We sat down with Jenelle Ferry, M.D., neonatologist at Pediatrix Medical Group of Florida and St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa, Fla., where she also serves as director of feeding, nutrition and infant development. Dr. Ferry joined the practice straight out of fellowship and has been with the group for more than nine years.
Watch the video for the full interview or check out the highlights below!
What do you think it means to be a woman in healthcare today?
Healthcare has changed a lot, even in the time that I’ve been in medicine. The roles of women have changed a lot in healthcare, and I think that has been a part of some of that change and, in some ways, still kind of held back throughout that change. Traditionally, when I was five and said I wanted to be a physician, the expectation was that if I wanted to go into healthcare, I should go into nursing because I was female. It’s sad that sometimes that still kind of holds true. Even with all of the progress that we’ve made, I’m much more likely than my male partners to go into a room and later hear that somebody thinks the doctor has never been there because it was me, and they thought I was the nurse. So it’s interesting because the roles have shifted, but in some ways, I think that being a woman contributes to that because where medicine has kind of gone from this hierarchy where traditionally it was a male physician that was the head of the team and dictated what was done, it’s a much more collaborative process now with everybody that’s taking care of a patient. Those roles have shifted. Women are nurturers and caregivers, and that has evolved to be a whole part of the healthcare team, and I think having women as physicians contributes to that.
What are some of the positives of being a woman in healthcare?
I think the nurturing and caregiving part of it. I certainly approach things in a different way than even my partners, who are males. I am in a world that deals with babies, small children and moms, and being a mom gives me a different perspective on how to approach that as well. While I didn’t have a preemie baby, it certainly gives me a different respect for what a mom may be going through having had my own children. I think as a woman it gives you a lot to contribute to that experience as well.
What advice do you have for women applying to medical school or entering the medical field for the first time?
I would say recognize that as a woman, you should expect that you can do the same things that anybody else can. I think it’s still difficult. There still are going to be challenges, and there still are things that you’re going to face. But I would take my dad’s advice to shoot for the moon and know that there may be challenges that you’re facing that are different than what your male counterparts are facing, but stay true to yourself and always know that you can keep doing what you’re doing. I would hope to see our society change to where we see each other as individuals. I want to be recognized for the things I’m contributing, not because I’m a woman but because I’m an individual. I think that’s something that hopefully will change. It’s something we’ve seen a lot with all the racial tensions happening currently, and some of the underlying currents are the same there. So, it’s important that we recognize each other as individuals. I think it’s important for any woman going into any field to recognize herself for her own strengths and contributions and never apologize for those.
The biggest challenge I've personally faced is balancing being a good doctor and a good mom and giving as much of myself as I want to for both. I think this struggle is the same for any working mom, and the schedule of a neonatologist with long days and nights in the hospital magnifies it. My husband does so much for our kids, but there are still tears when mom isn't there to put them to bed. For me it's a little more bearable knowing that when I'm missing first steps, important school activities, or nighttime hugs, it's because I'm making an important difference in the life of someone else's child. My male partners are all wonderful dads, and they all have some very strong women who help manage the lives of their children. It's sometimes near impossible to feel like I can give as much to my work as I'd like to when competing with anyone who has a spouse whose main job is taking care of their kids and household. It has taken me many years to stand up for myself in a way that supports both of those roles. I'm proud of the changes I've seen in perceptions within my own group of neonatologists, especially as it relates to the roles of mommy doctors. We're overall much more supportive of maternity leave and breastfeeding and childcare needs, recognizing that there are some amazing women doctors who need that support in order to be their best physician self.
Interested in joining our team of neonatologists?