This Women's History Month, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University asked four Winship women faculty members to share their perspectives on working at Winship and advice for other women in the workforce.
Susan C. Modesitt, MD, FACOG, FACS, joined Winship Cancer Institute and Emory University on March 1 as division director of gynecologic oncology and professor in the School of Medicine's Department of Gynecology. She was most recently at the University of Virginia, where she served as a professor and division director of gynecologic oncology. No stranger to Emory, Modesitt received her undergraduate degree in biology from Emory. She has been recognized by Castle Connolly as an Exceptional Woman in Medicine each year since 2017.
What do you love about your job?
I have the best of all worlds with an academic job, where I am a surgeon and oncologist but also am heavily involved with research and teaching – all of which I love. In terms of taking care of my patients, it is such an honor and privilege to care for these amazing women who are facing cancer and help them and their families as they go through surgery, chemotherapy or radiation and then continue to follow them. It is so rewarding to have such long-term relationships with my patients.
I also love the research aspect of my job and investigating and then implementing new ways of cancer prevention, detection and treatment. Such amazing progress has been made over the course of my career to improve outcomes.
Lastly, teaching and mentoring the next generation of physicians is incredibly important and fun—it also keeps me on my toes.
Which female public figure (past or present) inspires you and why?
There are so many, it is hard to choose only one. But if I had to pick one, it would be Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I might even have her action figure on my desk. She was such a trailblazer and really has inspired women across all walks of life and professions to know that they deserve and should expect equal treatment and that they can be both an amazing person at work but also have a family, if so desired.
How can one create a good work environment for women colleagues in the workplace?
In my view, a good work environment is good for EVERYONE, both men and women, and inclusive of all individuals; leaders need to ensure that type of environment exists and is supported. Specifically, we need to make sure the system is equitable for all but also recognize that individuals will need different things at different points in their career. Perhaps this would be accomplished by incorporating more flexibility around the birth of a child or navigating breast feeding or caring for aging parents or even around inflexion points in someone's career (promotions, grants, publications, teaching, etc.). The bottom line is to make sure that everyone feels valued and is invested in the success of the work.
Do you have advice for other women physicians early in their career? What do you wish you knew when you were starting out that you have learned since then?
We are all so focused on taking care of our patients and others that it is easy to neglect self-care entirely because we are convinced that we are strong enough to do so and yet still fire on all cylinders all the time.
My two biggest pieces of advice are to (1) take EVERY second of vacation and unplug entirely from work—this includes email and EMR—so that you can recharge and, (2) schedule self-care daily, and by that I mean exercise or things like yoga, reading, meditation, video games or any activity that allows you to have fun and relax.
As a provider whose patients are exclusively women, what do you see as your role in how the field of medicine serves the health care needs of women?
It is a privilege to be able to care for women; I am continually amazed at their grace and resiliency in the face of cancer.
I see my role as a female physician leader to advocate on every level for equity for women in health care, both patients and providers. It is sadly true that female physicians are, on average, still reimbursed at lower levels than their male counterparts. It is also sadly true that specialties that care for only women have lower reimbursement rates even for similar procedures to male patients. Great strides have been made in equity, but more work needs to be done to make sure that women are treated equally across the entire health care spectrum.
The good news is that these gender disparities, along with racial inequities, are more and more being brought into the spotlight and efforts made by everyone involved in health care to address them. I have great hopes that with continued transparency, these disparities will be rectified.