Establishing Authority as a Female Resident

Updated: Feb 2

Anita Chary, MD PhD and Jossie Carreras Tartak, MD MBA Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency

Our favorite quote from Esther Choo encourages us to "allow our female trainees to spend less time learning how to walk the fine line between normative and counternormative behaviors and more time simply learning to be physicians." This is the GOAL in medicine. But currently we aren't there. Our female trainees are still getting discordant feedback, feedback about PERSONALITY. And they are still trying to balance on the tightrope between societal expectations and the needs of the patient on the stretcher in front of them, between normative and counternormative, between "masculine" and "feminine", between assertive and bitchy. Here's some great advice on that tightrope walk ladies...

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Female physicians in emergency medicine must act as leaders in many types of clinical situations, such as traumas, codes, and critical procedures. However, we walk a fine line in how we assert our authority, as many leadership qualities are perceived as traditionally masculine traits, and displaying them transgresses common expectations among hospital colleagues of how we should behave. Standing our ground is perceived as being “too assertive” or “aggressive,” advocating directly for our patient care plans seems “domineering,” and blunt, to-the-point communication is seen as “bitchiness.” In contrast, not speaking up for ourselves can lead to gaps in our training—such as missed procedures and leadership positions (1)—and to poor evaluations of our performance (2).

In training, particularly early on in residency, finding a personal leadership style as a female physician can be challenging. Over the course of our training, here a