At first, I was excited for the opportunity to write a piece for The Scan on Women in Ultrasound Leadership. I love ultrasound and I love trying to advocate for women in medicine, especially women in medicine leadership. Sounds great, right? Then my efforts quickly became like the purgatory on a page of my personal statement for internal medicine residency application. Next came a hard-core resurgence of the “Impostor Syndrome” I’ve been working pretty hard to quell, with the support of some great colleagues and friends. In case you’re one of the few people who have never experienced this, Impostor Syndrome is defined by Dr Google as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” So, how do you write for yourself and try to encourage others to keep waging and winning these internal AND external battles? Especially when you so very acutely remember all those doubts (and *may* have had to take propranolol for near panic over giving a Meet the Professor session on POCUS at the American College of Physicians convention last year)?! Here’s how: You look at the numbers, get fired up, think about yourself in the past—plus all of the other women out there—and get down to it.
Since you’re probably wondering who in the heck I am, and why I am qualified to write about women in ultrasound leadership, let me introduce myself. I am a lifelong Oregonian outside of 3 years in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital for my internal medicine residency. During my residency, I fell in love, first with simulation as an educational method, and later with point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). I felt these methods could do so much to advance the care of medical patients beyond the ED, where POCUS was most common. Then, I returned home to my first attending role in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). My passion for ultrasound developed further as I learned additional clinical uses and saw just how much you could use ultrasound to teach residents and students in the foundational sciences and beyond.
With the knowledge, support, and sponsorship of my former provost, Dr Jeanette Mladenovic, I started my ultrasound leadership journey. My first experience with the incredibly welcoming national POCUS community was when the World Congress of Ultrasound in Medical Education came to OHSU in October of 2014. With Dr Mladenovic’s encouragement, I helped out with logistics, including scheduling and faculty, room, and machine assignments, and did a bit of teaching. But mostly I fan-girled over my POCUS heroes, learned, and connected. There were probably only 10–15 other internists that year, but I was so inspired by their work and the POCUS community in general that I will forever fondly remember that meeting.
Since then, via connections, friends, mentors, and sponsors made at that meeting, I have been able to teach at national internal medicine (IM) pre-courses, give lectures, webinars, and podcasts, and create and deliver local, regional, and national/international POCUS curricula at OHSU, including for the AIUM (where I now also serve on the Board of Governors).
It’s been a wild ride, and I’d like to take a quick pause to define and highlight the concept of sponsorship, and what it has done for me. “The Real Benefit of Finding a Sponsor” in Harvard Business Review (HBR) asserted:
“The Sponsor Effect” defines a sponsor as someone who uses chips on his or her protégé’s behalf and advocates for his or her next promotion as well as doing at least two of the following: expanding the perception of what the protégé can do; making connections to senior leaders; promoting his or her visibility; opening up career opportunities; offering advice on appearance and executive presence; making connections outside the company; and giving advice. Mentors proffer friendly advice. Sponsors pull you up to the next level.
Another HBR piece I love highlights the importance of women supporting each other, instead of responding to inequality in the workplace by holding down other women. The article describes sponsorship as “connecting a protégé with opportunities and contacts and advocating on their behalf, as opposed to the more advice-focused role of mentorship.”
Setting aside the actual promotion piece of sponsorship (given the rather structured, CV-driven nature of the academic promotion process) in my mind really drills down to someone with influence going above and beyond suggesting high-yield activities and relationships for a mentee. Instead, a sponsor makes those connections for them, putting their name up there for that national committee, speaking role, suggesting them for that multi-site study, etc.
So why am I telling you all this? Because we NEED TO ACT. Across the spectrum, there are profound discrepancies between the two sexes: woman are paid less, promoted less, funded less, published less, and finally, invited to speak & peer review less (https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k5232).
I want to acknowledge that both men and women in the POCUS and ultrasound communities have supported me, but we all have more to do. The ultrasound community is not immune to the “manel.”
“Conceptually, the reason why a panel would be organized in the first place, whether at a conference, on cable news, or as part of a legislative session, is to ensure a diversity of opinions and perspectives are brought to the issue up for discussion…The term manel has, like its predecessors, become a useful way to take note of a circumstance in which men may not realize that something they’re involved in has the effect of marginalizing women.”
Once we acknowledge that there is gender inequality, we can all play an active role in addressing it. Here are a few places to start:
- Don’t wait for women to come to you. Step up and volunteer to be a sponsor without being asked.
- Nominate a female colleague for an award.
- If you find yourself on a planning committee, make sure speaker suggestions include women as well.
- Be fair in your authorship, and make sure if you suggest peer reviewers you suggest women and In fact, being inclusive of women can translate to all aspects of your life!
Finally, my message to junior female colleagues: Focus on your strengths and what you have to give. Don’t be like me and be petrified by your lack of formal training, supplemental degrees or certificates, being the only woman or internist or sonographer in the room. No one knows everything. Own what you don’t, be honest, and do NOT let obsession with limitations or perfection be the enemy of good. Take it from me. And if you don’t have one, get out there & find yourself a sponsor. Okay, actually that was my message to all female colleagues!
In closing, I am thankful for the ultrasound community and all of the opportunities I have had to contribute to the AIUM mission and ultrasound use in general. I am honored to be on the Board of Governors for an organization with a female CEO. I am proud to be on faculty at a university with a female Dean, Provost, Chief Medical Officer, and Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education. Finally, I am thrilled to contribute my love of POCUS as both an educational & diagnostic tool, along with my love of “gab” & connections to help promote and bring this community closer together in any way I might.
Do you know of a woman whose career advanced with the help of a sponsor? Have you been a sponsor? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.
Renee Dversdal, MD, FACP, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of OHSU Point of Care Ultrasound as well as General Medicine Ultrasound Fellowship Director at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon.