This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine

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Every day women physicians face daunting challenges of the medical profession. But these women are also daughters, mothers, wives, homemakers, and community leaders. With all the demands connected to each role, how do women doctors cope? Many of them write. This Side of Doctoring presents an intimate collection of stories, poems, essays, and quotations that captures the joy and heartbreak of being a woman and being a physician. Eliza Lo Chin (MD, Harvard Medical School) has gathered more than 100 voices that speak to the trials, rewards, and surprises of practicing medicine. From the writings of early medical pioneers to modern-day medical students, this book weaves together a rich patchwork of experiences.

Raw and honest, This Side of Doctoring awakens us to worlds we could otherwise only imagine. Throughout these pages are the expressions of courage, doubt, fatigue, perseverance, frustration, and triumph that fill the lives of women physicians. These are the stories of choosing a life in medicine and the many different paths women follow in living that life.

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Editorial Reviews

Academic Library Book Review

Like a patchwork quilt, this richly-textured compilation represents each woman’s extraordinary life and career while their common experiences clearly emerge, cutting across different specialties, ages, and geographic divides.

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Patricia Wong, MD (Stanford University Medical Center)
Description: This book is a communal sharing of the sentiments and thoughts from female physicians on their medical training and experiences, and how their careers have impacted their lives as mothers, spouses, physicians, and human beings. There are letters, poems, and personal vignettes on why we, as female physicians, celebrate and dedicate ourselves to a very demanding, stressful, and rewarding life choice.
Purpose: Through the sharing of this collective knowledge, the book will encourage, strengthen, support, and provide insight into why we have chosen this life, and continue to believe in what we have chosen, even at those times when it seems like things are not going to work out.
Audience: The audience is female medical students, residents, and physicians.
Features: The fear of losing control of one's life, the fear of making the wrong diagnosis, the sorrow over the death of a patient despite doing one's best, the elation one experiences when one has touched someone and made a difference in how that person copes with an illness, the guilt one feels when one has no energy left for family or spouse, and the acceptance of understanding that one cannot be superwoman are all poignantly represented in the writings.
Assessment: I am unaware of similar books written on the subject. Women physicians may find this book inspirational and enlightening personally.
Publishers Weekly
Any woman contemplating a career as a physician or already working in the profession will gain a good deal of insight from this collection of personal essays and poems by female physicians over the last century and a half. Organized into categories such as "Internship and Residency," "Mothering and Doctoring," and "Barriers," the anthology presents feminine and feminist perspectives on all aspects of a medical career. Most of the pieces are contemporary and previously unpublished, solicited by Chin, an internist and former Columbia University medical professor. In her essay "We're Not in Kansas Anymore: Men as Medical Mentors," pediatrician and author (Her Own Medicine) Sayantani DasGupta describes how her search for a "female" professional mentor turned up a vital male role model instead. Psychiatrist Bhuvana Chandra's evocative poem recalls how much it meant to her father that she became a doctor. Several pieces deal with reconciling the commitment to patients with the commitment to family life, such as Molly Carnes's down-to-earth "Balancing Family and Career: Advice from the Trenches." Chin also provides a historical overview of the barriers that faced 19th-century women physicians like Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from an American medical school, and Harriet Hunt, whose recollections are among the archival pieces featured in the anthology. This is an engaging and frequently inspiring collection. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

3 Stars from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761923541
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications
  • Publication date: 12/20/2001
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.76 (h) x 1.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Eliza Lo Chin is a general internist and former Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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Table of Contents

Foreword - Janet Bickel
Introduction - Eliza Lo Chin
1. Historical Perspective - Eliza Lo Chin
2. Early Pioneers
Glances and Glimpses - Harriet Hunt
Letters from Elizabeth Blackwell - Elizabeth Blackwell
In the Words of Mary Putnam Jacobi - Mary Putnam Jacobi
The Fortress - Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Some of My Life Experiences - Bethenia A. Owens-Adair
From More Than Gold in California - Mary Bennett Ritter
From Mine Eyes Have Seen - Alfreda Withington
Petticoat Surgeon - Bertha Van Hoosen
From A Child Went Forth - Helen MacKnight Doyle
Fighting for Life - S. Josephine Baker
From Bowery to Bellevue - Emily Dunning Barringer
A Woven Fabric - Mary Canaga Rowland
Woman at the Gate - Gulli Lindh Muller
A Woman Doctor Looks at Love and Life - Marion Hilliard
The Antique Roadshow of a 90-Year-Old - Juliana Swiney
Sound Investments - Gertrude Russack Sobel
The First Women at H.M.S. - Doris Rubin Bennett
I Will Not Pass Away - Mildred Fay Jefferson
The Beginnings of Women's Health Advocacy - Lila A. Wallis
From Chivalry and Off-Color Jokes to Acceptance and Respect - Marianne Wolff
Medicine and Motherhood - Marilyn Heins
Medical Internship - Grace Foege Holmes
3. The Formative Years
A Youthful Encounter - Ann Klompus Lanzerotti
From Kitchen Table Wisdom - Rachel Naomi Remen
Anatomy Lesson - Rebecca Tennant
Cold Hands - Jennifer Hyde
Here Is What I Learned - Alison Moll
Jane - Ambur L. Economou
Circumstance - Renda Soylemez
From the Deccan Plateau - Teena Shetty
Song of the Dying Ova - Sayantani DasGupta
How I'll Become a Good Physician - Amy L. Dryer
A Gift - Michelle Monje
Thirtysomething Meets ER - Lori Gottlieb
Freckles - Jennifer Best
Summers With My Aunt - Renda Soylemez
The Discovery Clinic - Melanie M. Watkins
4. Life in the Trenches: Internship and Residency
Unknown Alpha - Lori E. Summers
Birthday - Melissa Fischer
How I Survived Residency - Nassim Assefi
Necessary Journeys - Nancy L. Snyderman
Post-Call - Sheri Ann Hunt
We're Not in Kansas Anymore: Men as Medical Mentors - Sayantani DasGupta
Whine List - Perri Klass
The Only Night I Cried - Sondra Vazirani
A Long Road - Elsa Raskin
A Time for Change: Innovative Pathways for Residency Training - Elizabeth A. Rider
Lamentation of the Female Academician - Melissa A. Parisi
But I Do Care - Joan Stroud
5. On Doctoring
In Between Before and After - Katherine Uraneck
Heartsick - Julia E. McMurray
My Patient, the Doctor, and Me - Gayatri Devi
Heart Doctor - Stephanie Nagy-Agren
Common Ground - Danielle Ofri
Dawn - Kathleen Franco
Life Force - Rachel Naomi Remen
A Doctor Alone With Her Decision - L. Hawes Clever
Through the Eyes of a Physician - Preetha Basaviah
Why You Came to Me - Anju Goel
Generations - Emily R. Transue
Finding Beauty in Annie - Teresa Clabots
A Visit to the Doctor - Deborah Young Bradshaw
Job Description - Katherine Uraneck
6. Mothering and Doctoring
Mutual Benefits - Rebekah Wang-Cheng
Doctor's Daughter - Julia E. McMurray
Conversation Hearts - Janice E. Daugherty
Monday Morning - A. Shafer
"mommydoc" - D. Miller
A Mother's Prayer - S. Crosby
On Being a Medical Mom - C. Leichman
Tsunami Baby - K. Dong
A Patient's Wife - Ruth Cohen
The Transition Game - Bonnie Salomon
Interview for Clinician-Educator Position - Stephanie Nagy-Agren
Spiderlings - Dugan Wiess Maddux
Teeter-Totter - Marcia Quereau McCrae
Breast-Feeding: Straddling the Fence Between Work and Home - Rebecca J. Kurth
A Reminiscence - Patricia Collins Temple
The Second Road - Eliza Lo Chin
Patients as Patron Saints - Alison Moll
Mother's Day - Nalini Juthani
"To Love and to Work" - Nancy B. Kaltreider
Balance - Cynthia J. Kapphahn
Numbing Down - Rebecca Tennant
Maternity and Medicine - Anne E. Bernstein
Parenting Without Pregnancy - Toby Jacobowitz
Body Snatcher - Liza Sharpless Bonanno
Redefining Motherhood - Karen P. Alexander
Taking Children Seriously - Jessica Schorr Saxe
7. Making Choices
Finding the Balance Point Between Overdrive and the Mommy Track - Mary Lou Schmidt
Between Lawn Cuts - Anne Armstrong-Coben
Not Having Children - Rita Charon
Missed Opportunities - Barbara Cammer Paris
Taking Stock - Kathy Kirkland
Life Choices - Kathleen Dong
Composing a Life in Medicine - Joyce Rico
On Packing for the Information Superhighway - Cynthia Rasch
Thoughts on Time Management - Veronica Piziak
8. Barriers
Glass Ceiling - Bhuvana Chandra
Why Don't You Quit? - Nancy B. Kaltreider
Woman in Orthopedic Surgery Stories - Mary Williams Clark
Life in the Boys' Club - Roberta E. Sonnino
Professionalism - Rosa E. Cuenca
The Feminization of American Medicine - Kathryn Ko
An Interview Tale - Priya Krishna
Not Easy to Please - Woman's Medical Journal
On Reaching Visible - Susan K. Schultz
Triple Jeopardy - Livia Shang-yu Wan
A Minority Perspective - Beverly M. Gaines
My Path Through Medical School - Barbara K. Pawley
The Life of Women in Medicine - Barbara R. Sommer
Leave - Grace H. Elta
Emotional Conflicts of the Career Woman - Alexandra Symonds
Kath's Graduation - Kathryn A. Carolin
An American Experience - Dorina Rose Abdulah
A Warm Gesture - Name Withheld
A Lesbian Voice: What Does It Mean to Be a "Dyke Doctor"? - Patricia A. Robertson
9. Connections
The Doctor in the Family - Marie F. Johnson
Tobacco, Tulips, and Terminal Care - Maryella Desak Sirmon
The Friendship of Women - Marjorie Spurrier Sirridge
A Doctor in the Family - Bhuvana Chandra
The Two-Casserole Test - Linda Hawes Clever
The Cafeteria - Lou Elizabeth Mac Manus
Memories of Our Mother - Diane F. Merritt
10. Balancing
August 1994: Letter to My Student - Beth Alexander
Balancing, Juggling, and Other Feats - Donna L. Parker
Juggling the Personal and Professional Life - Marcia Angell
Workday Mornings-Three Weeks - Stephanie Nagy-Agren
Where Is the Self? - Gayle Shore Moyer
The Multitude of Little Things - Dorothy V. Whipple
Is It Worth It? - Nancy B. Kaltreider
Can It Be Done? - Mary Lou Schmidt
A Few Thoughts on Part-time Faculty: The Push for the Summit and the Long Climb Down - Charlotte Heidenreich
Centered in the Deep Connections - Lucy M. Candib
An Independent Scientist - Linda Ganzini
How to Do It All at Once - Teresa Clabots
Late Lunch - Mary Williams Clark
Balancing Family and Career: Advice From the Trenches - Molly Carnes
One Page at a Time - Audrey Shafer
To Rachel - Joan C. Lo
Pregnancy and the Professional Woman - Amy A. Tyson
The Changing Role of Physicians as Working Mothers - Marian Korteling Levai
Reflections on Balance - Jennifer R. Niebyl
Notes From a Personal Journey - Silvia Wybert Olarte
11. Our Families' Perspectives
Jelly - Dr. W
From Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer - Sara Lawrence Lightfoot
Our Medical Marriage - Richard M. Berlin
From Her Infinite Variety - A Lawyer
What's a Mother For? - Blaise Levai
Life With Mother, the M.D. - Cynthia Magowan
What We Have Fashioned Together - Theodore Nadelson & Leon Eisenberg
I Remember as a Child - Mary Cogan Bromage
Renuka Gera - Lori Gera
12. Reflections
The Feminization of Medicine - Perri Klass
Double Helix - Angelee Deodhar
Identity Crisis - Anne Lipton
A Personal Journey - Graciela S. Alarcón
My Experience as a Woman in Medicine - Florence H. Sheehan
Scopes, Hopes and Learning the Ropes - Christina M. Surawicz
Defining Ourselves - Carol Merchant
Looking Good - Martha Stitelman
What It's Been Like - Kathryn D. Anderson
Reminiscences of My Medical Career - Michelle Palmieri Warren
Enjoying the Moment - Catherine Chang
Navigating the Maze of Academic Medicine - JoAnn Elisabeth Manson
From Teacher to Psychiatrist With Family - Leah J. Dickstein
Generation to Generation: Mother-Daughter Physicians - Diane K. Shrier & Lydia A. Shrier
Afterword - Eliza Lo Chin
Resources for Women in Medicine
About the Editor
About the Contributors
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Foreword by Janet Bickel, Associate Vice President, Institutional Planning and Development, Director of Women's Programs, Association of American Medical Colleges, Author of Women in Medicine: Getting in, Growing, and Advancing (2000)

I've never been so glad to be proven wrong. When the idea of this anthology was first proposed, I was skeptical and hoped that Eliza wouldn't be too disappointed when so few women responded to her call. That so many physicians put their emotional and creative and feminine sides on hold during training, and never recover them, also seemed likely to doom this project. But behold the assembled voices of more than 140 women physicians, each authentic and strong. While this compendium cannot span equally well the universe of women physicians and underrepresents some, most women will discover in this book connections to a welcome network of like experiences.

Male readers will find this compendium valuable in quite another way. A brief anecdote illustrates why. I'm among the thousands who are grateful for the mentoring of Dr. Carola Eisenberg. Carola was the first woman in a decanal position at MIT prior to becoming the first woman dean of student affairs at Harvard Medical School. During the 1970s, women residents as well as students discovered in Carola a much needed beacon of sanity and support as, despite dramatic increases in the numbers of women trainees, the "gender climate" remained decidedly chilly. She began opening her home on occasional evenings to the residents so they could share with each other their stresses and coping mechanisms. Her fine husband, Dr. Leon Eisenberg (then chair of Harvard's Department of Social Medicine) told me that he did not understand why these very bright and obviously highly competent women needed extra help. But one evening while making himself a cup of tea in the kitchen, he overheard the voices coming from the living room. He remained transfixed for the next hour or so while lightbulbs flashed on. He had flattered himself to be a champion of equal rights for women but had simply failed to see what went on right in front of his eyes in the mostly male faculty groups he was part of every day. Thus, the ancient power of stories to draw in, to educate.

In Writing a Woman's Life, Carolyn Heilbrun (1988) urges women to write their stories because "power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told." Women professionals looking for their foremothers' stories find comparatively few published ones. And as Heilbrun notes, the women's stories that have been published "are painful, the price [has been] high, the anxiety is intense, because there is no script to follow . . . let alone any alternative stories." Actually, women seeking to combine family, love, and work still lack anything resembling a script; no journey myth works either (Odysseus?). Each woman is still devising her own path on a far from level playing field, dodging unexpected paradoxes-for example, treating other people's children in the hospital while hers are sick at home or professional isolation whereas the experience for men is highly social and socializing.

Most of this book's entries pose questions that converge around three main themes interweaving across the chapters: Who am I in relation to my family? Who am I in relation to my patients? What about my own plans and ambitions? With regard to the latter, as More (2000) noted in her study of women physicians, the effects of "choice" and "necessity" remain more tangled in women's than in men's careers. As McClelland (1967) observes, "A woman's success is less easily visible [than a man's who is following a single course] . . . because it consists of the sum of all these [part-time] activities." But as Williams (2000) shows in Unbending Gender, "women do not prefer marginalization. . . . What is needed is not a mommy track, but work restructured to reflect the legitimate claims of family life."

To focus first on who a woman physician is vis-à-vis her family, tensions around women's multiple roles begin even before medical school. During their medical school interviews, many contributors were asked questions such as, "Why don't you want to be wife and mother?" At the same time, Linda Clever ironically notes, "Being a physician is one of the few socially acceptable reasons to abandon a family." Catherine Chang speaks for many when she says, "I have so much to say, it is difficult to find the words. . . . the struggle to balance my career and family . . . constantly tears at me." Cynthia Kapphahn confesses, "The sheer determination that helped get me through medical school and residency has proven quite useless in my family life. . . . instead, intuition, patience and a form of 'non-effort' are required." Marcia McCrae advises women to give up idea of balance: "Don't be frozen in the middle. . . . learn to prance, slide, skip, skid, and skitter from one end of the see-saw to the other." Laughter is also recommended; Patricia Temple found herself "at the park when the children had runny noses and wet diapers and all I had in my purse was a stethoscope." Linda Clever offers strategies on keeping family glued together and enjoying each other: "negotiate, accommodate, and recreate." Finally finding statement is the emptiness that can occur when women wait too long "to fit the mystical process of reproduction into the unerringly practical cycle of our professional production" (Sayantani DasGupta).

In Barbara Sommer's words, medicine still demonstrates a "pervasive lack of seriousness toward women who want an academic career while providing a loving environment for their family." Thus, most women physicians are still patching together individual solutions and shoehorning their professional and second-shift responsibilities into structures created by men with full-time support at home. The continuing tyranny of dualistic thinking-for example, either you're fully available during your 20s to 40s to work or you'll never reap academic rewards, either you're tenured or nontenured-remains beyond the scope of this book (McElvaine, 2001). But such systems issues beg to be addressed, given that (a) youth is associated with neither scientific achievement nor clinical acumen, (b) women physicians (at least in primary care) tend to be most productive between age 50 and 60, and (c) we cannot afford to waste medical careers, involving substantial public investment (Etzkowitz, Kemelgor, & Uzzi, 2000).

As McMurray and Jordan (2000) have written, "Medicine is particularly appealing to women because it offers the opportunity to have significant intellectual stimulation embedded in a relational context." For physicians, family and professional roles can enrich each other in unexpected ways. Daphne Miller remarks, "The moments of talking with patients about my conflicts and challenges [regarding family responsibilities] have helped me become a wiser doctor and mother, and they have bolstered the confidence of my patients in their ability to care for themselves and others." But witness the contrasts between the days when physicians had opportunity to talk with patients along such personal lines and today. As Lucy Candib declares, "I have chosen to remain in one setting for the past 15 years. . . . A doctor used to be a person who came and stayed . . . in the community." Not only is this community orientation much less common now, but the increasing corporatization of medicine can put physicians at war with patients, as Julia McMurray here notes, "New patients are enraged at the more than three months' wait for a physical. They feel betrayed by the slick advertisements . . . there just doesn't seem to be enough time for them to begin to trust me . . . I am simply heartsick."

Negative influences on the patient-physician relationship are indeed disturbing. But one of the strengths of the book is that contributors wear their hearts on their sleeves. The poetry here comes from the heart too: "Babies . . . slippery as chance" (Alison Moll); "Your love cut through the layers of my . . . shield" (Kathleen Franco); "the hospice within, buried in fertile soil, germinates and flowers tubular fruit" (Stephanie Nagy-Agren); and "Rare/restive respite, only briefly restful/the press of things undone still live and warm" (Mary Clark). Nassim Assefi discusses how writing complements her medical work: "We trace anatomical landscapes with our hands and battle pathology with the latest technology . . . the professional culture . . . fosters disagreement with the emotional realm . . . [But] with fiction, I get under the skin and am able to express processes at work in human life that cannot be explained in a medical textbook." Even women who don't consider themselves writers are advised, "Keep a journal of your stories. They are the vitamins that will help you grow as a person and in a profession . . . a roadmap of where you have been and where you are going" (Beth Alexander).

This collection is a vibrant and accurate roadmap of the past and present of women physicians. I also read it as Acts 1 and 2 of a drama with tragic, comic, and poetic elements. Act 3 is about to begin.


Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C., & Uzzi, B. (2000). Athena unbound: The advancement of women in science and technology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Heilbrun, C. (1988). Writing a woman's life. New York: Norton.

McClelland, D.C. (1967). Wanted: A new self-image for women. In R. J. Lifton (Ed.), The woman in America (pp. 187-188). Boston: Beacon.

McElvaine, R. (2001). Eve's seed: Biology, the sexes and the course of history. New York: McGraw-Hill.

McMurray, J. E., & Jordan, J. (2000). Work in progress: Relational dilemmas of women physicians. Wellesley College, MA: Stone Center.

More, S. E. (2000). Restoring the balance: Women physicians and the profession of medicine, 1850-1995. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Williams, J. (2000). Unbending gender: Why family and work conflict and what to do about it. New York: Oxford University Press.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2002

    Must read for all women in medicine

    Every aspiring doctor, medical student and physician should read this book. If you want to hear what life has been (and is) like for women doctors this captures the agony and ecstasy of the profession. It contains funny stories, beautiful poems and tragic tales of women doctors past and present. I will remember many of these stories for years to come... the young medical student introducing her boyfriend to her cadaver, a doctor herself miscarrying while she delivers a patient's baby, and many more. Many of today's leading women physician writers (as well as women doctors working today) have included pieces, that will inspire, inform or surprise you with their honesty and clarity. It's good for busy women as you can read one story or ten! Makes you wonder what the future holds for women in medicine.

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