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The Doctors Building a ‘Community of Sisters’ In Medicine

Medicine can sometimes be a bit of an “Old Boys’ Club.” Two female physicians wanted to change that. Dr. Amber Robins, a family medicine physician, and Dr. Archana Reddy Shrestha, an EM physician, are co-founders of Women in White Coats, a blog dedicated to sharing the stories of women in medicine.

The blog started as conversations on social media, but Drs. Robins and Shrestha saw how many women wanted to share their stories. So, they released a book. The Chronicles of Women in White Coats shares the stories of 20 women, but there were so many more left to share. Instead of waiting to release a second book, they launched a website and blog.

“We really were able to find the pain point of a lot of female doctors needing support and a lot of them feeling alone,” Dr. Robins said. “And through what we've been doing, our hope is to build a community of sisters.”

Specifically, they aimed to highlight women doctors within this “community of sisters” by giving them a space to share their experiences.

“A lot of times what they're going through is not being shared very often in the media and there’s different perspectives and different things that we're facing. So we really wanted to give them a voice and support and uplift them on the blog,” explained Dr. Shrestha.

Beyond the blog, Women in White Coats regularly hosts programs, including conferences with keynote speakers to educate on negotiation, gender inequity, and discrimination. Another program focuses on preventing or overcoming burnout by “burning bright” instead. Once a year, Women in White Coats also hosts a “Heroes” Award Ceremony, during which they reward women in medicine.

“Our whole mission is to uplift women,” said Dr. Robins. “And to let them know that they'll be celebrated because a lot of times [we] don't take time to celebrate ourselves and celebrate all the great things that we do.”

Dr. Robins’ knows that news that deserves a spotlight doesn’t always get one, having done a health and media fellowship at Georgetown.

“The fellowship allowed me to understand the mechanics of media and how we can get those important topics — like high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid issues, cancer — how we're able to craft that story so that it can be able to be picked up by the media,” she explained. 

In addition, the fellowship helped inform Dr. Robins’ reasoning behind starting Women in White Coats. “It also allowed me to understand that in order for us to get our own story out, that we have to create a platform for it because traditional media looks for shock and awe.”

Dr. Shrestha’s experience with shock is through burnout and trying to find healthy ways through it for both herself and other female physicians. She has run a health and fitness site for six years.

“My area of focus has really been working women, and it began out of my own struggles with burnout and trying to look for controlling what I could,” Dr. Shrestha said. She struggled to juggle her kids and her chaotic ED schedule, and found herself getting deep into self-care to cope. “And so, as I went through that journey, I looked around and realized there are so many other women going through what I was going through.”

The experience of finding a mirror in your peer groups isn’t unique to Dr. Shrestha’s burnout experience. Both Dr. Robins and Dr. Shrestha said Women in White Coats’ conferences often overwhelmed with a sense of recognition.

“That feeling of being supported, uplifted — that, ‘Here are my people, this is my community, where have they been all this time, because for so long I've been feeling alone.’” Dr. Shrestha said.

She explained that Women in White Coats seeks to bring women together to fight the same thing, rather than each other.

“So I think that for women, medicine in general can be a very lonely road. There's a lot of time spent alone studying early on. And sometimes it could be very competitive students, residents competing against one another constantly. And so for us to kind of say, ‘Hey, let's not compete so much, but let's really come together and support one another because we're actually all going through the same things.’”

A book sequel called “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats 2” was released in May 2020. The Women in White Coats podcast re-launched in June 2020.

Where have you found avenues to share your stories as a woman in medicine?

Illustration by April Brust

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