September 1, 2021
Sanjula Jain 0:03
Women make up 70% of the healthcare workforce but only 20% of its leadership. On Her Story, we’ll explore the careers of bold and influential women from Silicon Valley to Capitol Hill and learn how they’ve overcome the odds. I’m your host, Sanjula Jain and this is Her Story, a program where we explore what’s beyond the glass ceiling.
I’m delighted to welcome Dr. Shikha Jain, the founder and chair of the Women in Medicine Summit, also known as WIMS for short. Dr. Jain wears several hats, including Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois Cancer Center in Chicago. I’ll let her share more of her accolades shortly. Shikha, thanks for joining us today.
Shikha Jain 0:45
Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited about this conversation.
Sanjula Jain 0:49
We’re looking forward to working with WIMS on this exciting series that we’ll talk more about in a minute. Let’s start with your background for a minute. What sparked your interest in medicine?
Shikha Jain 1:00
I grew up in a physician household, my dad is a vascular surgeon. And I always actually thought I was going to be either a surgeon or a pediatrician. So obviously, I didn’t go either of those routes. But my parents both told me from the time I was very little, that if I wanted to be a doctor that I needed to love it because it wasn’t just a job, it was really where I would be spending the majority of my time, it was where I would be spending a lot of time studying. It took a lot of hard work and effort to get there, but if I loved it, if I loved medicine, if I loved science, if I wanted to work with people, then I should absolutely pursue my dreams. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a physician. I used to go around with my dad in the hospital on the weekends and I loved that patient interaction. Even as a surgeon, I know a lot of times you assume surgeons go in, they do the surgery, and they never see the patient again, my dad had a lot of really great long term relationships with his patients, we would run into them in the grocery store, and they would remember him and he would remember them from 20 years earlier. And I liked that interpersonal relationship he had with his patients. As I got older, I realized the science, the pathophysiology, all of the really interesting things about the fact that I would constantly be learning. All of that lends itself to me realizing that medicine is where I really found my passion and where I wanted to focus my career.
Sanjula Jain 2:18
That’s great. You were originally thinking of pediatrics or surgery, how did you find your path into Hematology and Oncology?
Shikha Jain 2:25
When I did my pediatrics rotation, I realized I loved children, but I could not take care of sick children because it hurt my heart too much and made me feel too bad. And I felt bad for the parents. And it was just something where I knew emotionally, I would have a really tough time seeing sick kids day in and day out. So I knew I loved children in general. But I don’t think that I had the personality or the ability to separate myself from sick children, and then my own personal mental health. And then for surgery, I loved surgery, I absolutely loved my surgery rotations, I really enjoyed it. I actually rotated with my dad, which was very cool. But I realized at the end of the day that for me, I wanted to not only be able to have those long-term relationships with my patients, I also wanted to have the opportunity to practice medicine in a variety of different ways, which surgery is a phenomenal specialty. I have a lot of amazing colleagues and friends who went into those specialties. I realized I really wanted to have an internal medicine background, I wanted to practice medicine in the clinic. As much as I loved procedures, I really liked the diagnosis and the treatment aspect, so internal medicine seemed like the way to go. Then after that when I was a resident, I did my heme off rotations. And I just, I just fell in love with oncology, the patient relationships that I saw, the way that patients and their families really developed long-term relationships with their physicians and the doctors that I worked with knew about grandkids that were coming or nubuck graduations. And there was the opportunity to really have a long-term relationship with patients. And then those patients who may not have necessarily made it past the first couple of months, you have the ability to help them navigate into really hard conversations, having palliative care and hospice discussions and helping people navigate a time in their life that is really, really challenging.
Sanjula Jain 4:20
The passion for what you do is so apparent. Not only are you a phenomenal frontline clinician working with patients, but you also hold several different leadership roles. I don’t know when you sleep, but one of the questions we love to ask all of our guests is, do you consider your foray into healthcare leadership more accidental or intentional?
Shikha Jain 4:41
I would say probably both accidental and intentional. If six years ago you told me I would be doing the work I’m doing now, I would probably have laughed because this is not where I saw my time being spent six years ago. As a trainee, I never really imagined that I would go into healthcare community or equity work. There was definitely a point in my career when I realized I have a skill set that is unique and might actually be able to move the needle in several different areas, so I started focusing a lot of my attention on those in those spaces without even realizing I was doing it. That helped me navigate a path into leadership that, again, I don’t necessarily think I had envisioned would be my path forward.
Sanjula Jain 5:27
That makes a lot of sense. Underlying your interest areas in communication, health equity, and one of the reasons we’re here to chat today is around this idea of women in leadership and women in medicine. At what point in your career did you begin to realize that the path for you as a female physician and a female leader was going to be different?
Shikha Jain 5:49
I grew up in a house with a physician father and I was always taught from the time I was really little that everyone should be treated equally and equitably. So there was never a division between me and my brother, it was we both did the same things, we were treated the same. We did the same sports, we excelled in whatever we excelled in, my parents didn’t ever say, “You’re a girl, you do this. He’s a boy, he does this.” It was just assumed in my house that boys and girls did what they wanted and exceeded expectations in different sports and different academic pursuits. But there was never that gender divide. So I just assumed That’s how life was because that’s how I was raised. And that’s how I lived my life. As I traversed through medical school residency fellowship, I started to note some things that were happening that I didn’t think seemed particularly fair or right, not just to me, but to some of my colleagues. But a lot of times I looked internally, because another thing my parents always taught me was, when there’s a problem, or when you don’t succeed at something, figure out what you need to do to improve yourself because you can’t improve others, you can’t change other people’s behaviors, you can only change your own. So anytime something would happen, I would look internally and say, how could I have done that differently? How could I have navigated that situation differently? A lot of things happened that I just assumed I needed to be better at, I needed to do something different. When I became an attending, I started talking to other women physicians, and I realized a lot of things that had happened to me had also happened to other people. So it wasn’t actually something that was wrong with me or something that I needed to fix. There were actually systemic issues and barriers that existed that put up these guards or put up these barriers to my success and my ability to do things. And I started to understand a bit more about implicit bias and how it really impacted and influenced the way people interact with everyone. And so when I started talking to these other women and realized some of these barriers that existed shouldn’t be there. And I was naive to a certain extent because I really thought that it was just me that needed to improve, I started to realize that there were ways to improve upon the system, but it would require intentionality, it would require a team effort, and it would require leadership. And so that’s when I started to think about this Women in Medicine Summit, and how could I create a community where women get together and don’t complain about the issue? Because I don’t think there’s much use in saying, well, this is a problem. And this is a problem. I think the utility is coming together and saying these are the problems that exist. And here are solutions. Now, how do we deploy these solutions across the country? The summit was developed to educate people who attended the CME continuing medical education conference. So I wanted to make sure there was an educational component based in science and evidence, in fact, but I also wanted to create these networks and these communities of women across the country, across silos across institutions, academic community, across specialties, because we all face very similar challenges. And through the summit, what we found is people come and they learn. But even more than that, they develop really strong relationships with other people that they meet at the conference. And there have actually been amazing opportunities that have come out of it. I’ve seen people who have gotten promotion letters, I’ve seen people who’ve been invited to give talks, people who have found other people who can help them figure out how to negotiate for their jobs, people who’ve actually started advocacy programs within their own organizations or institutions. And so we’re seeing slowly, slowly chipping away these systemic barriers that exist, because people who think the problem is them are now realizing the problem isn’t exactly them. The problem is exactly the system. And they need to figure out how to fix that. And so it’s a really cool opportunity and experience for me to see all of these incredible women who have faced challenges across the country now come together and come up with solutions together as to how each of their organizations and institutions can address these problems.
Sanjula Jain 9:57
Wow. First of all, congratulations on that. I know you’ve been working on this for a couple of years now. The work you have led is so inspiring, and you make it sound really easy, but take us back as you were going through training, seeing these systemic issues. What was it that made you say, Well, I’m actually on top of my day job and the many other hats that you were hosting your own podcast and teaching and seeing patients, I mean, that you were going to actually form an official nonprofit around this, what was that decision making process like for you?
Shikha Jain 10:33
When I was a trainee, I was not focused on anything other than getting through my fellowship, passing my boards, making sure I was an exceptional doctor. These types of things I don’t actually think I got really involved in until after I became a full-fledged faculty after I passed my boards, and I knew that I knew my stuff when it came to hematology and oncology. I will say, I’m so impressed with many medical students, residents, fellows today who are doing all this incredible work on the side, I can’t even imagine being able to navigate my career as a trainee and doing all of this work. So hats off to all the amazing women and men who are doing this work right now early very early in their careers. I still have many days where I wonder, “What on earth am I doing? Why am I doing this? It takes so much time. I don’t have time for this.” People always joke that you can do one or two things very well per day and you have to choose them. I often feel like I’m not doing anything well on a certain day. I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to be perfect, I’m going to make mistakes, and there are going to be missteps along the way. I also think it’s important for people to remember that everyone’s not going to support you, everyone is not going to agree with what you’re doing. I’ve had many people tell me that what I’m doing is career-ending. I’ve had people tell me that I’m not a true academic, I’ve had people tell me that I’m not a true leader, because the work that I’m doing doesn’t matter. So I’ve had a lot of naysayers along the way. And when you hear something like that enough times, it does start to chip away at your confidence and chip away at your desire to do these types of things. I’ve been there, and I still am there on many days. I am very fortunate to have a very strong support system. I have amazing, supportive parents. My husband is very supportive. I have a brother who’s very supportive. I have three kids who are young, but they sometimes understand what Mommy needs to do. I think that’s been the way I’ve been able to navigate through this and that I have that core group of supportive individuals who I know have my back. But it was not easy. And even when I was forming this at its infancy, there was a lot of pushback, I was young. And I had a lot of senior people telling me I was not the right person to be doing this, I should not be leading this initiative, I should not be the one who is creating this type of programming because I was too young, I had one person tell me I shouldn’t be creating it because I was a woman, and I but the programming is for women, and men because we now have allyship training as well. But I’ve heard all sorts of things I’ve had people tell me, I should be focusing more on my family, that I’m not going to be a good mom because of this, that I’m not going to be a good partner or wife because of this. And so I think that the biggest challenge for me is making sure I’m filtering out the negative and focusing on the positive. And I will say sometimes I do use the negative to try to figure out how I can be better because I very much believe that you can always be improving upon what you’re doing and improving upon yourself. So I don’t just brush off all the negativity as Oh, they don’t understand. I often listen to those negative or constructive comments and say, Okay, is there any truth to what they’re saying? How can I use that to improve what we’re doing? My family is my biggest critic when it comes to making sure that I am doing things intentionally. They also are really good at helping me refocus. I’ll give you a perfect example, this last year and a half with a pandemic has been a huge struggle for health care workers across the country. And I went through a period of time where I was probably working 18 to 20 hours a day. I wasn’t leaving, I was on my phone all the time. And I wasn’t paying attention to my kids or my family. And my kids were starting to notice it. And so my daughter said to me one day, Mommy, get off your phone. And I tried to explain when she’s seven, so I tried to explain to her, mommy’s doing something really important. And then I thought to myself, but is what I’m doing right this second so important that I can’t sit down and play with my daughter for half an hour. I only get a couple of hours with them a day. Can this wait until later? Or is it something I need to do at all? So one thing that my family has been really good about is telling me your work is really important. The stuff you’re doing is really important, but you only get these moments with your family for such a short period of time. Try to find a better way to balance which we all know balance doesn’t exist. But what I’ve been trying to do now is I’ve been trying to be very intentional in saying no to certain things or realizing that there are certain things other people can handle, I don’t need to be doing everything I can delegate or something can wait till the next day. Not everything is an emergency, but the pandemic has made it very hard for me to find that balance. I’m now hopefully starting to improve upon balancing my home life, my work life a little bit better integrating it, I guess you could say.
Sanjula Jain 15:26
That’s a phenomenal perspective. Building on that, it’s a common issue that many women and women physicians, in particular, have to juggle. And so I’m curious, you mentioned your kids. I know you have three kids and they’re quite young, and you have a spouse who’s also a practicing clinician. What advice would you have particularly for women physicians who are juggling the unpredictable nature of clinical practice with the household and home family responsibilities?
Shikha Jain 15:54
Our nanny called in sick today and I have a clinic and all these meetings. It’s difficult, it’s super hard, and I don’t want to minimize that. Again, I am very fortunate because I have family in the area who can sometimes help. Today they’re not available for help, but it’s really important to build your support system. I have some very close friends. My daughter is going to our neighbor’s house today. She said, “I heard this is happening. Can I help?” She’s a part of our bubbles. She said, “I know you don’t have many options. You can’t really drop her off with other people. We’re in your bubble. Would you want to drop her off here?” Having that support system, whether it’s family or friends, is so important because you’re going to need help. You can’t do this by yourself. I tell everybody who listens to me that I would not be able to do 99% of the things that I do without my support system, even on days like today when I’m scrambling to try to find childcare, or figure out how somebody is going to pick up my kids from Camp or school or make sure they’re safe with the pandemic and they’re wearing masks. I know that I have a trusted group of people who I can rely on who I can go to and ask for help. And I think that is so important. We are very bad in general, for asking for help, we assume we’re supposed to be able to do everything ourselves. And a lot of times we take it as a failure if we need to ask for help. And I will say that it is not a failure, it’s actually the sign of an excellent leader who can ask for help when they realize they need it. And that that’s not just for home and family life. When it comes to the Women in Medicine Summit, I often do not know how to do certain things, because I don’t know everything, there’s a lot I don’t know. So I make sure that my team is made up of a lot of people who have skills that I don’t have, like backgrounds and knowledge that I do not have. And sometimes those are people who are younger than me, I have medical students who I have in leadership positions within the summit because I very much believe in bi-directional mentorship and bi-directional leadership, where you might have a medical student who is an expert on Instagram, and they can actually teach a bunch of the faculty on how to have a social media campaign. Last year, the Women in Medicine Summit had 45 million impressions on Twitter within 48 hours of the conference. I 100% attribute that to our medical students. We had a phenomenal team of students who were leading the social media effort. And I think that they’re one of the biggest reasons why we were so successful when it comes to our reach. So I think that asking for help, and finding where your own gaps are, whether it’s educational gaps, or skill sets, or just gaps in childcare, finding out where your gaps are, and then finding a supportive group of people who can help you with those, I think is so key, whether it’s in your work life or your home life.
Sanjula Jain 18:50
That’s such a good reminder. I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this, I know you have many superpowers, but just listening to you talk, I think one of your strengths really is this idea of drawing connections and connecting the dots between people to build those relationships and support systems. That’s a great transition to what we’re doing together between Her Story and WIMS. How do you start bridging the gaps and building a broader community and bringing people together to tackle some of these systemic issues? The WIMS conference for this year is coming up in just a couple of weeks and would love to hear from you a little bit about what your vision is for this year in terms of the areas of focus, and I know one of the themes is finding your voice. What inspired that?
Shikha Jain 19:34
About how making those connections have happened, it’s really important to look for people outside your circles. Finding heterogeneous people with heterogeneous skills. So for example, at the summit, we have non-physicians who are speaking we have lawyers, we have health policy people we have media personalities, and I do that specifically because I think that in medicine especially we are really siloed and we very much have tunnel vision when it comes To our jobs in our careers, and it’s because that’s how people become successful in healthcare you get through med school residency and potentially fellowship, and you have to have tunnel vision to be successful. But I think there is a real detriment to our healthcare system when we don’t look outside of our groups of interest. And so I’ve tried really hard to look for people outside of my circle. And I do that by reaching out to people who I wouldn’t normally reach out to i, it’s been amazing the things that I’ve learned from some of these women and men across the country, we have these two men who are PhDs leading our allyship leadership, long longitudinal leadership program, and I met them at a conference I went to, and I said, you guys are incredible, I want to do something with you. And we couldn’t figure out what it was initially. And then two years later, I came up with this idea for this longitudinal program, and I asked them to lead it. I never would have had the opportunity to do that, if I hadn’t just stepped outside of my comfort zone and introduced myself to them. So I think that’s a really big thing when it comes to making those connections and connecting people across the silos is reaching out to people who would not normally be in your circle. When it comes to the summit this year, when we talk about finding your voice, one big thing that happened over the last year and a half is we have seen a flood of health care workers voices in the media, on social media, in publications talking about the pandemic and how it’s impacted them, how it’s impacted their families, and how it’s impacted their patients. The thing that I think is so phenomenal is that many of these health care workers are burning the candle at both ends. They’re exhausted, they’re so tired, and they’re taking whatever extra time they have. They’re using their voices to educate and attack this misinformation that’s all over the place these days. And there’s a lot of physicians who’ve come to me and said, I don’t know how to use my voice. I have all these things to say, but I don’t know how to get myself out there. I remember six years ago, I posted in a couple of Facebook groups saying I wanted to lecture nationally because I like public speaking. I feel like I have a knack for communication, but I don’t know how to break in. There wasn’t really a great way to navigate that path to find my voice and figure out how to get into those segments of healthcare communication. And I could have navigated on my own with a couple of phenomenal mentors who have helped me find my voice. And I think that a lot of people don’t have that mentorship or sponsorship. So the theme for this year of finding your voice really came from how can we help all these amazing women and men find their voices, and then use their voices to educate or do community outreach, or do advocacy work, do things that are going to help improve the system, because it’s not just gender inequities that are impacting our system, there’s structural racism, that is a huge problem in our society in general, but it is been really laid bare in the last year and a half in the healthcare system as well. So the concept of finding your voice really came from seeing all these incredible health care workers putting their voices out there over the last year and a half. And having people reach out to me asking, “How do I do that?” A lot of our talks this year are really about navigating a path to leadership, but then also using your voice to be most effective, whether you have a leadership position or not. I do a lot of talks on informal versus formal leadership. And this goes back to me trying to lift up medical students and trainees and other early-career women physicians to try to help them find their voice early on. I think that there’s a lot of informal leaders out there who just haven’t had the platform yet to lead. And so I try really hard to lift those people up. I’m hoping the summit provides the ability to do that as well. We’re actually launching a speaker’s bureau this fall, that hoping will become kind of the white pages of women in medicine speakers, and it’s going to be open to women across the country. And the hope is that we get women experts at all levels of their careers. And I think a lot of focus in healthcare has always been on seniority, and on people who’ve been in the job for a while who have certain types of experiences. But I think the way healthcare is going, we really need to bring to the table some of these younger, more innovative people who might have unique ideas based on their own life experiences, and really almost because of their generation, because of how they grew up. I mean, many people in leadership did not grow up with the internet. They learned about it as adults. And so having people who grew up with the internet and being on their phones 24 seven, I think it’s important to incorporate those types of people into leadership positions. And so we’re working really hard with the summit and all of our initiatives to bring to the forefront some of these amazing women who are doing incredible work but aren’t necessarily getting the recognition for it.
Sanjula Jain 24:58
That’s very well said. As you know, with Her Story we have a similar philosophy where the definition of a leader is so varied, and it’s all about influence. And so whether it’s a formal title or not, or what you have made, however many years of experience that you have. And so I think bringing these voices to the table and learning from each other is such an important piece to this. As you know, one of the things we’re trying to do with Her Story is to really highlight the different leadership paths and career trajectories, particularly with this collaboration together on patent medicine, because to your point, and even your story that you can start off at the bedside. But there are so many different ways to leverage that influence and perspective and subject matter expertise in different niches of the healthcare industry. You have helped us put together an incredible lineup of three physician female leaders in the industry who have some very unique stories and different career roles. Tell us a little bit about what we can expect in this series and what we can learn from their stories.
Shikha Jain 25:56
I am so excited for the people you are interviewing. The three women you’re going to be interviewing are phenomenal. They are rock star superstars. I don’t even know how many adjectives I could use to describe them. You have Dr. Vinny Aurora, who is the Dean of medical education at the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. And she’s also a dear friend of mine. She’s one of my mentors, colleagues, sponsors, and just an amazing all-around human. She is so unique because she has navigated a path to leadership that is different from most other paths that I’ve seen. I joke with her that she is a dean unlike any other because she has done so much of her work in the social media space, in the medical education space and in the advocacy space. And those three components are not typically what you imagine when you’re imagining someone who’s navigating a path to a dean position at a very, very high tier institution like the University of Chicago. So she has the opportunity, and she’s already started doing it, where she is changing the culture at the institution by putting a focus on advocacy work, and how important that is by providing education to students at a very young age at the beginning of their careers, to learn how to not only be an advocate for themselves, but also how to be advocates for their patients and their communities. I think that her style of teaching and mentorship is so unique and innovative, that she is just going to be an amazing Dean. And she’s really going to change, in my opinion, the path of healthcare, not only in her own institution, but nationally. She’s a superstar. I met Dr. Kimberly Manning virtually during the pandemic. I’d been an avid fangirl of hers on the two of us. She was actually invited to speak last year at the Women in Medicine, White Coats for Black Lives virtual march we planned in partnership with the other group I run. The plan was to do a virtual march, and we had over 100 people who were in attendance, but when we started talking, the event was Zoom-bombed. It was a traumatizing and horrifying experience for all of us. We shut the march down and recorded Dr. Manning’s speech a few minutes later. We posted it online and ended up getting over a million views within a day. Then Dr. Manning, Dr. Aurora, and I wrote a piece for the New England Journal of Medicine that was published soon after. And so she is now I consider her a dear friend, although we’ve never met in person. We’ve collaborated quite a bit over the last year and she is such a powerful voice whether it’s through Narrative Medicine, telling stories on Twitter about healthcare, education, and how to really break down the barriers with patients and, and have open and honest communications and dialogues to going on bt and doing COVID education. I mean, she is really one of a kind and I am so excited to hear her episode because she’s just again, another phenomenal woman leader. Dr. Stephanie Hartsville is someone I met relatively recently, again, virtually because I haven’t met anybody new during an epic in person. And she is also extremely unique and that she does a lot of work with the media, looking at consulting for companies like Netflix on medical TV shows and providing more accurate ways to represent the healthcare system and doctors and nurses. She also does a lot of work in adolescent psychiatry. And the thing that I think is so amazing about her along with everything else I mentioned, she actually gave a webinar as one of our WIMS webinars series, talking about how you can be. I think it’s how you can be anything without having to be everything. So many physicians are perfectionists, especially women in medicine. We always make the joke that, if there are 10 things you have to fulfill to get a job, women will try to fulfill 15 of them before they even apply. So she gives an excellent talk on how to be anything without being everything, and how really focusing on what your goals are, can help you become more successful, as opposed to stretching yourself so thin. So she’s phenomenal. And all three of these women are going to be speaking at this year’s summit as well. Dr. Manning and Dr. Roar I spoke to last year. This is Dr. Hartsville’s first year speaking at the summit, but all three of them are just phenomenal, dynamic, powerhouse women in medicine.
Sanjula Jain 30:37
We’re really excited to share their stories. To your point, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of the phenomenal, different women and men that are going to be sharing their stories at the summit coming up. so delighted to be working with you all on that. So I guess just rounding us out, then coming back a little bit to your story. I mean, you have just built this incredible platform and community and the power of which I am learning more and more of it every day. So thank you for doing that. As you think about your career and the many more chapters you have to write in your autobiography because there’s more coming, what would be the title of your book?
Shikha Jain 31:13
That is such a hard question because people ask me, “What are you going to be doing in five years?” I tell them, “If you told me five years ago I’d be doing this, I would have laughed. It’s really hard for me to say, but I think probably if I had to choose a title right now, it would be Expect the Unexpected because a lot of people underestimate me and I’ve experienced that throughout my life where I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I wasn’t going to be a doctor that I wasn’t going to be successful that I didn’t know what I was doing that I was focusing on the wrong things. And so I think I’ve surprised some people and what I’ve been able to accomplish, but again, I haven’t been able to do it without an amazing support system and team. So it’s not just me, I wouldn’t be able to do this without all those other people. Then also expecting the unexpected because I don’t know where my career is going to take me. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in five years. That would probably be the autobiography title for now, but ask me in a year and it’ll probably be something different.
Sanjula Jain 32:12
We’ll hold you to that. We’ll have you back in a year and we’ll see how it’s going. Shikha, this has been phenomenal. We’re really excited to be launching this Her Story, WIMS special series together and looking forward to working with you in the years to come.
Shikha Jain 32:27
Thanks so much for having me and I’m so excited for this partnership and moving forward together.
Sanjula Jain 32:32
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