Women in Medicine: Laura Kezar & Danielle Perret Karimi
Sunday, September 30, 2018
Posted by: AAP Staff
Laura Kezar, MD is a Professor of PM&R at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has been active in medical student teaching throughout her career and served as the Associate Dean for Students from 2007-2018. Danielle Perret Karimi, MD is an Associate Clinical Professor of PM&R and Anesthesiology at UC Irvine. What’s more, Laura and Dani serve on the AAP’s Board of Trustees as our AAMC representatives. Learn more about their careers – in their words!
The summer after my sophomore year of college, I was involved in a car accident. A tree fell on our car and I sustained a cervical spine fracture and traumatic brain injury. While I recovered remarkably well, my life changed significantly. I realized that many people did not have a recovery like mine and this experience was an important factor in my career decision. This is why I’ve been a vocal advocate for people with disabilities throughout my career.
When I went to medical school, women were in the minority. We often had to work harder and perform better in order to compete with male peers. I participated in the Navy's Health Professions Scholarship Program at a time when women physicians made up less than 10% of the Navy Medical Corps. Rude comments and jokes were a daily occurrence and we had to learn how to cope with that. We received sexual harassment training every year and I learned important skills for managing difficult situations. When my husband (also a Navy doc) and I decided to start our family while I was serving on active duty, I experienced animosity and anger from fellow officers including physician colleagues. I have faced challenges in my academic career as well, but I have become a tough-minded self-advocate and worked hard to shine a light on inequity and bias.
While I gained numerous experiences in teamwork and leadership in the military between medical school and residency, my academic skills were a little rusty. I submitted a poster to the AAP’s Annual Meeting during my residency and found many wonderful colleagues at this intimate meeting. When Dr. Sam Stover retired as Chair of UAB’s PM& department in 1994, I served on the search committee for his replacement. I was the only woman on the committee and most of the men were department chairs and significantly older than me. It was a politically difficult time and the AAP stepped up to help us navigate the politics. Thankfully, Dr. Amie (Jackson) McLain was named the Chair and she has had a distinguished career as one of the longest serving chairs at our institution. I believe that the AAP has also made a substantive contribution to meaningful dialogue about people with disabilities as an under-represented group in medicine.
I recently retired from my position as Associate Dean for Students at UAB School of Medicine and rejoined the PM&R department full-time. I look forward to my wonderful new hobbies: grandparenting and fly fishing! But, for now, I have two pieces of advice to impart to young women in medicine:
- Get to know yourself. Explore your strengths and weaknesses and seek opportunities to improve.
- Embrace change and actively seek it because that's how you grow. Don't be afraid to step up into a challenging position. As a physiatrist, you are uniquely qualified to serve in academic leadership. Your training in our team-oriented specialty prepares you to consider many points of view, ask thought-provoking questions, identify shared goals and barriers to achievement of those goals, foster dialogue, and build consensus for a strategic path to move forward.
I was a national gymnast growing up and naturally was pulled towards geriatrics, neurology and musculoskeletal medicine. I loved the idea of establishing long-term relationships with patients and I had fantastic exposure to physiatry during medical school. My mother also worked at UMDNJ/RWJMS and told me the best consults Occupational Health received were from physiatrists. Having a voice as a junior representative on the AAMC’s Council for Faculty and Academic Societies (CFAS) has been a welcoming and engaging experience.
The AAP has helped me along the way and I, in turn, help the AAP. The AAP gives me the opportunity to keep close with lifelong mentors. The AAP also encourages my voice on important topics such as graduate medical education reform, advocacy, pain management, women’s leadership and workforce and healthcare disparities. These have all resulted in tremendous growth in my knowledge, skills and confidence and have provided me great value.
Women have unique challenges in academic medicine. Data shows that women in medicine are underrepresented at all levels of leadership, promoted less and have less overall opportunity in career advancement. I am fortunate to have had many leadership opportunities early in my career (both in my institution and the AAP), but have struggled balancing work with home life and raising my two young boys.
Here are my best tips to young women entering the specialty:
- Accept opportunities if they arise. It may be outside of your comfort zone, but don’t underestimate your soft skills and capacity for growth. Always keep your clinical skills, stay connected to your department/division and stay involved in the field.
- Be a servant leader/ team-player. Make sure you delegate yourself work (your team will respect you) and respect the accomplishments of the team that has chosen you. Record ALL of your accomplishments, summate annually and share. Embrace humility and stick to principles (not people).
- Mentor others and support your colleagues. Sometimes women can be the toughest on other women, often due to competition or jealousy.
- Find work-life and personal-professional balance. Family, friends and love are the foundation of everything.
- Be proactive. Introduce yourself often, always remind others of your specialty and society, collaborate often, participate in conversation and ask provocative questions.