National Women Physicians Day is February 3, 2019 and is celebrated annually on the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female clinician in the United States. We recently sat down with Dr. Nesreen Kaufman, TeamHealth Regional Medical Director, Southeast Group, to learn about her experience.
TeamHealth: Tell us about your background – education, the story of why you wanted to start practicing medicine.
Dr. Kaufman: I grew up in Egypt and left when I was 12 years old when my family immigrated to the United States. Neither of my parents are physicians. Neither of my grandparents are physicians. I think the closest thing is my grandfather growing up was a dentist. Growing up, I always wanted to become a doctor. A friend of my father was a surgeon, and I remember would let me go with him to the hospital. I’d sit there and watch doctor shows on the Discovery Channel.
I really did not consider doing anything else throughout high school or college. I went straight into med school, and then my first residency was actually in surgery, and then I guess I would say I saw the light and grew up and got married and decided to go into emergency medicine, and I’ve been loving it since.
I joined TeamHealth in 2006, and it was great from the get-go. Six months into working in the emergency department, my VPO came up to me and said the medical director is retiring, and we need one. I was like, “Are you crazy? I’m just starting here!” She just supported me from the very beginning. I’ve always felt like I’m part of a family with TeamHealth. In August, I became a regional medical director with Southeast Group.
TeamHealth: How do you maintain work/life balance?
Dr. Kaufman: I think the work/life balance, we always call it that, but it’s more of a calculated imbalance. It’s just how you define balance. I think you can’t spend the same amount of time each day doing equal time or giving equal attention to every aspect of your life, as in your professional life and your personal life. There is going to be a little bit of an imbalance as you go through each day or season of your life. I think as long as you recognize that, and you communicate with your family and set boundaries it makes life a lot easier.
TeamHealth: What do you feel is the greatest challenge of being a woman physician? Are there any?
Dr. Kaufman: I’ve never really felt a challenge as far as profession, because I don’t think there has ever been any boundaries set for me as far as advancing in my career being a woman. I think the challenge really comes more from personal life balance with your profession. We all [women] have that sort of innate caretaker instinct, where we’re trying to multitask and take care of everybody at home, and at the same time, do what we do best as a physician. There is difficulty in that balancing act, but as far as career, I don’t think there are limits.
TeamHealth: How has TeamHealth supported you personally as a female leader?
Dr. Kaufman: They’ve supported me from the very beginning. I feel like any company has its pros and cons and any strengths and weaknesses, but no matter how large we have gotten, I’ve always felt like I’m part of the family here.
They recognize talent and recognize potential when they see it, whether the talent is there yet. TeamHealth recognizes the potential their clinicians and their physicians and invest in those that show leadership potential, especially women.
TeamHealth: What issues do you feel are important to be aware of on National Women Physicians Day?
Dr. Kaufman: I think just that we [women] are awesome and the sky’s the limit for us! I think, for a woman physician, and just like a male physician, you try to balance being a physician and doing it to the best of your ability and balancing being a mom, being a wife, a sister, daughter – and kudos to anyone able to juggle those roles, because it definitely takes a special person.
I think the demands of being a physician is much greater than a lot of other professions because you’re not only invested physically, but emotionally. You deal with people at their worst and when they are the sickest and feeling down, then you go home and take care of your family and put on that new hat.
TeamHealth: Is there a particularly powerful experience you’d like to share?
Dr. Kaufman: I do have one from early in my career as an emergency medicine physician. We had a pediatric trauma come in where a child had been hit by a vehicle. Though we worked tirelessly, she didn’t make it. My staff and all the nurses were crying and it was a very emotional experience for the entire team. At that point as a physician leader, you have to take a deep breath and express your emotions, and allow your team to express theirs too.
We huddled and allowed all the staff to talk about it. I walked around the rest of the ER, because I was the only physician there, and told the rest of the patients, “Bear with us. We’re just going to have a little bit of a delay, but we’ll be with you as soon as we can.” I went into overdrive balancing everybody, while at the same time, processing what just happened myself and allowing everybody else to process it as well.
TeamHealth: What is the best part of being a physician?
Dr. Kaufman: It’s awesome. I honestly can’t picture doing anything else. I love the human interaction and being to help people feel better physically and emotionally. Whether it’s to save a life, walking into someone’s room that just came in for a minor thing like a toothache or somebody that came in with a life-threatening condition that you have to stabilize, we change lives every day and touch people at the deepest, most intimate level possible. How many professions can say that?
TeamHealth: What advice to you have for other and aspiring female physicians?
Dr. Kaufman: Do it for the right reason and remind yourself why you’re doing it every day. I think it’s part of our survival as physicians and in healthcare in general, but if you always remind yourself of why you’re doing it,I think you’ll remain satisfied in what you do. Also, know you’re the only one that can set limits for yourself, so set your goals, set your boundaries, set your priorities and stick with them.
Don’t sacrifice your personal life for work, but also know that sometimes sacrifices personally in the short-term are required to advance if you aspire to become a physician leader. Be true to yourself and be true with people around you that you love, and know open communication is key. It’s OK if there are setbacks, because that gives you the potential to rise higher, so don’t get discouraged. You are going to do great!
Thank you, Dr. Kaufman for sharing these powerful insights! Happy National Women Physicians Day to all the female clinicians out there! We are encouraging women physicians across the country to celebrate their accomplishments by using the hashtags #NWPD and #IAmBlackwell.
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