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What it’s like to be a female physician


Real talk about what it’s like being a woman in medicine.

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©Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock.com

Every September, the American Medical Association recognizes women in medicine. My company celebrated the month by hosting a group of 10 female locum tenens physicians in our office for a few days to talk about what it’s like to be a woman in medicine, how the field has changed, and what they anticipate for the future.

The group represented a wide range of specialties and tenure, from recent graduates to physicians with more than 30 years of experience. I learned much from them, and I wanted to share some of their thoughts and perspectives.


On being a female physician

“It’s powerful being a woman in medicine. I feel very proud to be a woman in medicine. Being a mother and being a physician are the two most rewarding-and toughest-careers.”
-Neha V. Janakiraman, MD, hospitalist


“We are women in medicine but, at the end of the day, I want to be recognized as your orthopedic surgeon-not your female orthopedic surgeon.”
-Sonya M. Sloan, MD, orthopedic surgery


“There are different expectations for female physicians. When I started in medicine 30 years ago, a lot of women who could have been physicians went into nursing because of the pressures of that time. They would sometimes resent female physicians for getting to do what they had wanted but hadn’t felt they were allowed to do.”
-Sig-Linda Jacobson, MD, OB-GYN, maternal-fetal medicine


“Being a woman in medicine in the newer generation, [I’m grateful] there have been so many people who have come before me and opened doors. It is far more normal for a woman to be your physician now, and the rise of male nurses has closed the gender gap on either role. I may still have to introduce myself multiple times as the doctor to some patients but, for the most part, people are accustomed to women being physicians. As long as you walk in, say you’re the doctor, and treat everyone kindly and with respect, everything works out fine.
-Michaela Sakumura, MD, emergency medicine


Working in a male-dominated field

“I grew up as a tomboy and going into a male-dominated field like surgery was right up my alley. The discrimination I felt came more from the female nursing staff. As an intern, the nurses were so horrible. They would question the orders I would write while my male counterparts didn’t have the same problem.”
-Tina Sasaki, MD, general surgery

“Orthopedic surgery is a subspecialty that is a boys’ club, and it will be for a while. Only 4 percent of orthopedic surgeons are women. When I show up for locum tenens assignments, a lot of people say, ‘You’re an orthopedic surgeon? You?’ It is perceived as a man’s occupation and definitely not a black woman’s [occupation.]

“There are places I have traveled where they are not used to a female surgeon, and they do not want a female surgeon. People have actually asked for a different doctor. I have [also] gone places where they loved me, we’ve kept up our relationship, and they still send me Christmas cards.”


“Emergency medicine is a more male-dominated field, but it is changing. You have to prove yourself when you are being taught by men who are 20 to 30 years your senior. You have to work hard, and sometimes you have to overprove yourself as a woman.”


According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 2017 was the first year more women than men entered medical school. There may be a time in the not too distant future when there are more female physicians than male. After hearing these women’s stories, I am excited for what that future holds. I am confident female physicians will continue to positively affect their patients-and the industry.


Lisa Grabl is president of CompHealth, the nation’s largest provider of locum tenens physicians and founder of the traveling physician industry. Lisa joined CompHealth in 2001 as a sales consultant and excelled in a variety of management roles prior to being named president in 2017. Lisa is passionate about building lasting relationships and helping her team members reach their highest potential.

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