Women Physicians Need The Courage To Lead



By Barbara Sibbald

CMA News

January 12, 1999


By 2025, half of Canada's prac­ticing physicians will be women. But will the same pro­ portion be leaders in management, politics and academia? In late November, the CMA's fourth annual Leadership Workshop for Medical Women addressed that question by providing practical training, role models and net­ working opportunities for 90 potential leaders.


Linda Tarrant, an expert in the management of change, began the workshop by outlining the five steps that must be taken to be a leader. Begin, she says, by branding yourself. What do you stand for? What makes you unique? Next, a leader must be knowledgeable and credible in a range of areas. Tarrant advised continual learning through CMA's Physician Manager Institute. "It's the best thing in Canada to move you into leadership." Thirdly, aspiring leaders need to feel worthy by discovering what they have to offer and formulating their vision.


Dr. Donna Stewart spoke about opportunities for leadership in women's health during the CMA's leadership Workshop for Medical Women Leaders must also get con­nected by sitting on the right committees and becoming "visible." How can I get connected? Where do I have to be? "We spend more time planning our vacations than our lives," says Tarrant. She said leaders need to act with courage because "leadership is not easy, we'll lose friends, peers will call us turn­ coats, people will be mad at us." She advises getting people on­ side prior to meetings and re­membering to attack ideas, not the people who have devised them. "It takes courage to be an authentic leader," she said.


Dr. Donna Stewart, chair of the Department of Women's Health at the Toronto Hospital, pointed out that it is still possible to develop innovative programs, even in times of economic cutbacks, by linking up with the right people. Her research program received a $lO-million grant from a variety of sources for the 1997-98 acad­emic year.


Ottawa psychiatrist Mamta Gautam spoke about physician health and well-being, and identi­fied specific stressors facing fe­male physicians. These include discrimination, a lack of mentors and role models, life-stage considerations such as having chil­dren in mid-career, multiple roles and marital issues. She pointed to a number of ways to keep stress positive: learn to say no, take time off regularly, create a financial plan, and laugh and let go of guilt and unrealistic expectations.


The conference ended on a motivational note with a talk from longtime broadcast jour­nalist Pamela Wallin, who cautioned that physicians must be flexible when they deal with today's more knowledgeable patients.