BLOGS Voices Follow

8 Jan 2014

Women in Cardiology: The Challenge to Have Both Career and Family

Monika Sanghavi’s recent Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes article tackles the important topic of the under-representation of women in cardiology and the reasons behind it, particularly the challenge of balancing a demanding career with family. CardioExchange asked Monika to share why she wrote the blog and the reaction she’s received.

The book Lean In was released on March 11th 2013, the last day of ACC 2013.  As part of the book promotion, Katie Couric had interviewed Sheryl Sandberg on her talk show and tweeted a statement from Sandberg: “Women should go for the big job and deal with family later.”  I immediately tweeted back, “I agree women should strive for greatness, but at the expense of their family, not sure.”

After I sent the tweet, I had an instant realization that I was being a hypocrite.  I had been living apart from my husband for two years during fellowship in order to pursue my career ambitions.  If that isn’t deferring family obligations, what is?  I considered that many would think that living apart from their spouse was too high of an opportunity cost to pursue a cardiology fellowship. I reflected on this and the other sacrifices we make in order to pursue our passion in medicine.

While at the ACC sessions, I began to notice how most of the panelists of the late-breaking trials were men and how the conference was attended by more men than women.  I also reflected on the fellows and faculty in my division and realized that women were disproportionately affected by family responsibilities: compared with our male counterparts, more of the female fellows had deferred starting a family and more of the female faculty had taken part-time positions to balance their family obligations.

I began to wonder if this is why we have such an under-representation of women in cardiology and what could be done to level the playing field for women.  It is obviously not the hard work, overnight call, or subject matter that deters women, or there wouldn’t be so many in General Surgery, OBGyn, and Pediatric Cardiology.

When I flew home that night I couldn’t sleep; I wrote all of my thoughts on paper and began discussing this topic with other people.   My informal survey of the women faculty at my institution reflects the findings of the ACC Professional Life Survey.  The struggles these women were facing were not isolated, but part of a national struggle.

With the encouragement of my co-fellows and faculty mentors, I decided to publish my thoughts.   The response has been great.  I received an e-mail from a resident applying to cardiology in which she said, “You have captured my fears exactly.” I’ve also gotten emails from more senior faculty of both genders who appreciate the discussion.  I really hope this article helps others reflect on this important issue and is a catalyst for greater discussion on what can be done to help recruit women into the field of cardiology and to balance both their career goals and family responsibilities.