We all have a story to tell. And we are all worthy of being heard.
That’s what I learned this year at the Women in Medicine Summit 2021. Hearing speaker after speaker sharing their own personal journeys of failure and successes were empowering, especially to individuals like me.
I never really felt that I had anything particularly interesting or thought-provoking to say. Even when life events — such as those of trauma, heart ache, betrayal, love — would inspire me to journal about it, a little voice would pop up on my shoulder and say “What makes you think you’re so special?” Discouraged, I’d close that laptop or put that journal away, and never think twice about it.
Fast forward to this year. As luck would have it, this year’s WIMS theme was “Finding Your Voice.” Each speaker shared their story of how they found their own voice. Drs. Brandi Jackson and Brittani James shared their own personal experience growing up in the South side of Chicago and are now giving back to that same community. Dr. Mark Shapiro shared his voice in a podcast that examines “the interface between health care and society.” Dr. Julie Freischlag shared her story of being told she could not be a chair of surgery because she was a woman. And since then, Dr. Freischlag has been the first female surgeon-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital and the first female chief of vascular surgery at UCLA. Stories from Drs. Jessi Gold and Arghavan Salles gave us examples of their successes and failures, and made me realize that the struggles of writing are all just part of the journey to being a writer.
All of their successes were as unique as their personal journeys and their “voices.”
This Summit also gave me the unique opportunity to ask whether all these successful, talented speakers also experienced impostor phenomena — and they all did! Every single one of them. I was blown away.
It’s astounding and inspiring to hear that our role models, mentors, and sponsors were in our shoes at one point. And it gives me courage to continue to put myself out there. It also “normalizes” that deep-rooted self-doubt and helps me recognize when my need for perfection costs me opportunities and advancement.
These speakers sharing their triumphs, despite their self-doubt and obstacles, gives me the strength to push away my own insecurities and take a step towards fulfilling the dreams I’ve had, yet lacked the confidence to act upon.
Since this Summit, I now counteract that “What makes you so special — why you?” voice with a newly energized, inspired and courageous rebuttal. Now I respond with: “Why not me?” And then I take the step forward into the unknown.
Christiana Shoushtari, MD MPH, obtained her MD at University of Illinois-Chicago and is a current PGY-3 at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. She intends to pursue a career in primary care and continue her passion in advocacy and public health. Dr. Shoushtari reports no conflicts of interest.
Animation by April Brust