NationalWomenPhysiciansDay

National Women Physician’s Day

February 3, 2021

Today, on National Women Physician’s Day, BRCA recognizes and celebrates Drs. Neha Amin, Lily Daniali, Chandra Ellis, and Kirsten Smith.

To help celebrate these amazing women and their achievements, each was asked four questions about their experiences as a woman in medicine, and these are their personal and heartfelt answers.

Dr. Neha Amin, burn surgeon at the JMS Burn Center at Wellstar Cobb Hospital in Austell, GA:

What inspired you to choose a career in healthcare?

“I remember telling people I wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember and funnily enough, I think it was just because I loved watching ‘General Hospital’ with my mom as a kid. As I got older, I explored so many other roads, but I was always drawn back to medicine. I saw physicians making such a positive difference in people’s lives, and I wanted to do the same, so I went to medical school. But it wasn’t until I first stepped into an operating room as a medical student that I watched a surgeon being able to calmly lead the team through a very traumatic surgery without breaking a sweat, that I knew that I wanted to be able to do the same.”

What types of struggles have you faced in your chosen career path because of your gender?

“There weren’t many female surgeon role models when I attended medical school. I had no idea that the number was slowly, but consistently, increasing as I was trying to figure out what path I wanted to take. All I kept hearing was that it was so difficult to make it as a female surgeon. It felt like I was hearing it from everyone! It was not easy to find real answers about some of the difficulties females face on their path to becoming a surgeon that were different than a male’s (ie., pregnancy, motherhood or even negotiating a contract as a female physician). Social media has increased that awareness and access to mentors dramatically, but I wish there had been more while I was younger. I’m so glad that is changing for the better.”

What is your advice to any young women thinking about pursuing a career in medicine?

“If it’s really what you want, you will figure out how to make it happen. It requires a lot of constant insight, determination, and self-confidence. The road can truly be daunting at times, but focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. There will definitely be moments where it’s difficult to juggle everything, especially if you decide to have a family. But it is so worth it. Eventually, you will be where you want, making a huge difference in people’s lives every single day while doing what you love. Never let anyone tell you that it’s not possible, and that you can’t.”

What are your goals/hopes for the future?

“My hopes for the future are that women continue to push through barriers in medicine. Female physicians, who often didn’t get the respect they deserved, have persisted for generations to pave the way for us. I really hope to continue paying it forward by mentoring the next generation of female physicians because I really love what I do as a burn surgeon and my life with my husband and son. I want others to know that it is possible to have a balanced and fulfilling life as a female burn surgeon. My next goal is to continue building on our burn center so we can make even stronger impacts by offering the best burn care to more patients.”

Dr. Lily Daniali, burn, plastic, and reconstructive surgeon at Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, CO:

What inspired you to choose a career in healthcare?

“As a child, I had an awesome pediatrician who made a very positive impression on me about the physician profession. Throughout the rest of school, I fell in love with the sciences, especially biology and chemistry, as well as the humanities. Medicine was the natural blending of science and the humanities, and I felt it was a natural fit.”

What types of struggles have you faced in your chosen career path because of your gender?

“While there has been a large increase in the numbers of women physicians, female surgical specialists are still very underrepresented. When I went through plastic surgery residency training, there were no female plastic surgeon on faculty. I was very fortunate to have supportive male faculty that were wonderful mentors, but when it came to figuring out my personal work-life balance, I had to figure it out on my own. As a female surgeon, it has always been extremely important to me that I exceeded external and personal expectations, holding myself to a higher standard. Training was and work is harder because of it, but it has been my way of making certain there are no questions about my reputation and skill set.”

What is your advice to any young women thinking about pursuing a career in medicine?

“The medical profession is a wonderful career filled with great satisfaction and challenges. I do not regret any of the sacrifices I have made for my career. But it is important for young women to know and accept that with the rewards there are major sacrifices. You can’t ‘have it all’ but you can have a lot of things. It isn’t easy, and compromises have to be made. Also, the choice of your partner is critically important to your professional and personal happiness. Take your time and make certain whomever you pick to be by your side loves that you love your career and supports the importance of it in your life.”

What are your goals/hopes for the future?

“I’m tremendously excited about the future for women in medicine. We are on a path for increasing equality in medicine for our gender. As generations of women physicians continue to march forward in our society, the path will only become clearer and more equitable for all.”

Dr. Chandra Ellis, medical director of Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, TX:

What inspired you to choose a career in healthcare?

“In high school, I excelled in science and when I took my first anatomy and physiology class, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine. It brings me pure joy and great satisfaction to develop and implement a treatment plan for my patients.  Experiencing a burn can be scary and painful; possessing the skills to help someone heal from this is rewarding.”

What types of struggles have you faced in your chosen career path because of your gender?

“I have long been assumed to be something other than what I am, a surgeon. The tallest person in the room usually receives all the attention especially if the person is a ‘he’. This was definitely true during my residency. I live by the idea that if you’re consistent, thoughtful, and able to execute safe surgical treatment plans, then more doors will open for women to follow.”

What is your advice to any young women thinking about pursuing a career in medicine?

“The best advice I could give to future women doctors is this: hard days, difficult situations and emotional roller coasters are inevitable. But never give up, this is the best time to follow your dreams, and you will have the greatest opportunity to make a lasting impact in people’s lives.”

What are your goals/hopes for the future?

“My goal for Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Methodist Hospital is to deliver excellence in burn care to the San Antonio community and to my region. I also want to collaborate with area physicians by providing reconstructive care to pediatric and adult patients and to become a model program for burn and reconstructive care beyond our Texas borders.”

Dr. Kirsten Smith, burn surgeon and wound expert at Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, TX:

What inspired you to choose a career in healthcare?

“When I was 6, I decided I was going to be a plastic surgeon like my dad. This stuck with me, except a brief thought of being the first female player in the NFL at age 8. I went to Honduras in high school on a medical mission and when we arrived, we learned about a family that had been burned. The youngest would not survive because they didn’t have the resources there to care for that extensive burn. Burns scared me, so I decided to overcome my fear. I learned about burn care and ethics cases in college and then trained at Brooke Army Medical Center in medical school. The immersion therapy worked. I was hooked. I was still on course to do plastic surgery. In residency I was doing a burn rotation when the doctor said he was going to the wound care center. I asked, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘It is something surgery residents don’t like.’ I said, ‘I am not your typical surgery resident. I am going with you.’ I then decided to learn as much about wounds as possible and become the best wound care physician I could be. I was going to come back to San Antonio and build a ‘Wound Care Empire.’ That was a little more difficult than I had anticipated, but I was able to join the Methodist wound care center and help it grow. I met Dr. Mullins, and that was it. Now the empire is a reality and burns have come back into my life – something I never thought possible.”

What types of struggles have you faced in your chosen career path because of your gender?

“I did my surgical training at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland. At the time we were the largest general surgery program, and we had more women than men, which was very unique. This was a blessing and definitely a different environment than my medical school. I had the privilege of having many great attendings, but four amazing woman surgeon role models all taught me different things about how to be a great doctor. Dr Deveney was the program director and made a name for herself when there were not many female colorectal surgeons out there. She taught me that the life of a surgeon can be tough, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all work better as a team. Dr. Kwong showed me the compassion of being a great doctor. Dr. Rehm ran the ICU at the Portland VA. She taught me the importance of the details of patient care and to always go above and beyond. Dr. Wanek was my chief resident when I was an intern. She was a military surgeon, and her balance of a no-nonsense attitude and humor is something I strive for every day. I brought their examples back to Texas with me. I think being a female surgeon is an advantage and have tried to look at it that way ever since.”

What is your advice to any young women thinking about pursuing a career in medicine?

“A friend of mine had a quote by General James Mattis which has become my new mantra: ‘Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.’ Now, I am not a serial killer, so don’t take that literally. Just always stay two steps ahead. And also treat yourself. I have started having floral arrangements delivered to myself every two weeks to brighten my days.”

What are your goals/hopes for the future?

“Dr. Fred Mullins was the reason I joined BRCA. I did not get to know him well before he died unexpectedly in June. I was in Augusta for his funeral and got to know his vision and spirit by working with the people that he trained at the program he created. He, like me, wasn’t your typical surgeon. He loved wounds. He created a Burn and Wound Empire. He did what I wanted to do and more. He took a private practice group of doctors and turned it into a nationally-recognized company that’s committed to treating burns and wounds. I am inspired to carry on his legacy and to help see his vision for the Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at Methodist Hospital through.”