Doctors’ Stories and Support Abound at EmpowHERment

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – More than 80 local women physicians gathered for a night of sharing stories from their daily lives as doctors and how to conquer the hardships they face as they try to fill many roles, whether it’s a doctor, wife, mother, employer, teacher or caretaker.

Whatever position they’re in, women should develop equanimity and realize they are not the cause of others suffering, nor it is their sole responsibility to relive it, said Dr. Kathleen Padgitt, a practitioner of internal medicine, nephrology and hypertension and the keynote speaker for the EmpowHERment event.

“A good bulk of my work is actually in the hospital,” said Padgitt, who has been practicing since 1989. “I no longer get to interact with as many of my colleagues, so it’s wonderful to get together just to talk about what interests us about how medicine impacts our lives.” 

EmpowHERment, held Wednesday night at The Lake Club, is a great opportunity to interact, interface and to develop community, Padgitt added. The event also included a panel discussion by four doctors.

This is the first year that 50% of the incoming medical school classes are female. With a lot of discussion within the medical community about burnout and the importance of community among physicians, said Dr. Meredythe McNally-Ryznar, a gastroenterologist and chief of staff at Salem Regional Medical Center, fostering relationships between women doctors is important.

McNally-Ryznar moderated the panel and created EmpowHERment. “As female physicians, it is challenging to find a local forum for us to connect with our peers to discuss and address important issues that we all face on a daily basis, whether it be personal or professional,” said McNally-Ryznar in announcing the inaugural event.

The goals of bringing EmpowHERment to life is to make sure that women, as physicians and leaders in medicine, are getting together, keeping their own community close by discussing topics that are close to the heart, McNally-Ryznar said, whether it be burnout, life balance, gender equality or mentorship.

A study by the Association of American Medical Colleges last year found 54% of doctors report symptoms of burnout and as many as 400 complete suicide every year. That rate is twice as high as other careers. Female physicians are 2.27 times more likely to complete suicide than the general female populaton, the study found.

Over the course of her 29 years in the field, Dr. Maria Ryhal, one of the panelists who is a family practitioner in Lisbon, has seen all women physicians go through good days and bad days, she said. Hopefully, the good outweigh the bad, but it’s important to let the younger physicians know their predecessors have done it and they can make it through too, she added. 

“When I first came into practice 26 years ago, there weren’t a lot of women in medicine that you could have as role models and inspiration,” said opthamologist Dr. Sergul Erzurum. “You didn’t quite know how to juggle all the facets of your life.”

Getting together at EmpowHERment to try to help other women and themselves as a guide to continue to grow is “incredible,” Erzurum said. She has hopes for it to continue into the future. 

“I think, as women, you fill many hats,” Padgitt said. “Often times when you wear so many hats, you often feel that you don’t feel any of them well enough. We’re very good at self criticism and negative self talk.”

Because of advances in technology in the medical field, doctors are driven to see more patients in a shorter period of time, Padgitt said. More is done with electronic medical records and communication is done that way as well, she added. 

“We don’t communicate one-on-one and face-to-face,” Padgitt said. “I think for some people, that leads to a sense of isolation and that isolation can easily turn into depression. What I would like to see the impact be is just for women to be able to get together and sort of share their issues.” 

Women should be able to express their issues whether it’s feeling like they’re not the best mom because they have to work or by missing football practice because they’re in the office late at night with two hours worth of charts to do, Padgitt said.

“There are other moms like that, so I think it’s important to be able to understand that you’re not alone in your feelings and you’re not alone when these things happen to you,” she said. 

Pictured: Drs. Elena Rossi, Kathleen Padgitt, Sergul Erzurum, Maria Ryhal and Reem a Taneja were panelists at EmpowHERment, a forum for women doctors held Wednesday night. 

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