We sat down with Sarah Lee, M.D., maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Obstetrix Medical Group of San Jose and Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, Calif. Dr. Lee joined the practice in 2010 after completing her maternal-fetal medicine fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine and has been with the group since. She currently serves as the Medical Director of Obstetrics at Good Samaritan.
Watch the video for the full interview or check out the highlights below!
What do you think it means to be a woman in health care today?
I thought about that question for a long time. I think first, the fact that I have to think about that question and what it means speaks to the fact that all of the female physicians that came before me and trailblazed this path, they did a great job because I don’t feel unique because of my gender. I don’t feel that I'm a minority or underrepresented, especially in my field of OB/GYN, where females are the majority, and it's actually the males that are underrepresented. Yes, when you get into the specialties of OB/GYN, especially GYN oncology or maternal-fetal medicine, historically, there are more men than women, but that’s also changing. So, the fact that I don’t really think about my gender, it’s actually great. Now, my dean of my medical school, I remember her telling me she was one of two female medical students in her med school at Harvard, so she obviously had a different experience than I did. These are the women that we should be grateful for so that by the time I entered medical school, it was pretty much even-steven in terms of the male-to-female ratio, and I didn’t feel different just because I was a woman.
What are the challenges for women?
I think one challenge—I am a mother of four—is having a work/life balance, honestly. I think it’s really difficult to balance. I think one suffers, and it’s always a challenge to be good at everything. Especially being a woman, being the gender responsible for bringing life—we have to go through pregnancy and childbirth and the postpartum period where our bodies go through multiple changes—but at the same time, you have the same expectations to work and deliver the same quality of work. I think that’s a challenge, honestly—not feeling guilty about taking time off, how you organize and plan your family life around your career, how not to impact your fellow partners or your residency or your med school. I think that was one of my biggest challenges—how to navigate all of that. And there’s really minimal guidance—you kind of see what other people are doing, and you try to make the best decision you can, and some are not so great and some are ok, but I think that’s very difficult.
And I think another challenge is that even though in OB/GYN females are the majority, what you see when you look at our national leadership of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), females are sometimes underrepresented in roles of leadership. Perhaps it is because we have to divide our attention, being that a lot of us are mothers and that takes our attention, or perhaps it’s because MFM is still a young specialty in the world of medicine. Perhaps because of all these things, it’s going to take time for women to really represent in all areas of leadership. There are great female leaders in ACOG and SMFM, but historically it’s not even-steven equally distributed nor does it represent the number of females actually in OB/GYN training versus the number of males—it's very skewed. I was in a residency training program with 12 residents a year, so that’s 48 residents at one time, and we probably had two men. But when you get to the levels of leadership, it is usually the other way around—not so skewed, but it’s probably 60/40. Men are much more represented in roles of leadership than women.
How can women physicians best support fellow women physicians?
Mentorship is definitely important. I've had great mentors throughout my career, both male and female, but I think the female mentorship has been tremendous. Hillary Clinton wrote “It Takes a Village” to take care of children, and you want to carry that forward in terms of training our younger generation of physicians and having older female physicians mentoring—giving advice about balancing work/life, whether it's possible, what are the great ways to do it, balancing whether you want to do research or be in roles of leadership and administration, how that path works out for you, how you devise a plan and what is the best way to move forward. I think this is how we can help our younger generations and just kind of pass that baton along.
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