In recognition of the many major accomplishments by women in anesthesia, CSA will be highlighting a variety of women leaders who practice throughout the state, bringing their diverse backgrounds and life perspectives into their work, taking purposeful steps to create pathways for mentorship and sponsorship, and helping support the clinical and research work that is being driven by an increasingly diverse field of anesthesiologists.
Many of these physicians commented on the power of having role models, mentors, and sponsors who not only helped them at various points in their studies or in their early career experiences, but also showed them first and foremost what is possible. Seeing accomplished physicians from underrepresented minority backgrounds helps reinforce the opportunity, encourages other people from minority backgrounds to pursue goals in medicine, and over time will help to make even the highest leadership levels at hospitals, academic institutions, clinics and departments look more like the diverse patient population that we serve.
Below is one of the series profiles on women making great things happen in anesthesia:
Solmaz Nabipour, MD
- Clinical Associate Professor, Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital
- Anesthesiology Medical Director at Stanford Cancer Center South Bay
- Co-Founder/Director of ASPIRE Program
- Currently in law school at Santa Clara University
Describe your work in promoting equity and diversity in medicine?
In my early career experience, I saw that women and underrepresented minorities had more difficulty spontaneously finding mentors, and had more difficulty building the same type of career support network that I saw others benefiting from. People tend to pick a mentee that they have something in common with, and unfortunately, we tend to see the superficial stuff first. That means that mentor/mentee benefits tend to flow to the younger doctors that look the same and have the same background as those who are already in power. None of this is intentional, it’s just how we behave as humans. I grew up in Tehran and came to the U.S. when I was seven years old and didn’t speak English. So there are not a lot of other physicians around me with the same life experiences or easily visible connections.
So I think we need to be purposeful in pushing faculty development projects that help everyone and increase access to those mentorship benefits. To do this, I helped start the Early Career Mentorship Program at Stanford University. This program provides a structured approach to mentorship, giving guidance to mentors, and holding relevant workshops on topics related to career development, research assistance, and improving ourselves as educators. We also have a speaker exchange program called “ASPIRE” which provides a forum for idea exchange and community building for newer anesthesiologists across both private practice and academic settings. In fact, the ASPIRE program has an upcoming virtual event on May 20 at 4pm with speaker Travis Reece-Nguyen, MD, MPH, who will discuss anesthetic considerations when caring for transgender patients. The event is open to all interested participants – for more information or to get the zoom link please email email@example.com.
What are some of the unique challenges for women in medicine?
We like to network with other people like ourselves, so women network with other women and minorities network with other minorities, but unfortunately that means that right now we’re not networking with as many of the people who are in leadership positions and who can get us into positions of power and leadership. There’s an important saying: “You can’t be what you can’t see,” so I think it’s very important that we build up diversity and representation in leadership so that women and minority doctors see the leadership opportunities exist for them as well. And that matters in the long term for the delivery of quality patient care. Diversity in medicine is a really good thing. People who are cared for by doctors who look like themselves tend to be more comfortable, satisfied, and even get better care.
What needs to change?
We all need to recognize that we carry historical assumptions of what a leader looks like, so we need to try hard to check those judgments. To build a more diverse leadership tier in medicine, we need to judge potential leaders on whether they are doing the right things and showing the right skills, not on whether they say things the same way as past leaders. At the same time, we also need to restructure our American idea of what a good doctor is. For so long, we’ve only looked at career opportunities in medicine through the lens of full-time employees with little to no personal time – but if we shift our perspective and nurture a culture of increased flexibility, that will not only create more diverse leaders, but will also build a more resilient physician workforce.