Gita is an anesthesiologist living in downtown Toronto.
WHAT IS YOUR MORNING ROUTINE?
On weekdays I usually get up around 5:45 am. My morning routine is minimal – get dressed, eat breakfast, and take my coffee to-go. When I get to work, I change into my scrubs and am in the operating room by 7:00 am. I set up my anesthetic drugs and equipment before meeting my first patient of the day. On weekends – when I’m not on call at the hospital – I love to sleep in! I usually head to the gym for a morning workout and then enjoy a big, hot breakfast at home at a relaxed pace.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH
I completed my undergraduate degree in the Medical Sciences program at Western University with a specialization in Physiology. From there, I went to Queen’s University for four years of Medical School. During my clinical rotations in medical school, I discovered the medical specialty of anesthesiology. Anesthesiologists are doctors who are responsible for providing medical care to patients in the perioperative period (before, during, and after surgery), and therefore must be knowledgeable about all medical conditions and their implications for patients undergoing various types of surgeries. This involves optimizing patients’ health before surgery, safely administering anesthetics to patients during surgery, and ensuring adequate pain management after surgery, while also treating any complications that may occur during these periods. After completing medical school, I decided to pursue a five-year residency in Anesthesiology.
During my residency, I was involved in various leadership roles within the hospital, including serving as my program’s Chief Resident. As an anesthesiologist, I am involved in providing patient care in almost every setting within a hospital – the OR, ICU, ER, patient wards, labour and delivery, etc. This provides unique insight into systems-level issues that exist in different areas of a hospital. With this unique perspective, I continue to be involved with leadership committees to address these issues in order to provide higher quality patient care, while also improving the work environment for physicians and all allied healthcare providers.
Following my residency, I worked in independent practice at different hospitals to get a sense of what practice environment worked for me. In every anesthesia department I worked in, I noted the proportion of women in the department and had candid conversations with these women about any specific challenges they faced (about 70% of practising anesthesiologists in Canada are male). I then decided to pursue a Fellowship (i.e. further subspecialty training), in obstetrical anesthesia which I am currently doing at the University of Toronto.
I have always had an interest in women’s health and the field of obstetrical anesthesia is particularly interesting to me as the demographics and medical complexities of women having babies today has changed quite a lot. The role of an anesthesiologist, to provide safe analgesia (pain control) and anesthesia during labour and delivery, has evolved accordingly and I hope to apply my Fellowship training for the benefit of my future patients.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU OR WOMEN FACE IN YOUR INDUSTRY?
Overall, it is encouraging that the number of female medical students in Canada is on the rise. However, there are still many challenges faced by women pursuing careers in medicine. The old stereotype of all doctors being male and all nurses being female is very much alive. Patients commonly assume that I am a nurse even after I have identified myself to them as their anesthesiologist, as many people don’t realize that anesthesiologists are medical doctors with 13+ years of post-secondary training! Further, when I’m working with male medical students or residents, people often assume that the male trainee is my supervisor and not vice versa. This is something that most (if not all) of my female colleagues have experienced and continue to experience in their daily work.
Physician shortages are currently a contentious issue in the media. Some people falsely assume that women in medicine are contributing to this problem by not working as hard or putting in as many hours as their male counterparts. On the contrary, the reality is that the generation of today’s doctors, both women and men, are making a conscious shift towards more reasonable work hours to achieve better work-life balance, prevent burn-out, and therefore be able to provide better patient care. The old stereotype of a doctor being male, having little responsibility at home, and working a grueling 100-hour work week is obsolete.
Finally, for women in medicine who have kids, decisions about timing and the associated financial pressure can be quite stressful. As medical school and residency training can take over a decade after undergraduate studies, many women are into their 30s by the time they are licensed for independent practice. Some choose to have kids during their training, therefore extending their training period. For others, having children comes at the start of their independent practice, just as they are taking on a new role with new responsibilities, while simultaneously dealing with debt from years of post-secondary education. This requires extensive financial planning as physicians don’t get paid maternity leave or health benefits.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG GIRLS WHO WANT TO BE THE NEXT YOU?
Work hard and don’t shy away from challenges or be discouraged by failures. Treat everyone around you with respect and look out for other women. Share your experiences, positive and negative ones, with each other, especially with women who are going through situations that you have experienced. Know your priorities in life and stick to them – finding a work environment that is supportive of your priorities will make this a lot easier. Finally, mentorship is key – be on the look-out for good mentors, both female and male, and learn as much as you can from them!
HOW DO YOU SEPARATE WORK LIFE FROM YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?
Work-life balance is important, but it is sometimes challenging to keep work from creeping into my thoughts during my personal time. For instance, if I have anesthetized a sick patient on a Friday, I’m going to be thinking about them over the weekend even if I’m not on call. How did she do in the recovery room? Did she need another blood transfusion? Did she need to be re-intubated and transferred to the ICU? Is there something I could have done differently that would have improved her outcome? It becomes a balance between caring for patients and learning to let go and trust your colleagues. In turn, my colleagues must trust that I will take care of their patients when they are not there.
My partner and many of our close friends are also physicians, so it’s not uncommon for “shop talk” to sneak into our social conversations from time to time. It can be helpful and even therapeutic to discuss interesting or complex cases with each other, seeking advice, feedback, or even just reassurance on how we have managed these cases. However, we are mindful of limiting these discussions as we recognize the importance of using our social time to unwind and simply enjoy life. Having friends and family who don’t work in healthcare helps keep “shop talk” at a minimum!
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
People who are not afraid of failure. No matter how easy some people make it look, no one makes it far without facing obstacles along the way. I am inspired by those who work hard to achieve their goals and don’t give up when faced with the challenges life throws at them.
WHEN YOU’RE OFF THE CLOCK, WHAT ARE YOUR INDULGENCES?
I enjoy spending time with family and friends whenever I can, whether it’s trying a new restaurant, hosting a board games night, or staying in and watching a random Netflix documentary. I also love to travel, as it helps me maintain perspective on the world outside of my day-to-day life while appreciating the simple little things we often take for granted.