I remember the exact moment I realized the amazing power of women; that together, women can accomplish anything they put their minds to. I grew up in a household of women. I had no brothers to compete with, and my parents always encouraged us to learn and develop leadership skills. However, even growing up in an encouraging environment, I still developed an unconscious bias.
In school and in college, I often held back when I knew the answers to questions. I did not want to “one-up” people in my class or be labeled as a “know it all.” I also knew there were negative connotations to being labeled as too smart, too confident, or too forward as a woman. I often kept ideas or answers to myself.
Funny, isn’t it?
Women have answers or ideas, thoughts or solutions, and yet sometimes we hold them back, simply because we are women.
It’s awkward to admit, but true.
You may be surprised that I completed high school, college, medical school and a four-year residency before I realized the amazing strength of women. It was in the middle morning hours, 3 to 4 a.m., and I was the attending anesthesiologist in a liver transplant surgery.
The operating room was buzzing, filled with 10+ members of the team. The nurses were scurrying about, the surgical technicians counting and handing instruments, my anesthesia resident physician was transfusing blood products, and I was performing transesophageal echocardiography. The head transplant surgeon was working away, directing the surgical fellow and the surgical resident. There was a medical student retracting and a perfusionist in the room setting up equipment to save the patient’s blood.
I looked up and saw 11 different people in the room all working feverishly to save a life. The patient, a male, was on the surgical table, and our mission was simple: to give him a life-saving organ and keep him alive in the process.
Liver transplantation is a high-risk surgery. It takes all hands on deck and a very competent, skilled and confident team to complete the procedure.
I looked up from my position at the head of the patient’s bed, and realized this:
Every person in the room, from the medical student to the head surgeon, was a woman.
A team of skilled, intelligent, hard-working women were giving a man a new liver.
It hit me how proud I was to be a woman. I told myself to never forget this moment. Years later, I am kicking myself I didn’t snap a picture to remind myself of this truth.
The truth is, we live in an amazing country where we are women can be educated. We can apply to law school or medical school. We can be professors or designers or hold public office. And while the path isn’t always easy or straightforward, if we are willing to persist, we can be what we want to be.
We are just as smart, qualified, skilled and capable as our male colleagues.
How would the road change, the path look, if we didn’t hold back our answers and ideas?
Even as an educated, independent and confident woman who went through medical school where 40 percent of my classmates were women, I didn’t really understand all that women can accomplish until I was in my third decade of life.
We must not take these truths for granted. Whenever I see women excelling, I point them out to my daughter. Whether it’s sports or business, I show her the amazing the opportunities that exist for women and what can be accomplished. While I know the road to success is not without obstruction for many women, we must keep our eyes on the final prize and elevate those women who have made it. We must bring visibility to the women who have busted their way to the top.
I am proud to be a woman. I want my daughter to be the same.
I want her to be unafraid to tackle challenges and climb mountains. I want her to plow through obstacles like she’s a bulldozer. I want her to be whatever she wants, and I want her to feel the exhilaration of knowing she worked for every success she earns.
In some ways, I am glad the path isn’t easy.
It makes the moments I described above so much sweeter.
Let’s call out successful women and teams where women are visible. We cannot assume being at the top is easy, or the climb was without challenges or difficulties. Let’s encourage those pioneers who are leading the way for the next generation of women!
Our future is bright; we must keep shining!
Sasha K. Shillcutt is an anesthesiologist who blogs at Brave Enough.