Confessions of a Young Female Leader

By Dr. Neha Sharma

I was appointed the Chief Hospitalist at my hospital about six months ago. I was 32 years old at the time. I graduated residency in 2014 and have been working at my current hospital ever since. I was initially reluctant to accept the appointment but finally sanctioned the offer after much contemplation. I had held a leadership position throughout medical school and served as the chief resident during my last year of training. I hoped that my leadership experience during training would benefit my upcoming venture.

My first day in the new role was extremely taxing. I was trying my best to balance patient responsibilities with administrative obligations. Every few pages were followed by a meeting invitation. I remember feeling extremely overwhelmed but reminded myself to take a few deep breaths and stay positive.

As I was walking towards the nurses station, I saw an older male physician that I did not recognize. I asked one of my colleagues and found out that the physician was a new specialist. I took the liberty to approach him and introduced myself as the Chief Hospitalist. He seemed a little perturbed and said “You are the chief? How old are you sweety? You look like a medical student.”

I was taken aback by his reaction. I did not know how to respond. When a patient doubts my medical expertise based on my appearance or calls me the social worker or a nurse, I laugh it off and say “trust me, I am a doctor.”

The encounter with the specialist, however, was different. I felt offended and was at a loss for words. I let it go but unfortunately, his comment was only the first of many.

I had expected to tackle numerous obstacles as a new leader but did not forecast my age and gender to be one of them. In retrospect, I should have anticipated this issue as most leadership positions in the medical world, are held by older men.

Being a female leader in the man’s world of medicine is challenging. Often times, concerns are attributed to hormones and tenacity is misconstrued as bitchiness. Same, however, does not hold true for men.

After months of endurance, when older male physicians now question my title solely based on my appearance and call me ‘sweety’ instead of ‘doctor’, my qualms about my position dissipate. Every such episode gives me the confidence to prove everyone wrong and makes me more and more resilient.

I have also realized that confidence can engulf preconceived notions. By confidence I mean poise and certainty. Confidence should not be confused with arrogance.

I remember attending one of my first meetings with administration as the Chief Hospitalist. The concerns regarding my experience were obvious. I was initially afraid to speak but later found courage in their concerns and confidently declared my intentions to all executives present. My confidence forced the administration to take note of the young girl and give her a fair chance.

Another struggle was disciplining older physicians. It is always unpleasant to confront a colleague but when almost all of your colleagues are older than you, confrontations get even more awkward. Initially, I felt defeated. It seemed as if my age was a constant barrier and physicians dismissed my concerns because I was young. I had to learn how to be assertive and straightforward. Ultimately, I was able to overcome my dilemma and I can now resolve a physician concern with poise.

If you are a young female physician aspiring to be a leader in a world that is dominated by older men, I highly encourage you to do it. Young female physicians need a louder voice and a more durable presence in sphere of medical leadership.

Today, I consider myself a successful young female leader in the world of medicine. My age is my unique attribute and my gender makes me stronger. Now, with every remark, I become more robust. With every doubt, I become more determined to conquer the world.