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Women in Medicine Research Day 2019

Women in Medicine Share Success
Annual Research Day Celebrates Women Researchers 

Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University celebrated the research accomplishments of its women faculty, post-doctoral fellows, medical residents, medical students, nurse-practitioners, physician assistants and registered nurses at the 13th annual Women in Medicine Research Day on March 6.

The event, coordinated by Ann-Leslie Berger-Zaslav, PhD, included 81 abstract presentations on a variety of topics, including cancer, genetics, psychiatry and analysis of hospital admissions. It also included a Grand Rounds presentation by Anat Biegon, PhD, professor in the Department of Radiology and the Department of Neurology, who spoke about gender-based medicine; a panel discussion on women achieving a successful career in medicine; and networking opportunities with peers. 

The annual event allows women in research to talk about their own personal journeys, and what approaches have been successful for them, said Dr. Berger-Zaslav. 

“It’s also important for younger women to see how they can achieve their goals,” she said. “As women, no matter what field you are in, you have to be a strong, dedicated, multi-tasking person. And you have to really advocate for yourself – That’s the bottom line.” 

The panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Berger-Zaslav, was titled, “Achieving a Successful Career for Women in Medicine.” Panelists were Dr. Biegon; Latha Chandran, MD, MPH (who first convened the Women in Medicine Research Day event 13 years ago); Sonya Hwang, MD; and Lynn M. Johnson, Vice President, Human Resource Services, Stony Brook University.

When asked how they overcame personal or professional challenges, Dr. Chandran recalled that arriving in the United States and trying to be accepted into a medical residency program was not easy for someone who didn’t know the culture.

“Through the mentoring and support of a lot of good people in this country, I was able to succeed,” she said. She advised those entering medicine today to have an idea of what they want to do and seek out those who can help.

Upon her own arrival in this country, Dr. Biegon sometimes found the atmosphere in professional staff meetings to be “unfriendly” for a self-described “woman with a big mouth.” She faced a lack of gender diversity. Often the only woman on committees, she said, “I would be sitting in faculty meetings and I would look around and everyone else was a blue-eyed guy.”

Ms. Johnson’s first challenge, she said, was leaving the United Kingdom and arriving in the U.S. with her husband. He had a job waiting for him, but she did not. In that kind of new environment, she advised, “You can feel sorry for yourself, or you can start to rebuild that professional network.” 

Dr. Hwang stressed the importance of self-care, recalling that with three young daughters close in age, she was pregnant for most of the first four years she worked at Stony Brook.

“I don’t say that I’ve achieved work-life balance,” she said. “I say that I’m always trying to achieve it.”

Dr. Hwang also advised that collegiality and teamwork with colleagues results in a good support system that will yield lasting benefits. “The more you support your colleagues and the situations they’re in, the more support they will have for you,” she said. “You’re all in the same boat, no matter what kind of career you’re in.”

Dr. Berger-Zaslav asked the panel what have been the biggest rewards on their professional paths. For Dr. Chandran, it has been working with young people and having the opportunity “to influence and transform them, and learn from them.” Dr. Biegon recalled having published a paper on gender differences in patients recovering after traumatic brain injury, and her pride that the paper had implications for human health.

For Ms. Johnson, working with students is rewarding. She said she also has found it rewarding that Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. asked her to be a vice president, “because that meant I was going to be at the table when decisions are made.”

Dr. Hwang spoke of the rewards of directing the medical residency program, though it was a struggle at first, she said, because “there is no manual on how to be a good director.”

In conclusion, the day was a huge success with attendees giving very positive feedback. There were many requests for more venues, such as Women in Medicine Research, to help support and promote women's issues that are now being brought to the forefront.