Women in Medicine: Dixie Aragaki
Sunday, September 9, 2018
Posted by: AAP Staff
Dixie Aragaki, MD is the Residency Program Director for the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and a Professor at David Geffen Medical School at UCLA. Throughout her career, she has authored and co-authored 11 peer reviewed publications, 30 research abstracts, 3 book chapters and received 12 teaching awards. Dixie has also been an AAP member since 2004. Learn more about her career – in her words!
From as early as I can remember, I have loved nature, science and making people happy. A career in medicine seemed like the perfect amalgamation! When I was in college, I volunteered in a nursing home with rehabilitative services. I was fascinated by one elderly male resident who had suffered a stroke resulting in right hemiparesis and mild aphasia. He sang praises about his “PM-N-R” doctor because that special physician inspired and believed in him. He told me I should look into that specialty when I started medical school at UCLA. I did – and I found my love for “PM-and-R”!
Throughout my career, I’ve felt the most fulfilled when I get to see my trainees succeed. That’s what academic medicine has given me - the chance to give back by sharing my enthusiasm and joy to help students, residents and patients achieve their maximum potential. I don’t have children, but my residents warm my heart with the nickname they gave me: “Mamagaki.” Since starting my career 14 years ago, I have had the privilege of teaching 150+ PM&R residents, 200+ residents/fellows of various disciplines and 2,000+ medical students. And I will keep going as long as they feel I have something meaningful to offer!
As a woman in medicine, I have faced some obstacles. Women who are assertive and decisive are often called “Bossy.” Male academicians don’t have as much difficulty navigating the narrow channel between being perceived as “bold and visionary” versus “aggressive and overbearing.” My counter-strategy and coping mechanism is smiling. A good friend once warned me that if I smile too much, people will think I’m either silly or up to something. But I think, “That’s okay, I AM silly and ALWAYS up to something!”
One piece of advice I’d give young women pursuing medicine is to take on roles and opportunities as much as you can - but always save room. If you say “yes” to too many things, you may get too bogged later to take the roles or projects you should be drooling over. I recommend a book called, “The Book for People Who Do Too Much” by Bradley Trevor Greive. It helped me see the self-preserving power of selectively and nicely saying “no” - or “not yet.”
Here is more practical advice for women in the field:
- Be responsive, timely and professional in all communication.
- Be mindful that good reputations take much longer to build than to ruin.
- Be forgiving of yourself and others for little mistakes in efforts to succeed. People who think they have never failed just haven’t realized it yet or haven’t tested themselves.
- Congratulate and appreciate others at every opportunity… it could mean the difference between feeling “burned out” or “fired up”! We can all foster a culture of wellness that makes our hives thrive through teamwork, meaningful relationships and mutual goals.
The AAP has been a vital boost to my career development. I shyly attended my first Program Director Workshop in 2005 as a budding Assistant Director, and quickly fell in love with the welcoming, supportive and collaborative spirit exhibited by all the heroes of academic physiatry. I am honored to serve on the Education Committee and VA Council with brilliant men and women, and the international expansion of the AAP opens new doors. While many professional organizations are focused on optimizing clinical practice, the special bonus promoted by AAP is the “ART” of academic medicine: Administration, Research and Teaching. I am eternally grateful for the camaraderie, opportunities and mentorship I have received from my AAP family.