Being a Woman in emergency medicine: The perspective and the untold!

Emergency medicine is a unique specialty having a fast pace and entails rapid evaluation of multiple undifferentiated and sick patients.

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Being a woman, an EM physician, leading the Emergency Department and balancing personal satisfaction is not a plain sail.

By Dr. Sweta Tyagi

As I sit today, look back, reflect and gather my thoughts of over a decade in Emergency Medicine (EM), it has been gratifying and also has been a bumpy ride on uneven rocks. But then aren’t we all on it in one way or the other?

Being a woman, an EM physician, leading the Emergency Department and balancing personal satisfaction is not a plain sail. Back in 2007, while my residency in EM at Christian Medical College Vellore, I was the only female trainee in the first year. There was this insane work pressure with too many sick patients and with it a load of academics. The language barrier made it worse and being away from my husband and family lead to many heartbreaks. Sailing through these years gave me the foundation of being an EM physician.

Emergency medicine is a unique specialty having a fast pace and entails rapid evaluation of multiple undifferentiated and sick patients. EM works 24/7/365 days, managing everything that comes in through the ER door. Time-based management can change the outcome of critical patients who come to the Emergency Department (ED). There is limited information available to us during an emergency situation. Many a time there is overcrowding in the ED and we juggle between giving clinical care, connecting with concerned specialities and communicating to relatives. It’s a high moment for us when we are able to save lives but we also face many of the lows when despite our efforts there are unfavorable outcomes. Every day in an ED we are on a rollercoaster ride.

As I continued my journey in EM, I also became a mother. Worked through the demanding schedule till the late months and had to resume back early due to organizational exigencies. My daughter used to accompany me with her nanny to the hospital for almost a year. Even after that it has always been a harder choice to leave the cute hugging the leg or sometimes crying little one at home. Parenting for me has evolved as I have grown in my profession and I feel there are a lot of differences in how my daughter is being brought up. This is for good or bad, only time shall reveal.

Whether it is to be stressfully occupied for long hours in the department or constant need for keeping abreast with the recent literature or updating skills or being away for attending meetings and conferences, all this has become an integral part of me.

However, none of these could have been possible if not for the unflinching support and encouragement from my husband. Yet, there have always been moments and periods of burnout when maintaining the work-life balance gets tough.

There is a lot of talk about gender equality but the numbers below will tell the clear story. According to latest statistics the female physicians in south-east Asian region constitute 39%. In India, of all health care workers 38% are female and 16.8% are allopathic doctors. Though the number of females becoming physicians have increased

over time yet the trend remains skewed when it comes to post graduation where these figures reduce to one third due to larger numbers of females getting dropped out over time. Worldwide, female physicians in Emergency medicine specialty are 28%; however this statistic is unavailable for Indian context. This being so, we the female EM physicians are a rare tribe in India.

Emergency medicine is a team sport and female physicians are changing the face of it. Their innate nurturing power and the ability to accentuate the collaborative strength of the team goes a long way in creating the dream teams who can work towards realizing their own individual success as well as achieving the organizational goals. Balancing the work and life has never been easier for us and Burnout is inevitable. A study done in Australia has stated the level of burnout as moderate to high amongst female EM physicians with only 1.3% of them having high job satisfaction. Are there any magic bullet solutions for our survival? Unfortunately, there is no right answer for this. We learn as we grow and figure out what works best for us. Taking away the guilt, not being too harsh on ourselves and Multi-tasking at various levels can move our needles in the right direction to go up the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to attain appreciation and recognition.

This women’s day, my loudest cheer is for all the fellow incredible woman EM physicians who are unstoppable in saving lives every day. Though as girls we are usually taught to smile beautiful and play safe but it is also equally important to play firm, swing high and get used to taking risks and never settle for less. Emergency Medicine is our passion, we love the adrenaline and we are the few who are trained to thrive in the chaos of Emergency Department and save lives. Let’s be prepared to crawl up this rocky path and also in the meantime nurture happiness for ourselves to make everything worthwhile. As is well said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

(The author is a Head Emergency Medicine, Paras Hospital. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the

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First published on: 21-03-2023 at 09:00 IST