There has been a significant rise in the number of women physicians in the country. The increase in the physician workforce is proportionate to the steady increase in the enrollment of female medical students.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) the percentage of female physicians in the workforce has increased significantly in the last 15 years. From 28.3% in 2007 it had reached 36.3% in 2019. The percentage is heavily skewed towards women, an example of which is the American University of Antigua, where 61% of the students are female and 39% male.
Amidst the recent Graduation celebrations, two of the Graduate from AUA 2022 batch spoke to SEEMA about their inspiration, their journey in medicine and their advice to girls who may be considering following their footsteps into becoming female physicians and growing their tribe.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, to immigrant parents from northern India, Jain made the best of the colorful Indian culture at home, including training in classical dance, art, swimming, soccer, and playing the piano. She also gained accreditation to teach others in these fields. Unbeknownst, this bred in her a passion for education which would later dove-tail into a career of medical clinical education.
Jain had an early introduction to medicine through her father, who is also a physician. His contributions and service to his community and their families motivated her to pursue something just as meaningful. She soon realized that medicine would be the best way to combine her passions and service to others, So she pursued her medical training at the American University of Antigua in 2016. She found herself gravitating towards all aspects of medicine, but valued the long-lasting relationships a family physician builds with patients and their families. So she chose family medicine as the perfect fit. This specialty allowed Jain to combine her passions for clinical education, global and local community outreach, and academia in her future practice.
Jain considers the greatest inspiration to be right at home.
As she described it, “My father was a huge inspiration to me, and opened my eyes to the world of medicine. Seeing him interact with his patients and their families provided me with a true sense of appreciation and gratification for this field. It was not until my grandfather was diagnosed with Stage 4 gastric cancer did I really value the medical community. Through the due diligence of my father and my nana’s (grandfather’s) family doctor, they were able to catch the disease at a curable stage and allowed for a successful recovery. More importantly, I had my nana back!”
What was curious for Jain was the fact that her grandfather had remained with the same family physician for more than 30 years.
Jain recalls his simple response: “He said, it is because of that long-lasting and trustworthy relationship we have built, that keeps me at ease. From that moment onwards, it was clear that if I could have any minimal amount of the effect this doctor had on my nana and our family, I knew I would be in the right place.”
Experience at AUA:
A recent graduate from the American University of Antigua, Jain fondly talks about her experience on the island. “It was amazing, yet challenging. Navigating a foreign country and a foreign medical system was difficult, and I soon realized that developing a strong support system is essential to success. I was able to connect with peers and faculty one on one, and in groups, for me to feel the most comfortable, and ultimately excel. More importantly, I was able to achieve a balance between my academics, my passions for clinical education, and my hobbies. I excelled after my first semester at AUA, and became a medical scholar. I tutored cellular biology, biochemistry, and neurology. I drew upon my previous experiences as a dance/swimming/piano teacher and channeled it into my medical journey.”
Increasing percentage of women in medicine:
Jain notes the substantial increase of women in medicine.
“I credit this to the empowerment that women have been given to pursue their educational dreams,” she said. “I remember talking to my nani (grandmother) about Indian culture not being supportive for women seeking higher education. The women before us have paved the way for people like me, so know that we CAN succeed. We have succeeded now and in the past, and we will continue to break barriers for all the future female physicians to come.
Advice to South Asian women:
She suggests trying out what she did: laboring hard to achieve career goals.
“Nothing worth having comes easy,” she said. “Choosing a medical career requires hard work, commitment, and dedication, but is truly gratifying. To me, a life dedicated to medicine allows for ultimate satisfaction. Most importantly, creating a strong support system is crucial to overcoming the challenges that lie in any medical career. Asking for help, reaching out to faculty, peers, and family, is something I highly stress. Medicine is a team sport, whether that is in your medical education, or practicing as a physician.”
Sharma was born and raised in Queens, New York. Her parents migrated from Punjab, India, to ensure her a shot at the American dream for the family. The eldest of three, she grew up in a multi-generational home and greatly values family time. Besides spending time with her family and friends, staying active with her 12-year-old labrador, Cruiser, is another thing that she appreciates. Sharma is an internal medicine resident in Florida and hopes to specialize post-residency.
There were multiple factors that influenced Sharma’s decision to get into medicine.
“My mother used to be a secretary at a pediatrician’s office,” she said.. “Dr. Gupta was my first exposure to medicine, and his office became my second home. However, my mother began working at the office of a prominent internist in Long Island, Dr. Krishana Jajoo who took note of my curiosity. He pushed me into building my pre-med portfolio. He wanted to see passionate doctors in the community and saw that drive in me. He even gifted me my first stethoscope. I enjoyed seeing how he handled the South Asian community, and his duties went beyond simple diagnoses from them.
Culturally, South Asians revere doctors but are hesitant to take advice. However, Dr. Jajoo dedicated himself to providing a healthier lifestyle for his patients, and I wanted to emulate that. I fell in love with developing the patient-physician relationship and its role in patient-centered care. From high school to college, I continued to shadow different fields of internal medicine. I realized no other field valued a humanistic approach to therapy while still being challenged with complex thinking in formulating a diagnosis. Also, as a first-generation South Asian woman, it was vital for me to ensure that my parents’ sacrifices were well worth it. I fell in love with medicine, and this education empowers me.
Experience at AUA:
Fresh off the island having graduated from AUA, Sharma’s experience there was something she had not anticipated. She recalls, “My experience at AUA was nothing that I thought it would be. Friends and family advised that a medical career was challenging, so I went to AUA with the mindset that failure is not an option. I dedicated myself to medical education on the island and did exceptionally well. The faculty and staff supported me throughout my endeavors, noting my strong passion for healthcare and science. They offered me the resources I needed to perform at the level of an American Medical Graduate.
Most importantly, I received tremendous support from faculty that believed in me, even when I doubted myself. AUA provided the tools needed to gain a competitive residency and helped me earn a spot at a flagship residency program.”
Increasing percentage of women in medicine
The reason there is an increased majority of women taking up medicine Sharma feels is the realization not to conform. She says, “More women realize they do not need to follow society’s expectations of gender-specific roles. The medical landscape is shifting away from a male-dominated field, empowering women and inspiring them to seek happiness in life and work.”
Advice to South Asian women
Sharma wants others to learn from her experience.“I was indecisive, and it was mainly my fear and insecurities,” she said. “Have faith in yourself and have faith in the journey. Take the time to shadow and volunteer in the hospital to see if other roles interest you. However, push yourself when pursuing this career because it is enriching. The number of hours put into school is nothing compared to the feeling you get when a patient thanks you for helping them in their journey. Also, everyone looks great in scrubs!”