February 3 is recognized as National Women Physicians Day, a celebration that started just 5 years ago. The event celebrates Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female medical doctor in the U.S.’s, birthday, and is a time to honor women doctors across the country and the progress they’ve made since Blackwell’s time. Nationally, there are still fewer female doctors than male doctors, but the progress is steady. In 2017, for the first time in history, women made up more than half of all those in medical schools.
In celebration of National Women Physicians Day, we had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Katie Cunin, a dedicated hospitalist physician, to discuss her journey in medicine, the rewards and challenges she’s encountered, and the advice she has for aspiring female doctors.
What motivated you to start a profession in medicine? Did you always know you wanted to be a physician?
Dr. Cunin’s journey into medicine was not a conventional one. Initially, she never envisioned herself pursuing a career in healthcare. In fact, during high school, she adamantly declared to her mother, a hospice nurse, that she would never pursue anything medically related.
However, a pivotal moment occurred when Dr. Cunin felt a compelling internal voice urging her to consider medicine while she was on the brink of embarking on a different career path. “I guess the joke was on me. The voice stemmed from the time when my uncle was on hospice with lung cancer and I had the opportunity to witness the compassionate, kind care he received. That warm, nurturing care was in direct opposition to my stereotypical impression that medicine was cold and domineering… Here I am twenty plus years later.”
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your career?
As a hospitalist physician, Dr. Cunin recognizes the privilege of caring for patients during their most vulnerable moments. She describes the hospital environment as inherently daunting for patients, who often feel stripped of their normal identities and privacy amidst the flurry of medical procedures and unfamiliar surroundings. ” I work hard to bring compassion, empathy, and presence to create a safe space to acknowledge and discuss all of the above because when people feel seen and heard
and valued, that’s where the true medicine and healing is found. The depth of connection that can happen in those spaces, even if for only a short time, is profound and where I find the most reward and joy.”
What challenges have you navigated as a female working in healthcare?
Dr. Cunin candidly acknowledges the myriad challenges she has encountered as a female physician in healthcare. She highlights the pervasive double standard for women’s behavior, influenced by societal stereotypes and cultural norms.
“I won’t sugarcoat it: there are many challenges to being a female in healthcare… There is an unspoken double standard for women’s behavior that is strongly influenced by our culture… It’s a near impossible standard to exist within, especially given the stressful nature of the job we do and the resultant emotions that are a natural response… There is still more work to be done.”
How do you navigate balancing your work and home life/free time?
Balancing work and personal life has been an evolving journey for Dr. Cunin. She emphasizes the significance of creating healthy boundaries and prioritizing self-care amidst the demands of her profession. “It took a long time for me to find a true-for-now answer to that question… The crux of it lies in creating healthy boundaries, which for me, was learning to say no, and yes, in different situations… When I have these things as part of my life, it just flows more smoothly and when the hard times inevitably arrive, I’m better resourced to navigate them.”
What advice would you give to another female working towards becoming a doctor?
Drawing from her own experiences, Dr. Cunin offers invaluable advice to aspiring female physicians. She underscores the importance of seeking support from trusted mentors, colleagues, and therapists, emphasizing that no one should navigate the challenges of medicine alone. “Be kind to yourself and allow yourself grace… The hard times won’t stay that way forever… Remember that the people in front of you are just that: people. They are human beings with lives and hopes and dreams and fears, just like you.”
As we celebrate National Women Physicians Day, Dr. Katie Cunin’s journey serves as a testament to the resilience, compassion, and dedication of female physicians across
the globe. Her story inspires aspiring doctors to embrace their calling with courage, compassion, and a commitment to making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. To all female physicians making a difference in their careers daily – we celebrate you today and every day of the year!