“(I)n the general pool, women often aren’t considered and included as often as men,” says physician and associate professor Esther Choo
This story is part of “Ceiling Smashers,” a series in which successful women across industries tell Moneyish how they broke down professional barriers.
Esther Choo didn’t always want to be a physician. An aspiring-journalist English major in college, she interned at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which exposed her to reporting on tragedy. “I just had this very strong instinct that I wanted to be on the other side,” the 45-year-old emergency medicine doctor told Moneyish. “I wanted to be one of the worker bees I saw helping people.”
Today, the Oregon Health & Science University associate professor says, she’s one of “very few” female emergency medicine doctors who’ve also pursued academia’s traditional research tenure track, working nights in the ER and researching by day.
Choo also maintains a prominent Twitter presence — nearly 25K followers as of this writing — posting about social issues affecting women, racial and ethnic minorities, low-socioeconomic status patients and people with mental health and substance abuse problems. “I felt like I had to speak out to a broader audience so that I could really galvanize political action that would benefit my patients,” she said. “There just became a point where I realized that my public face was as important as what I did in the hospital.”
Whenever I post about gender inequity there is *always* someone (male or female) who says: “well to be included / promoted / treated equitably women need to do deserving work.” THESE PEOPLE DONT UNDERSTAND HOW GENDER BIAS WORKS.
— Esther Choo (@choo_ek) February 9, 2018
Unlike many women in emergency medicine, the mother of four said, she receives the coveted invitations to deliver Grand Rounds lectures, competes for federal research grant funds and has held national leadership positions. But she holds no formal leadership role within her university and has never held one at a hospital. It wasn’t until this past year, in fact, that she was encouraged to seek a department chair position. (Women make up just 15% of permanent department chairs at U.S. medical schools, per the Association of American Medical Colleges.)
That push is “bittersweet,” the mother of four says, since it comes after her 12 years of practicing medicine. “When I talk to the men who are seeking chair positions,” she said, “a lot of them had been told from day one, even when they were residents, that they were chair material.” The messaging differs by gender, Choo added: “For men, it’s, ‘You should do it. You’d be great. It’s going to be hard, but we really need you in that leadership position’ … For women, it’s like, ‘Oh, if you are really interested and committed, and you push hard, you can also get there.’”
Men in medicine have a fairly “linear and direct and vertical route” to leadership positions, Choo said, while women tend to take a more circuitous path, picking up experience via female-geared organizations. “We kind of rack up the same experiences and accolades, but sometimes we have to do that in ways that are targeted to women,” she said, “because in the general pool, women often aren’t considered and included as often as men.” Choo, for example, was president of the Academy for Women in Academic Emergency Medicine and sits on the advisory board for FemInEM, a resource for women in emergency medicine. She also launched Equity Quotient, a new company that gauges metrics of gender equity for health care organizations.
“I’m not going directly up through the ceiling — I’m going to go up through the window for some time, just because there’s more breathing room and space for me to move,” Choo said. “And then, hopefully, that will give me the leverage to rise in academia.”
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