Lowcountry female doctors talk about career journeyMar 13, 2022
BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – It’s National Women Physician’s Day, a time to honor Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American female doctor.
In 1821, Blackwell was allowed to attend medical school as a practical joke. But she took advantage of the opportunity and went on to train nurses during the Civil War and opened a medical college in New York.
While there are still fewer female doctors than men, that gap is narrowing.
In 2017, women made up more than half of the students in medical school. In 2019, more than 50% of medical school graduates were female. And experts say that number will only keep rising.
“Everybody is a human being and we just have to prove ourselves,” said Dr. Ravina Balchandani.
Balchandani has been proving herself as an interventional cardiologist for 25 years.
After going to medical school in India, she immigrated to the United States, only finding out she had to take her medical exams all over again before being allowed to even start her challenging career here.
“I have always gone with what my gut feeling was and what I’ve wanted to do and so far, I haven’t regretted that specialty. I am very passionate about what I do for patients,” said Balchandani. “It’s not just passion but its intervention being a woman cardiologist — you take a personal interest in prevention of cardiac issues.”
“Did you feel like there were roadblocks in the way because you were a woman?” WSAV News 3 asked.
“Absolutely,” said Dr. Madeline Russell. “I would say even to this day, this is something I have to deal with and female physicians across the board have to deal with. From the basics, looking at jobs to patients that seek us out.”
Those challenges haven’t stopped Russell from moving from her career as an emergency medical tech in emergency rooms to medical school and becoming a gastroenterology specialist now practicing her craft at Coastal Carolina Hospital.
“I can think of various situations across the board where I was asked what about a family,” said Russell. “‘Don’t you want a family? Don’t you want this? Don’t you want that?’ I guess it never came to people that you can have both, both a career and a family.”
In speaking with her male counterparts, Russell said none of them were asked those same questions about wanting a family.
But despite the challenges, she hasn’t lost her passion.
“Whenever someone told me I couldn’t do something, that was more fuel to the fire to let me complete that and not only do it but do it well,” Russell said.
Both of these doctors say the future is bright for girls thinking about a medical career.
“We are now seeing more and more that women can go into higher demand specialties,” said Russell. “There are female neurosurgeons, women across every field in medicine.
“Specifically in GI, these latest classes of fellows in GI are actually a higher number than men.”
“I have seen more women there now and not only that, what is impressive is they are getting more faculty positions,” explained Balchandani, “and that will allow more women to grow and learn more about these specialities and join them eventually.”
The doctors offered advice for that next generation, even before they embark on a career.
“Don’t let anyone stop you don’t think you cant pursue a career,” said Russell. “The cerebral abilities of women are just as good as the cerebral abilities of men. And you shouldn’t let sex or gender be the reason you are blocked from pursuing the career you want. And if you want a family that doesn’t stop you from pursuing that as well.”
“You should have passion for that particular area of specialty,” said Balchandani. “Once you know that field of specialty, you should really put yourself out there and take it head-on and be a go-getter.
“That’s how you would succeed,” she continued, “You should follow your heart, is what I’d say.”