Women face a unique fork in the road on their life's journey — one road leading to a lucrative career, and the other to nurturing a family. In bygone years, tradition and societal norms forced women to choose one or the other. However, today, six Jamaican female cardiologists are showing that in this life you can have it all.
Taking on the important role of home-maker while wielding hammers at the glass ceilings on your career trajectory sounds like a daunting task, but these phenomenal women will be the first to tell you that even though this path is by no means easy, it is absolutely worth it.
Striking a balance
Attitudes towards women working outside of the home are trending positively; however, women still feel pressure to succeed at work and at home. "[Women] carry a lot of the work of home care and balancing home and professional life," Dr Claudine Lewis, consultant cardiologist and medical director of Heart Smart Center, said.
"It puts a lot of stress on a woman to be this idea of 'superwoman' who is killing it in her career and killing it at home"
She continued: "I remember watching a talk with Shonda Rhimes where she said, 'if you're killing it in one area something else is suffering'. It's not possible for us to be all things for all people at all times."
This is where striking a balance is crucial.
"There were days you spent 16-18 hours just working, and even though you're tired, you just keep going," Dr Lisa Hurlock, consultant cardiologist at Premier Heart and Surgery Centre, shared.
In her earlier days, she was one of two cardiologists at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI). This made a career that often comes down to life or death even more challenging.
"If it wasn't for my husband and children, I would just keep going. You have to learn to balance or else you end up spending all your time at the hospital."
Dr Hurlock commended the younger fleet of doctors for seemingly breaking this habit of overextending themselves and remembering to also put effort into their personal lives.
Still, how do we achieve balance?
Dr Camille Christian, head of the Kingston Public Hospital Cardiology Unit, will tell you it's about being intentional.
"You have to dedicate the time, and if you're going to choose a day or an afternoon or whatever it is for your family…no matter what happens, you're unavailable."
She stressed the importance of self-care.
"You also need to find time for yourself, which is another thing that we don't tend to do. We're so busy we get neglected! Just some time to take away from everything, to reflect, or just to spend more time on you."
More on this idea of balance, Dr Nordia Clare-Pascoe, the first female electrophysiologist in Jamaica, said, "As a woman you do have this nurturing side and it's not to be ignored because you're a professional woman — you have to work hard at both jobs and both jobs are rewarding."
Knowing your life path
The years of dedication and work it takes to become a doctor is well revered. Not to mention the actual work of caring for a nation of people. The general advice from these women is to know the steps you want to take on your life path, plan accordingly, and be confident in your journey. This is also one of their keys to achieving work/life balance.
"You can spend time in cardiology and not have a social life, and before you know it you're 30+ [and say] I haven't met anybody!" Dr Hurlock said. "You have to learn along the way. There's a lot of sacrifice, otherwise you miss out on a lot in life."
Nailing down your life path and goals also comes through exposure; in order to know what you want to do with your life, you need to know what is out there.
"With exposure you see what it is that you like and enjoy, and you just look for opportunities to serve in what you enjoy," Dr Clare-Pascoe said. "[Regardless of gender], we're all here to serve each other and you put more energy into what you like!"
The influence of role models and mentors in her field made cardiology an obvious choice for Dr Marilyn Lawrence Wright. And from that initial influence, she rose in the ranks from consultant cardiologist to head of cardiology at the UHWI and most recently, the head of the Department of Medicine. Now she can pass the torch to young medics.
"It's an opportunity to serve and be an example to other women who are coming up in the field."
Dr Hurlock summed it up best when she said, "Choose your specialty wisely depending on what will be expected of you. Know where you're going to work and what your support system will be like."
Leaning on your support system
Women are powerful but as Dr Lewis reminds us, as much as we may feel like it, women are not superhuman. Taking care of your body and mind are fundamental in maintaining stamina on your life journey.
"As individuals [women] are a bit more prone to emotional stress," Dr Clare-Pascoe said. "Having some form of spirituality helps in aspects of emotional stress and self-worth. Also, try doing a few minutes of exercise per day, it helps to free your mind especially if you can go outside."
Dr Lawrence Wright also noted how her faith helps her to establish priorities on a day to day basis.
"If you're not able to establish your true priorities, you may get overwhelmed."
Most importantly, on the days where you need an extra push, lean on your support system. Family means everything to this group. They were not ashamed to express love and gratitude to their spouses, children, extended family and friends for supporting them over the years. Some even acknowledged their families as their greatest accomplishment to date.
"I love being a mom," Dr Clare-Pascoe said. "I have two children and they keep me going."
Support also comes from each other. The spirit of camaraderie is noticeable in this group who have so much in common, from their passion for cardiology to a shared faith.
Keep pushing at your pace
Dr Racquel Gordon is Jamaica's first female interventional cardiologist. She admitted being a woman in this traditionally male-driven field makes it unnerving at times.
"People wonder if you're as good as your male counterparts, but I am confident in my skills and that doesn't really faze me. I love a challenge!"
Her advice to doubters and misogynists? "Ignore the naysayers full stop. Move on and do you, be confident in what you're able to do. It's not easy to brush it off sometimes but just brush it off and move on."
At the end of the day, some careers will naturally make it harder to find the balance than others. For Dr Lawrence Wright, she decided to complete her training before starting a family. Other women in this group had their children during their residencies.
"Each person has their own trajectory," Dr Lawrence Wright said. "Don't give up even when you feel like giving up. Just keep pushing at your pace."
The common threads of family, service to community, strong faith and a balanced life have engendered a true community amongst these doctors. As we celebrate the achievements of women during Women's History Month, Partners Interventional Centre of Jamaica is proud to celebrate the phenomenal doctors, mothers, wives these women have become.
"It's a very special thing to be a woman," Dr Lewis said. "We're very intuitive and empathetic, and bringing those key traits to being a doctor is very valuable in being able to care well for people."
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