have a life and time off. I think a lot of residents over the years have established guidelines within the field of medicine about limiting resident hours and call time to protect their sanity. We did not have that when I was in training, but I think it’s important.
How can women physicians best support fellow women physicians?
We’re all very busy, but throughout my career with Mednax, I have tried to go to the med schools and give lectures on peds cardiology and attend different things just to see if people have questions. Most med schools in my area are very good about trying to have mentor programs—they’ll even email you and say, “Hey, this person has a lot of questions about pediatric cardiology. Can they come over to your office?” I think that’s a very good thing. We have another hospital system where one of my partners teaches residents all the time. Sometimes, they’ll rotate through my office, and I’ll talk to them about why they’re interested in peds cardiology and what it’s really like. You need to make an educated decision. Once you’re in med school, you’re there—you’re pretty much going to stay unless you made a wrong decision, and they want to keep you. So, it behooves you to get as much knowledge as you can from women and people in that specialty you want to go into because they’ve been through it. You need people that are going to tell you as you make your steps, “Here’s how you’re going to get noticed in this,” “here’s what you need to do to do a fellowship in that.” People have questions, and obviously, I’m in the middle-age spectrum, and 100 years ago I trained, but I do know what it’s like in all those training phases. My own daughter’s pre-med—I’ve tried to talk her out of it many times, but she’s walking that path, and it is vastly different, so we all have to help them get through it.