Words of Wisdom from a Trailblazing Female Cardiologist
An Interview Series with Dr. Pamela Douglas, Ursula Geller Professor for Research in Cardiovascular Disease, Duke University School of Medicine
When Dr. Pamela Douglas began her career as a cardiologist in the 70s, she was one of the only women in the field. In 2017… she’s still one of the few women in the field, but she’s working hard to change that. In this third interview of our series, she shared some of her experiences and advice for other women looking to follow in her footsteps.
Rebecca Beattie: You’ve done a lot of research on gender disparities in the field of cardiology. What got you interested in this topic?
Dr. Douglas: When I chose cardiology as a profession, it became obvious very quickly that there weren’t a lot of women around. I was the third woman ever in my training program, the first woman on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. Then I became the Chief of Cardiology at University of Wisconsin, and I was the only woman faculty. People would say to me “What are you going to do? You’re the only woman!” And I said, “Well I’m the boss, it’s really about how the guys are going to manage.” But I think that gives an interesting perspective on how woman are perceived in the profession. How leadership is in some ways questioned for women, even when it’s obvious who is supposed to exercise authority.
RB: What was your initial reaction to being one of the few women in the room?
PD: At the time I thought it was just a pipeline issue. There weren’t a lot of women in my class, so maybe we just need to get more women into medical school and this will all fix itself. However, now we’re in a time when med schools are 50% women or higher, residencies are 50% women and have been for a decade, but females in cardiology are only 21% and this hasn’t budged. The pipeline is fine but women are not going into cardiology.
RB: Why do you think so many women avoid cardiology?
PD: I think there’s a perception out there that cardiology isn’t family friendly. Men and women, mentors and leadership have all played a part in creating this perception. Many are either pushing women away from cardiology, or pushing them away from interventional cardiology. Some labs have a sort of macho cowboy mentality that may not be the way women want to relate to their profession, or to their patients.
RB: What makes you hopeful about the future?
PD: I’m seeing a ton of content about diversity and sexual harassment now coming out in every industry, so this is really the moment to recognize that it isn’t just our problem. CEOs are actually getting fired for stuff that years ago would have been tolerated with a wink and a shrug. So I think we’re in a place where there’s momentum. We’re not just talking about a half-empty glass anymore, we’re starting to talk about how to get the glass full, and that’s exciting to me. In the next 5-10 years, cardiology is going to be very different.
RB: What would you say to women considering cardiology?
PD: I love being a cardiologist! I want women to know that being a cardiologist is compatible with being a woman and being successful and fulfilled and happy. I think it’s helpful to have a female role model, and also to go in with eyes wide open. We need to acknowledge that we have a ways to go, but it is still a rewarding place to put your efforts into.
I want women to know that being a cardiologist is compatible with being a woman and being successful and fulfilled and happy.