Elizabeth Berdan, MD, is a graduate of the Medical College of Wisconsin. She is a PGY-8 in General Surgery at the University of Minnesota. She took 3 years as a post-doctoral fellow after her 3rd clinical year. She will carry on as a pediatric surgery fellow at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She enjoys martial arts, running, and yoga. Her major professional interests include academic surgery with a focus on clinical outcomes research and supporting women in surgery.
Q: How have you been able to balance your life with academic surgery? I am very interested in surgery and working in academic medicine, but I still plan to have a family.
A: You can make anything possible, within reason. I try to remember that ANY progress is good progress because I cannot do everything every day. As a surgery resident you are not balanced. My life is in the hospital, reading about my patients and their procedures. I embrace this part of my life by learning as much as I can, doing as much as I can and being the best surgeon possible.
As a resident in an academic program there is a lot that is expected beyond clinical expectations, which I find to be a struggle at times (research projects, talks, manuscript preparation, resident and student education). I think it comes down to your motivation and values. In short, what makes you happy? Why are you a doctor and where do you want to take your career? This will help guide your time and prioritize your tasks.
My simple mission: excellent patient care. Sometimes I do feel overwhelmed, not strong enough for the tasks at hand, not always perfect. I remind myself why I am pursuing this knowledge and skill set. I remind myself why I make the sacrifices that I do.
Finally, my husband is amazing. He runs a computer company and takes care of our children during the day. He is a wonderful dad and a very supportive husband, which is key. He supports my long hours and need to study and write manuscripts. He is my rock.
Q: What do you feel like was the most important/impactful support you got as a woman in surgery (during med school or your training), and how can I, as a leader for Women in Medicine at Ohio State, help implement some of that support here?
A: I enjoyed the examples of women who were successful in surgery: strong, intelligent women who demonstrated that surgery is also a realm for women. I have found the most emotional support in other women (both in surgery and outside of surgery). My male mentors (I have many mentors with different roles) have always been supportive of my personal and professional life, but not in the same way. Difficult to describe, but this is the core reason why I am writing this blog (instead of studying for my mock oral boards, sleeping more, spending more time with my family). It is important for me to just be present. Show up… for you. To show you that YOU can do this too. It is so much fun. It is so draining. It is so rewarding.
In short you answered your own question: it’s simply the support that encourages you to succeed. Whether this support is from a woman surgery resident, woman surgery attending, your dean, your family and friends the support matters. Keep looking until you find people that fit what you need for support to succeed.
How you can implement support at Ohio State? Get involved. Be the example of success for other people coming up behind you. Reach out to others. Surround yourself with people that can support you and love you. Do nice and healthy things for yourself. Be kind to yourself. This area is of significant interest to me and I would be happy to discuss ideas further. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a time to discuss this involved topic!
Q: How did you decide to take the time off for your post-doc fellowship?
A: From the start I was interested in research. I have a long history in research and hope to continue in this pursuit once my fellowship training has concluded. It was an easy decision for me. Not everyone needs to pursue this for their career.
Q: Can you share some insight on being a women in surgery with a family? What are some ways you keep your family and work life balanced?
When I am home my goal is to be present. I try not to discuss work too much or discuss the stressors related to my work. When I am home my children need to be with their mother. Each day when I drive home I think about my day and put it into perspective. My family is a source of joy and support.
It is hard work, but so very worth it!
Q: In medical school, how were you able to gain a significant understanding of the demands of surgery? Of the differences between surgical specialties? How were you able to bring the pieces together to ultimately come to your final interest?
A: I am not sure you can gain “a full understanding” of what it means to be a surgeon as a student. Shadow physicians in clinic, the OR, etc. If you are unsure of surgery as a career then do more surgery rotations as a student. I do know some people who were unsure of what they wanted to do and did a preliminary year in surgery.
Advice: 1) You need to be the best you at all times. 2) You can always apologize to your co-workers, family members and patients. An apology may be a humbling experience but can smooth emotionally turbulent situations. 3) Learn from each situation and seek feedback from those lateral to you, above you and below you. 4) Eat well. 5) Take the stairs.
Please feel free to contact me (email@example.com) with additional questions. These are important topics to discuss.