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Shadowing a Female Physician as an Aspiring Female Physician

"Peeking through the curtain separating me from the bustling atmosphere of the hospital, my adventure-seeking nature was mesmerized by the controlled chaos that was the emergency room." Continue reading to learn more about Student Doctor Sara Rottink's experience of shadowing a female physician as a premed.

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As a child who could never turn down a challenge, and an older brother who loved to test the limits of that constitution, the childhood play in our household often escalated out of control whenever we could escape the watchful eyes of our parents. Our imaginary feats of scaling walls and dashing through perilous obstacle courses in the name of parkour quickly transgressed to real ones as my brother and I became specialists at concocting elaborate challenges, each one more daunting than the last. Whether we were rigging the ordinary household furniture into a stage for our duels or rehearsing the “People’s Elbow” to refine our wrestling skills, each adventure was akin to a surgical effort that tested both our boundless creativity and durability. However, as you can imagine, my punch card for closes calls could only last so long, finally filling up one afternoon after attempting to perform a particularly daring stunt under the antagonizing jeers from my brother. After a tense car ride to the emergency room and one x-ray later, I came face-to-face with the doctor on call. My memory, tinted with childhood reverence, recalled the authoritative presence the on-call orthopedic doctor commanded as he pointed out the blatant crack running through my ulna before being whisked away to his next patient. Peeking through the curtain separating me from the bustling atmosphere of the hospital, my adventure-seeking nature was mesmerized by the controlled chaos that was the emergency room. Coming back to school with a cerulean blue cast for all my friends to sign was the highlight of that year.

As I returned to the pediatric emergency room years later, no longer as a patient but a student observer, that same vibrant energy from long ago greeted me as an old friend. I watched, wide-eyed and in awe, as the various doctors discussed each patient encounter with clinical curiosity and critical decision making while adding humorous, sharp-witted quips in between the brief respites they were granted. The virtual shadowing so many of us were subjected to during the peak of the pandemic failed to do justice to the effortless symphony performed by the orchestra, the emergency department staff, led by their conductor, the attending physician. Like a well-oiled machine, the paramedics obtained electrocardiograms and vital signs, while nurses performed blood draws and administered medications, as the residents branched out to tackle their respective cases, subsequently returning to report their findings to the attending physician, Dr. Sojar, whom I had the pleasure of shadowing.

As I trailed behind Dr. Sojar while she weaved in and out of patients’ rooms, I was startled by the emotional complexity of the role she played. Placating the fretful energy emitted from the parents, navigating the temperamental mood of the ill children, instructing the eager-to-learn residents, and graciously humoring the ever-curious student-shadower. Always catering to the emotions of others. Never brisk, never detached, and never too busy to fully explain her reasoning to the patient and their family. There was nothing impersonal nor aloof about her methods, especially during patient interactions. In fact, every action she performed centered around shedding the title of “doctor” and with it the air of intimidation that follows, as she sought the more coveted title of ally. Even her body language was perfectly tailored to be welcoming and friendly, never towering over a patient but instead sitting at eye-level, as equals.

While I meticulously catalogued the empathy and modesty that permeated each patient interaction, I became more and more charmed by Dr. Sojar as I got my first glimpse of the true nature of the doctor-patient relation and the duality of being a female physician.

The initial shock of noting how relatable she was only intensified as I observed her unwillingness to comprise her naturally empathetic nature in order to be perceived as authoritative. As an aspiring female physician, I’ve always been told if I want to follow this career path, I must be strong. That I’ll have to work harder and smarter than others against the latent gender bias that permeate the field of healthcare. While an important lesson to take to heart, sometimes that lesson gets misconstrued to mean you must be apathetic and detached to be taken seriously, but every action Dr. Sojar took proved this wrong. That revelation only cemented the realization that being a female in healthcare does not prohibit you from being compassionate and a lifeline to patients. Experiencing the true nature of a female physician who is able to retain her compassion for patients and those around her despite the stigma demanding female physicians to be “tough” was eye-opening and I am forever grateful to Dr. Sojar for being a role model to aspiring female physicians such as myself.

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