Erin Camac, DO, FCCP, is an associate professor of medicine, as well as a pulmonologist and critical care medicine physician. She said that within her specialty, women are underrepresented. “The principle ‘you can't be what you can't see’ is very true in these environments,” Dr. Camac said. “I am very lucky to have come to my field with the help of amazing female mentors.”
Groups at the College of Medicine, like Women in Medicine and Science (WIMS), have helped Dr. Camac feel less alone in facing these challenges. She participated in the AAMC Early-Career Women’s Faculty Development Leadership Seminar and learned how to respond to microaggressions, to establish boundaries, and to navigate stressful environments where her voice had often been easily trampled.
“As I have benefited so much from the expertise and experience of others, I have a strong interest in giving back in every way I can,” she said. She recently participated in a panel through the Outside the Margins* series, exploring gender bias and what organizations can do to support patients and practitioners.
In the following Q&A, Dr. Camac discusses her path to medicine and offers advice for those interested in pursuing a health care career.
Q: What challenges have you faced as a woman in medicine, and how did you overcome them?
A: During residency and fellowship, because of the help of excellent mentors, I didn't feel that punching into an underrepresented field would be a challenge. For me, that realization occurred after graduation when I began to interview for my first job. After 10 interviews, I had yet to meet another female physician at the interview sites. Since that time, I have become a passionate supporter of women in underrepresented fields and have worked to become the mentor that I was lucky enough to have at the right time in my own journey.
Q: What inspired you to get into medicine?
A: While I was a college student, I took a job in EMS and was fortunate to be paired with an excellent paramedic for training in the field. After a very stressful call for a patient who required emergency cardioversion, the patient’s husband, a local physician, encouraged me to "make this your career" and pressed his business card into my palm. After thinking through it, I gave him a call, and he walked me through the process of applying to medical school. My undergraduate major was in philosophy, but it seemed to me that thinking about “living well” was surely a different thing than doing something truly meaningful.
Q: What’s your favorite part of being a doctor?
A: My favorite thing is to be found at the root of the word - the Latin "docere" which means "to teach." Whether helping a patient understand her condition or walking the ICU team through a cardioversion (less stressful now than the one above), time flies for me when I'm teaching. It brings me great joy to help others along whatever path they tread.
Q: What advice do you have for trainees entering the field of medicine?
A: Medicine is a calling and an art as well as a science. Interrogate your motivations. If you're choosing medicine, or moving forward to a specialty or subspecialty, because you are expected to, or because you think you will be wealthy and comfortable, or because you want to be a leader, I caution you that you are signing up for an unwinnable struggle against the oath you will take at the end of your schooling and at the beginning of your training. This career is a marriage for life, and it will ask of you things that no other career could. In return, it will provide rewards that no other career could. If you move forward for the right reasons, to "be the change you wish to see in the world", the sacrifices feel small and the rewards feel great.
My second piece of advice is related to the above. If you have accepted medicine as a calling and an art, and you have resolved to do it well, that does not mean that you don't need boundaries. You will need a mentor to help you set them, and you will never stop needing your mentor to help you defend them. Maintaining your well-being begins immediately and is an active process. You just can't do it by yourself, but you absolutely can do it. Your patients, your peers, your family, and your aging body will all thank you when you do.
*Outside the Margins series continues to examine marginalized groups' experiences in the U.S. health care system as both patients and providers. Intentionally collaborative, past webinars have been done in conjunction with the Center for Graduate and Professional Diversity Initiatives, the MLK Cultural Center, and the Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice.