I knew I wanted to pursue Cardiology training in my first clinical year as a medical student. I was fascinated by cardiovascular physiology and the wealth of information derived from cardiac auscultation and basic bedside tests such as the electrocardiogram (ECG).
I distinctly recall conversations with mentors, senior colleagues and supervisors, all with the same inescapable messages: “Are you sure you want to do cardiology? Don’t you want to have children?” or “You can’t be a successful female cardiologist while starting a family.” To many, this may have been a deterrent, however this fueled my motivation to continue on my path and attempt to defy expectations.
In 2018, I was in the throes of my first year of cardiology training. The issues of gender inequality and barriers to training in Cardiology troubled me. This became particularly relevant for me during the cardiology interview process. I walked into the room and was confronted by a panel of 11 male cardiologists and only 1 female cardiologist. I felt pressured to put on a more “masculine persona” to increase my relatability and chances of success.
My interview experience catalysed my desire to speak up and facilitate transparent and open conversation regarding the gender imbalance in cardiology. I approached the only other female first year cardiology trainee in Victoria, who has now become a close friend and ally, and suggested we write a review of the barriers to achieving gender equality in cardiology in Australia. Little did we know that this was the tip of the iceberg. Gender equality is a growing area of interest that extends beyond the world of cardiology. Within a few days of publication, I was contacted by a journalist to provide further perspective on the challenges facing women in cardiology and have also discussed this on a podcast promoting positive social change.
In late 2018, a number of female cardiologists, trainees and junior doctors formed the Victorian Women in Cardiology working group to improve workplace diversity and promote policy changes to facilitate flexible cardiology training in Australia. The goal is to empower future trainees with greater autonomy over their career progression. We aim to promote better training conditions through flexible training schedules, job sharing and supporting parental leave. We feel that family planning provisions should extend to both male and female trainees to support them and their families through the cardiology training pathway.
I am amazed to see that there are a growing number of similar groups in the US, Europe and Canada. In March 2019, I attended The American College of Cardiology (ACC) Scientific Sessions and was very humbled to be invited to attend the Women in Cardiology meetings and networking events. This was the first professional conference I have attended with a dedicated focus on championing female cardiologists and facilitating collaborative opportunities worldwide. I was so inspired by the vast talent and ambition in one room at the ACC WIC meeting. I was fortunate to meet many incredible female cardiologists across a variety of cardiology subspecialties. I was also moved to hear from extraordinary speakers such as Dr. Roxana Mehran, who has been pivotal in advocating for improved gender ratios and empowering women to pursue a career in cardiology.
One of the reasons ACC WIC appears to be flourishing is the participation of male champions of change (the #HeForShe) such as Doctors Bob Harrington and Quinn Capers. These are two very senior and influential men who have mentored female doctors and taken a public stand to promote gender diversity in Cardiology. Cardiology in Australia would benefit from more male champions of change driving our local efforts.
I can already see the positive changes evolving as we strive to emulate the efforts and progress made in other medical and surgical specialties. Cardiology has historically been a conservative medical field; however, it appears to be broadening its perspective by listening to its past, current and prospective trainees and providing a platform to confront and address the current training challenges. It is important that females in cardiology are recognised by the unique attributes they bring to the specialty and fortify the female voice, rather than bow to pressure to conform to expectancy bias. Women can play a far greater role than they have been constrained to historically. A wise female cardiologist recently invoked Oscar Wilde: “be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.
It is incumbent upon us all, at all levels, to recognise that gender diversity is essential to improving workplace productivity, developing a miscellany of skills and knowledge which translates into enhanced patient care and enriched professional development. We must rely on the support of each other and our male colleagues to continue to progress and promote gender diversity in Cardiology.