I hear this a lot from my patients, and I am still amused that the sight of a woman urologist surprises them. Urology is an exciting and colorful career, so it attracts the best medical students, male and female. Those six years of urology residency were the most grueling of my life to date. I have intense and indelible memories both positive and negative of that time in my life. During residency, I learned what I needed to know to care for the urologic health of men, women, and children. Equally valuable, I learned I could endure physical and mental challenges beyond what I had ever imagined. As the old adage goes, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
How is the fortitude derived that causes a young resident to stretch her mind and body to near breaking to solve problems for which books cannot prepare her and for which she has no experience? Certainly some people rise to the occasion more successfully than others, by calling on a strong faith in themselves. However, the influence of extraordinary mentors who support, critique, and cajole for the professional growth of the residents they train should not be underestimated. A person can only support herself alone for so long. A community of other stakeholders who believe that her performance is just as critical as she thinks it is is necessary to make her go the distance. This was my experience. I became an urologist and successfully
completed training with the help of mentors who made me believe that they cared as much about my success as I did.
I was treated especially well by the exclusively male faculty and co-residents at my program, like the only daughter in a family of boys. I earned their acceptance as “one of the guys,” and I was happy to foster that perception to a degree. It was both an honor and a survival mechanism. Quietly, I worked hard to prove that I could be better than “one of the guys.” I wanted to be exceptional. As a woman and a urology resident, I sometimes felt like a double agent or someone living in two worlds. I was simultaneously accepted and alien because I was the first woman to train in urology at my institution. Over time, my gender became almost invisible to the men at work. I was aware though that despite a warm welcome from my training program, male patients may not as happily accept a woman as an urologist. There were occasions that male patients requested not to be seen by the “female doctor.” Attitudes began to change when Viagra came to market during my training. “Erectile dysfunction” became a household term, marking the beginning of cultural acceptance of a previously stigmatized diagnosis. The brilliant marketing of Viagra was responsible for driving thousands of men to seek urologic treatment, and in their fervor to get a prescription for the new “blue pill” they were even willing to see the female urologist.
Although I spent six years of residency focusing primarily on male patients and their unique urologic conditions, I also discovered that I especially enjoyed the urologic care of female patients. My interest was further fueled by an obvious need for female urologists. Women make up at least 40% of a general urology practice, and many women would prefer to be seen by a woman urologist. Because I realized the need and wanted to be exceptional, I chose to complete additional training in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. It has been a fantastic decision, albeit not always an easy one. I continue to be intrigued and challenged by the patients I meet, and the conditions I treat. For me, it is a fine field indeed.