In this episode, Ryan talks with Dr. Hala Sabry, founder of the Physician Mother Group (PMG), a growing community of mommy physicians that initially started with 20 amazing women and has now grown to well over 60,000 members in the Facebook group and in the community on their website.
PMG started out of her personal need to to have a support group related to physicians who are also moms in the hope that she could voice out her concerns without the fear of being judged. Today, PMG has transformed from a social support group into an actual organization that advocates for the overall well-being and welfare of women.
Hala seeks to change the world one mommy physician at a time. Listen in and get inspired by Hala’s story and find out more about the amazing things she is doing not only for their community members, but also, for every physician (male or female) following in PMG’s footsteps.
Here are the highlights of the conversation with Dr. Sabry:
Hala’s nontraditional path to becoming a physician:
- Growing up with a physician dad
- Wanting to be a doctor in her early years until she got to college
- Working for a Disney company and realizing her love of business
- Applying to medical school to initially please her dad
- Choosing a school that had an MBA/Medical degree program
Her experience in medical school:
- A fun experience with some elements of hard work, tears, frustration, and stress
- Love of patient care
- Seeking out a community during medical school
Her thought process in applying for a dual program:
- Only wanting to get her MBA
- Loving the operation side of business
- Seeing the business/administrative aspect of medicine
What she could have done differently to seek out needed information so she could make the right decision:
- Doing scribe work and volunteering
- Building a relationship with a mentor that didn’t know her dad to get a different perspective
Did Hala come to love the clinical side of medicine?
- Getting excited on her 2nd year
- Loving nephrology and developing the desire to learn more
- Getting attached to her first patient which made her more interested and connected to patient care
- Not thinking solely of business at this point and focused on becoming a doctor to build herself up if she wanted to become an administrator with high medical reputation
Her visions of helping women:
- Doing administration where she advocated for women
- Opening up a women’s center with all the specialties for women to feel more comfortable going to just one center
- Wanting to do a big change for the community
The impact of being a female and wanting a family in her decision-making:
- Loving her rotations so much that she wanted to do one specialty after another
- Thinking about what she really wanted to do considering being a female and wanting to have a family
- Seeing gender discrimination: male-dominated surgery and emergency medicine specialties
Factors that sparked her passion for helping women:
- Going to an all-girls school
- Doing family outreach work during family vacations and looking at women and wanting to help them
- Seeing the different challenges women face around the world and women only getting the short end of the stick
- Being inspired to help women not in the material sense but building their self worth and people caring for them
- Being grateful for everything she has in life
The story behind Physician Mommy Group (PMG):
- Not understanding what a family life was like back in medical school
- Meeting her husband on her last year of medical school and getting married during internship
- Facing a major challenge of having a baby (she now has three kids)
- Getting inspired by Ellen DeGeneres in the way she gives back to the community
- Dealing with anxiety as a mom and seeing the need for a women/mother-related support group
- Creating a support group on Facebook picking 20 women/mommy friends she felt safe with
- Growing her group from 20 moms to 200 the next morning
More about Physician Mommy Group (PMG):
- Reaching about 60,000 members now since it’s creation in November 2014
- Turning from a social network to an actual organization that not only provides social support but unraveling and highlighting relevant issues in medicine
How Hala finds balance:
- Less time off but maximizing time with her family
- Having a community to vent makes it better and tolerable
- Being flexible with the idea of balance
- Doing what makes you happy
- Seeking help from the outside
Some pieces of advice for premed students:
- Pick whatever you want and you’ll make it work for you. Just be happy and do the field of specialty that you want.
- Whatever it is you want to accomplish, do not sell yourself short.
- Take a breather, step back a bit. See what makes you unhappy and what your options are. The worst thing you could do is to let problems fester in your mind. Go with an option and if it doesn’t work, go with another option. Seek out a mentor or depend on a parent or colleague for other possible options.
Links and Other Resources:
Connect with Hala through email at [email protected]
Elite Medical Scribes www.medicalschoolhq.net/ems
Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years is part of the Med Ed Media network at www.MedEdMedia.com.
This is The Premed Years, session number 201.
Hello and welcome to the two-time Academy Award nominated podcast, The Premed Years, where we believe that collaboration, not competition, is key to your premed success. I am your host Dr. Ryan Gray, and in this podcast we share with you stories, encouragement, and information that you need to know to help guide you on your path to becoming a physician.
Welcome to The Premed Years if this is the first time joining me here. As I said earlier, my name is Dr. Ryan Gray and I host this podcast as well as several others, and you can find them all at www.MedEdMedia.com. This week’s guest is a very special one. She is a physician, but more importantly is the founder of an amazing group of women, and she is looking to change the world really, is what it comes down to. I’m hoping to change the premed world with The Premed Years, and hopefully the future physician’s world as the premeds go on to medical school and become physicians. But Hala is changing the world one female physician at a time, and more specifically, one female mommy physician at a time. She is the founder of Physician Mom’s Group which started because she needed help as a physician and a mom, and it has grown to now well over 60,000 members in a Facebook group, in a community on a website, and she is just doing amazing things not only for the group of members that are part of that community, but for every physician- not just female physician but every physician that is following in the PMG’s footsteps. So everybody listening to this will be- I am 100% certain, everybody listening to this podcast as a premed will be affected by everything that Hala is doing as a physician and as the founder of PMG. So let’s dig in and say hi to Hala.
Hala, welcome to The Premed Years, thanks for joining me.
Dr. Hala Sabry: Thank you Ryan for having me, I’m excited to be here.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright. I want to know when you first were hit with the, ‘I’ve got to be a doctor’ bug.
Meeting Dr. Hala Sabry
Dr. Hala Sabry: Oh, that’s a really good question. I think I grew up always thinking I wanted to be a doctor, but mainly because my dad was a doctor, and I used to always say I wanted to be a doctor which would get me a lot of praise from him, especially because my brother was not really into science, and so I felt like that was something that differentiated us and I got a lot more attention from my dad. So definitely I kind of manipulated that, so I always said I wanted to be a doctor but I think deep down inside I really didn’t know. And I kind of felt- you know coming from a family- a culture where medicine is like really prioritized, and education is as well, I felt like that was kind of what I was supposed to do. When I got into high school- I went to private school, a lot of my classmates had fathers or mothers that were doctors as well, and so I felt like at that point I would say I wanted to be a doctor because everybody else was saying that. But when I got into college I was like, ‘I really don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t know why you keep saying that.’ So I ended up ironically getting a job for the Disney company, and I really loved business. And so I knew I kind of didn’t want to be a doctor, or thought I didn’t want to be a doctor, I just wanted to go into business, but still had a lot of those pressures from my family, and then actually when September 11th hit, my dad kind of had a long talk with me about just the future, and how I could be helping a lot of people by being a physician, especially the economics of it as well, and of the country. And so I applied just to kind of make him happy and got in, and so I felt I shouldn’t throw away this opportunity that so many people are vying after for years and years. And so I decided to apply, when I got in I chose a school that actually had an MBA and a medical degree combined program, so that way I was happy, he was happy. But I will say through medical school I thought it was super fun and I just loved patient care so much that now I’m so happy that even though I went a little astray that I’m actually treating patients, because even though sometimes it gets a little daunting, I am so happy to go to work and I actually love seeing patients. And so now I kind of laugh at my nontraditional path. But I remember sitting in my medical school interviews and people sharing their stories about how they had some huge event that happened in their life that made them have a calling to medicine, and here I was kind of just doing what my parents were telling me. But I’m glad that they guided me down this path.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Do you think that because your father was a physician that you didn’t seek out opportunities to learn more about what medicine would be like for you, because you assumed that what he was living would be what you would live?
Dr. Hala Sabry: Oh definitely, I think that’s actually a really good question, I’ve never been asked that before. I kind of felt like not that I really knew exactly what would happen in medicine, but I felt like I had a good idea as a kid. And I had a really good upbringing, I remember- my dad was an emergency medicine physician as well, which is not why I picked emergency medicine, but I remember him there all the time, and I remember not having a negative feeling about medicine. But I also saw the realistic portions of it, I saw how medicine changed. I remember my dad coming home and some of his complaints about insurance not allowing certain tests to be done, and that way patients are coming into the ER. I remember these early on so when I was re-introduced to them in medical school and in clinical years, they weren’t foreign to me, but I honestly had no idea how deep those things went. But I do think that if anything, it was a really good positive experience. I just felt like I was really intimidated with how many years it would take of school. I think I was kind of just done with school and I didn’t really want to do it. But I think that you’re asking me the question about my dad’s influence as far as just seeing him in practice, it was probably just a positive one if anything.
Dr. Ryan Gray: You talked about how daunting it was, the amount of school, yet you applied to a dual degree program. What was the thought process behind that besides just following your passions for business?
Dr. Hala Sabry: I know, it kind of seems a little backwards. But I really only wanted to get my MBA, and I remember telling my dad that. You know at Disneyland- I know this is going to sound so weird, but you actually learn a lot of business. I started out working on the rides and then I started doing scheduling, and I started realizing budgeting, and operational flow, and cost, and I just loved it, I just loved operations. And so when I was telling my dad that when we were having an in-depth discussion about what about business do I love- because when he was thinking business he’s thinking I’m trying to open up a store of some sort, and I told him, ‘No that’s not exactly what I’m thinking, I’m thinking on a big scale.’ And he said, ‘You know medicine is like that.’ And he talked about the flow of the ER, and he talked about getting admitted to the hospital, and what did that mean, and how do patients get into the hospital, and that kind of operations. And that kind of sparked my interest and I said, ‘Well I can be a doctor and a business woman, that’s insane.’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ He’s like, ‘In fact a lot of the pressures that we’re having as physicians are that people that make these decisions are not physicians, and so they made decisions that they think is right, but- sometimes they’re really good, but a lot of times they lack a lot of elements that are really important for patients.’ And so I said, ‘You know Dad, maybe I just want to be a business woman that kind of protects and advocates for physicians.’ And he said, ‘I’m sure that everybody would love that.’ And so when I went on my medical school interviews that’s kind of what I said, and I was really, really set on the fact that I wanted to be an administrator. I really didn’t want to practice clinically, I just wanted to really represent doctors, and really help healthcare from a business aspect. So that was kind of where I was going with it. I said if I have to go through this dual program to get to where I want to be and what would make my father happy, then so be it. It’s an extra year but I did get to move out of state, and kind of live in New York which was always a dream for me. So for me I just felt like it was an extra year of fun if anything else. And I honestly- I know that- maybe this is the first time any of these listeners are hearing, I really thought medical school was a lot of fun rather than as daunting as I thought it was going to be. I really had a good time.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Did you have fun in your pre-clinical years, or fun in your clinical years? Or both?
Getting Excited about Medicine
Dr. Hala Sabry: You know it was different. I think the pre-clinical years, the excitement for me wasn’t really the school, it was more about a new atmosphere. You know I’d moved from California to New York, so in that essence it was kind of fun getting to know myself. And I think even if you go to school in-state I think that you start learning a lot about yourself because you’ve never been challenged to that degree. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life. I think school always came really easy to me, and so I just knew that I would have to kind of turn it up a notch. And all of my classmates worked so hard, you know we would be up 6:00, 7:00 in the morning, and at that time- I don’t know how it’s like now, we had our live lectures, and they did tape them, but we would be in school until 5:00 and then we would go home, maybe eat dinner, and then you’d be studying until midnight, and then do it all over again. And I think that what the fun part was, was students that I was going- my friends that I’d made along the way, the information was so dense so that wasn’t so fun a lot of times, but I think that- I think just the process. I think just becoming a doctor is just really- when I look back at it, I just think it was really a neat process that has a lot of elements of fun, but it does have a lot of elements of hard work, and tears, and frustration, and stress. But I think that overall if you keep your eye on the prize and you actually seek out a community during medical school, I think that you can actually have a little bit of fun with it as well.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Looking back, with the influences that your dad had on your journey to medical school, what could you have done differently as a premed, or an undergrad student whether you were premed or not, to seek out the information that you needed so that you personally could make the right decision for you?
Dr. Hala Sabry: I think now premed students are doing everything that I think I could even imagine. You know I see these premed students doing scribe work in the hospitals and clinics, I see them doing volunteer work which I think was really only our real option back when I was in college, which actually wasn’t even too long ago, I act like I’m a lot older than I really am. But in the nineties we didn’t really have a lot of access to these opportunities that now are there as far as like scribe work and stuff like that. We only had like research opportunities. But I wish I kind of built maybe a relationship with a mentor that maybe did not know my dad, that I could get a different perspective and just kind of see if that would have enhanced or changed or influenced any of my decisions. But everything worked out for me, and everybody has their own journey, and I just feel like you should own it whatever it may be. And I think that I hear medical students- or I mean premed students I should say, be really stressed about hearing what other premed students are doing, and feeling that pressure to accomplish the same, if not more to be competitive. And I almost feel that- I mean I don’t sit- disclaimer, I do not sit on any kind of admissions committee in any kind of way, but I kind of feel like the things that stuck out about me when I was doing the interview process is nobody really asked me about any of my experience. You know, did I volunteer at a hospital or any kind of medical experience? They were asking me a lot of questions about Disney because I think that they knew as far as the company how well it is respected in that realm, and so a lot of my questions were not even about medicine. So I think that having a good balance of some differentiating factors that makes you you, to identify you and make you memorable, and then also show your dedication to science and medicine I think is a good mixture. But I think when people are really unbalanced one way or the other where they don’t have anything else to talk about could actually work against them.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Do you remember any particular moment as you were going through medical school- you’ve mentioned a couple times now that you thought you wanted to do more administrative stuff and not clinical medicine. But there had to be some moments treating a patient or on your rotation somewhere where you were like, ‘Oh this clinical stuff is actually pretty cool.’
Dr. Hala Sabry: Yeah, you know in second year when we started learning the system they started becoming really excited about it. I remember just loving nephrology, and it was just so hard but I just loved it so much because it just really tied all the systems together and I remember thinking, ‘How cool is this? The body is so amazing. I want to learn more, I want to be able to practice this.’ And so at that point I started kind of challenging myself as to what my real goal would be, but I really didn’t put that much pressure on myself because I still had so much more to go, I was only a second year student. And then I remember my first patient in third year, I was on medicine- on my internal medicine rotation, and my first patient was a new pancreatic mass that we were working up that ended up being cancer. And I think at that point with the attachment I had- I think everybody has attachments to their first patient, but I think that made me a little bit more I guess interested and connected I think to patient care. And I didn’t really think of business as an option at that point because I knew I just had to be a doctor, and I knew that if I was going to go into business I would have to be a reputable doctor, I couldn’t just be another administrator without any kind of medical reputation. So I knew that there were steps involved and that I would have to build myself up. But so I really honestly didn’t only think about business the whole way, but I knew that medicine would be a big part of it. And so I think I just became a little bit more attached. With the more clinical knowledge I started gaining, I started to really just enjoy it and started actually imagining what kind of specialties would I want to be? Or what if I did administration in such a way where I advocated for women? I know one of the big thoughts I had in medical school was opening up a woman’s center where there would be all the specialties for women to feel a little bit more comfortable going to one center to see their physicians, and maybe have like some pediatrics on a second floor. I was thinking really big, but I just knew that I wanted to do something that would really make a big change for our community. I didn’t want to just be treating patients just in a small setting, I wanted to do something big.
Family Life Versus a Career in Medicine
Dr. Ryan Gray: You had mentioned daunting earlier when talking about the path to becoming a physician. How much did being a female and wanting a family come into that decision making, and saying, ‘You know what? I want to have a family life, and medicine I don’t think will fit into that.’
Dr. Hala Sabry: Yeah I think initially I really didn’t think about it too much because again, I thought I would be an administrator and so I figured my job would be somewhere like 9:00 to 5:00, and most people did that so why not me? But as I started going through rotations, I loved everything, Ryan. I loved every single rotation- like I would call my mom and say, “Mom, I want to be a family practitioner. Mom, I want to be a psychiatrist,” and it would just change every month or however many weeks those rotations were, and my mom was like, “Okay I get it, you like everything.” And I remember the first time I was assisting in a surgery, and they opened up the patient’s abdomen and I saw the bowel, I just like fell in love and then I decided I wanted to be a surgeon. I wanted to be a colorectal surgeon, I just decided and that actually stuck for about a year. And I shadowed a colorectal surgeon on a day off I had at the hospital I was doing my surgery rotation, and I asked him a lot of questions like logistically how does it work, and he kind of- he wasn’t negative, he was just realistic. He was like, “You know I dedicate myself a lot to patients, and there’s not a lot of colorectal surgeons,” at least in that area, and I started realizing at that moment that what does that mean for my future? Because I wasn’t in a relationship, I wasn’t married, I really didn’t understand, I couldn’t really have the concept of future and kids. And my mom was a stay-at-home mom so how does that fit into my model of a family? Because as you’re growing up all you know is what you’ve experienced. And so I had a great upbringing, and so I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh well my mom was a stay-at-home mom and I’m not going to be,’ and that was when the reality hit of what do I want for myself? And also when I decided- when I was thinking about surgery and I started realizing that none of the surgical residents looked like me. They were all men, and there was one program that I saw that had two women, but one was married and I had asked her, I said, “Oh so are you thinking about having kids?” And she was like, “Oh there’s no time for that.” And so I never really delved into it because I didn’t know really what that exactly meant being that I was not in that situation. And so I started realizing maybe being a woman in surgery is not something that I want to be the one to pioneer, although I wish now I wouldn’t have been so deterred by it because I feel like we need those women in those fields to fight and there’s tons of women who are in those fields and making it work perfectly for them. And so I feel like I was really short-sighted at that time, but you know when you’re in medicine and you’re going through it, you’re only looking at the mentors that you have access to, and so you’re kind of limited. But yeah, I think at that point I started realizing that one, picking your career as a woman, I kind of thought traditionally. Like what would make my life better as far as when I have kids, which I think now my advice to premed students is pick whatever you want and you’ll make it work for you. Just be happy and do the field of specialty that you want. But the other thing is that all the fields I was looking at seriously- I mean I know I loved everything, but all the fields I was seriously looking at which were mainly surgery and emergency medicine, they were very male dominated, and I remember seeing that residents were mainly not female at that time. They would often leave one token spot for a female if anything, and if anything it made us more- as women, fight against each other for these token spots. I never started a rotation thinking all these other medical students are my competition. No, I would see the one girl that was on the rotation with me and know that she was really my competition if anything. And so it’s kind of sad that you kind of come to that realization, but now it’s a lot different and I just think at that point I started realizing gender discrimination, even though it was subtle it was there. And I was kind of surprised because all my life I had never experienced that, and so it was really a life lesson at that point.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Too bad you didn’t go into surgery, you could have been a pioneer with the #ILookLikeASurgeon campaign that’s been going on.
Dr. Hala Sabry: I know. Isn’t that amazing? And all those women, I look at those and I get really emotional because I am so happy for them, and they’re all so drop dead gorgeous, and such great role models for these young women. If they’re influencing me, and I’m really touched by it, I can’t even imagine someone that’s in high school or even a premed student looking at that and going, ‘I look like them,’ and I think that’s- it’s such an amazing campaign and I’m so happy that the women in surgery are doing it because I think that they’re really the true pioneers, amongst other specialties as well. I think all women are doing a great job representing our gender in their respective fields.
Being an Advocate for Women
Dr. Ryan Gray: What do you think it is about you that has led you not only to what we’ll talk about in a minute with PMG, but also you had mentioned this kind of grandiose idea of opening a women’s clinic. What is it about you and wanting to do something for women?
Dr. Hala Sabry: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know. I have no idea, I think I just always- I went to an all-girls high school, and maybe that’s where it came from, just this whole female pride. But I just felt so relatable to other women, and my dad and my mom, when I was younger we would do a lot of outreach work as a family on vacations. Anytime we’d go on vacation, one of those days would be dedicated to the population and need in that area. And I think I always just looked at the women there and felt so grateful for my upbringing and my situation that I felt like I want everybody else to have that for themselves, and I think that that’s where I kind of formed that attachment to women as far as helping them in their situations. And realistically when you read about a lot of other cultures- I shouldn’t say cultures, I’m misspeaking here, a lot of other countries that don’t have the same standards as the United States. A lot of women have different challenges, and I feel like we’ve come so far in the United States with everything from voting, and equal rights in almost everything, that I just look at other women and I want them to have the same. Because I’m the kind of person that always wants everybody to have the same as me or better. I just feel like everybody should be inspired to do more, have more of whatever it is that they want, whether it’s more happiness- nothing material, I’m just talking about like self-worth and people caring for them. I just really think that women sometimes get the short end of the stick in this country and other countries, and I think I’ve always identified with that because every time we would go on these trips, I would just see these moms or children that looked like me, that same age, and I would just feel horrible about myself, and I would just want to not feel like that, I would want to do more for them. So not only that they would benefit from it but also I just felt like it was the right thing to do as a human being, and to help others that need it. And I need my own help, I mean everybody needs help and nobody has it all, but I just felt if you have more resources than another person that you probably should help them. And so I don’t know, that was just engrained in me by my parents and I think that’s because they’re immigrants to this country and started with nothing, and I think that they were really grateful for that and they always wanted us to remember that not everybody is fortunate to have a lot of resources. And so I don’t know, I guess I don’t know why it’s so grandiose but I think that I just wanted to share all that love, and I had so much of it, I think all my ideas were so big.
PMG – Physician Mom’s Group
Dr. Ryan Gray: Well PMG might not have been a huge idea when it first was birthed in your head, but it has turned into a huge thing. Where did the idea for Physicians Mom Group come from?
Dr. Hala Sabry: I know it’s crazy how your life takes so many turns. But even though I thought a lot about the future when I was in medical school, I didn’t really understand what it would be like with a family although it was always in the back of my mind. And I met my husband when I was in my last year of medical school and we got married when I was an intern, and we tried to start having kids the next year, and it just didn’t work out. And we tried, and we went to a lot of physicians and fertility specialists, and although they could never give us an answer all of these treatments were failing, and it was just emotionally so taxing, it was financially just devastating, and I sat there and I thought- I remember thinking one day, I was actually watching Ellen DeGeneres and just seeing how her show is, and how she gives back to the community, and how she still treated herself and I thought, ‘You know if I ever get over this, if I ever am a mom, I want to help other women that are going through struggles.’ I was like thinking more of infertility, but then I became a mom, and I started realizing how hard that was and I’m like, ‘How can I help other moms?’ but I felt like I couldn’t even help myself. And so I finally had my first child and then I had gotten pregnant again when she was ten months old with twins, and it was that pregnancy that made me feel a lot more overwhelmed than I already was, and people would ask me- you know they tried to make small talk. There are certain things that you really shouldn’t say to pregnant people like, ‘Oh wow, you’re getting big.’ Or ‘How are you going to do it?’ Because those things really stress them out, and I started getting more stressed, and more stressed because they would ask me like, ‘How are you going to do it because you have this young child at home and you’re going to introduce two more,’ and I wanted to say, “I have no clue. Do you have any ideas?” Because I’m not one to ever not ask for help. People who know me who have gone through medical school with me, and rotations, I’m always pretty honest about maybe resources that I need and kind of like a bartering system, like ‘I have this if you have that.’ And so I’ve always been really open about it, but for the first time I felt like because I was already an attending it’s much different. I felt like I had to be that role model that they thought in this hierarchy in the hospital but also in the community. So they would ask me questions like, “Oh how are you going to do it?” but before I could even answer they would answer the questions themselves. They would say, “Oh you’ve got this covered because you’re a doctor.” I’m like, ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ Because I know how to treat patients but I don’t know how to really mother. And I just felt kind of just anxious about it and I’m not an anxious person, I’ve never been an anxious person, and so one night it kind of became to a point where I was getting palpitations, and I was a little bit short of breath, and I’m like, ‘What am I doing to myself? This is not me.’ And so I thought to myself, ‘If I was a patient what would I tell me? What kind of advice would I give?’ And so I thought definitely therapy, but I’m like what is a therapist going to help me with? My questions are how many nannies do I need? I mean what’s a therapist going to help me with? I feel like I need a life coach or something like that. And I thought what I really need is like a support group, and so I starting Googling ‘support groups for physicians’ and I couldn’t find anything really. There are very- at that time there were very few, but not really related to women or mothering. And so a friend of mine had just given birth to twins at that moment- or at that week I should say, and I had messaged her and we were kind of talking about being stressed out and I said, “Do you know of any support groups?” And I felt really vulnerable just messaging her, asking her that. And she goes, “No but if you find one let me know.” And I said, “Well maybe we make our own because it doesn’t exist.” And so I just went through my friends list on Facebook and picked twenty people I felt safe with as far as having a conversation. But these women all had children at different ages, on average they were under five, but they were all different specialties, they lived all around the country, and so I felt like it would be a good representation of just different opinions, and honestly finding twenty people was a reach for me because I had to feel safe, I had to feel safe asking. And so I made this group and it was really late at night the same night, this all happened in a few hours, and I made the group and I just put a preface statement there, ‘Look I kind of feel really overwhelmed, and I know it’s not normal for us female physicians to talk about our shortcomings, but I’m really having a hard time and if anybody else feels the same, I wanted to make a small space that we can discuss this and maybe get some information from.’ Because there are other mom support groups out there, there’s actually many but I just felt like I couldn’t identify- or they couldn’t identify with me. A lot of the questions I had specifically were really to being a doctor, and I just felt like I would probably be chastised if anything else in those groups. I didn’t really feel safe, although those women are amazing and they do offer a lot of support, but I made the group and the reaction to it, the response was just so positive. And I don’t know- everybody was awake at that time, I have no idea why, but they were all awake and so excited and introducing themselves because remember, all of them really just knew me not each other, and it just became this really fast growing friendship amongst these twenty girls. And in fact that number twenty only lasted probably an hour because the first question was, ‘Can I add a friend?’ and I said, ‘Well only if you think that they’ll be safe as well. I don’t want anyone that’s going to be not supportive of our needs.’ And then soon enough everybody was adding their friends, and their friends were adding their friends, and I went to sleep kind of feeling not anxious but really more fulfilled that I had these twenty new girlfriends, and I thought, ‘It would be really cool if it got to 200. That would be a really cool thing.’ And then in the morning it was 200 and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, like what happened?’ And then it just started growing like wildfire. And so honestly I didn’t really think that this would be something that a lot of people needed, I just thought I was alone, and I think that’s what medicine sometimes makes you feel, like really alone and isolated and segregated. And so I’m glad that I actually spoke up, and maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, but you know- I don’t know, I’m just glad that it happened.
Dr. Ryan Gray: When was that? Do you remember?
Dr. Hala Sabry: Yeah it was November of 2014.
Dr. Ryan Gray: So it’s been almost two years and you’re over 60,000 members now?
Dr. Hala Sabry: Yeah we’re just about- I think we’re approaching 62,000.
Dr. Ryan Gray: That’s incredible.
Dr. Hala Sabry: I know, it’s insane.
Dr. Ryan Gray: What has been the biggest takeaway from seeing all these physicians who are moms that you can relay to the premed who might be a mom now, or is a female concerned about having a career and a family at the same time?
Being a Woman and Mom in Medicine
Dr. Hala Sabry: Well I think- so PMG, or Physician Mom’s Group, PMG- I started it honestly for very selfish reasons, right? I wanted to ask questions about childcare. And early on almost all of the discussion was based around our children, but soon enough there was questions that started coming out of ‘this is what’s happening in my workplace. I found out that there’s a pay discrepancy between male and female.’ Or ‘a patient asked me if I was the nurse for the tenth time today.’ Whatever it may be. And so all of these recurring themes of frustrations within the fields started coming out, and that’s when PMG turned from a social network to an actual growing of an organization that not only had social support at its core, but it also started to unravel and highlight all of the problems in medicine that some of us did not even know it existed. Or didn’t realize that we were going through the same thing, or situations that we didn’t realize that we were in, but now that somebody else has kind of highlighted it you start realizing that things are just not right where you’re at. And so if anything it’s made us as women finally come together to fight for ourselves. And I don’t know- I really don’t know the history of women in medicine so much to know how many times that’s been attempted, but I think in this day in age with social media, the amount of communication happens so quick and instantaneous that it’s working probably a lot more efficiently. And so for the women who are coming behind us, I feel like- I’m not the pioneer, it’s all of them. These women are fighting for themselves, but they’re fighting for you, for you who are listening because they know they want to make it a better place for the generation after us. Because let’s face it, I mean I feel like we all feel that obligation to women, but also who’s going to take care of us when we’re older? It’s going to be the people listening. So I hope that if anything we make it a very I guess friendly and inviting space in medicine for women to show their presence without feeling like they’re already behind the eight ball, or that they have a lot of barriers that maybe others don’t. And so if anything I hope that the women that are listening, whatever it is that you want to accomplish, please do not sell yourself short. And even- especially even men, men who want to be parents and want to be involved with their children. It’s not just about women, it’s about physicians taking back medicine. And a lot of the frustrations that we have Ryan, I know that you and I have talked about his before, it’s the same frustrations that men have. I mean there’s some stuff that’s really related just to women, but a lot of it just has to be with being in medicine today as a doctor, and I think that really we’re all joining forces for the greater good for not only ourselves as practitioners, but also for our patients because we know it’s going to improve patient care if we’re happier and if we do attack some of the problems in medicine that do exist. But also for all of you listening, that’s what it’s all about is continuing this. And I hope that those listening will be inspired to join kind of this movement and move forward. And I’m not the only person discussing problems like this, there’s a lot of other physicians out there that are very well-spoken and have been doing this a lot longer. I think it’s just- I don’t know it was just kind of a serendipitous event that happened with PMG, and it’s just taken off. So I’m just grateful that it’s happened.
Dr. Ryan Gray: What have you learned now working as an attending, having your three kids now?
Dr. Hala Sabry: Yes, three kids.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Having three kids, obviously starting this group for that support of ‘holy crap what do I do now?’ Where have you found that balance?
Dr. Hala Sabry: Yeah I think that’s a great question. Perhaps that’s a good question for my husband because I’m sure that we would answer it very differently. But I think I’m busier- I’m busier than I ever have been, and I don’t have any days off. So if anything it’s kind of changed my balance a little bit, because when you think about balance, I don’t even know if you really know what that- if anybody really knows what that means. Because I think balance changes every single day, because I think my balance today depends on what I felt imbalanced on yesterday. And so I don’t- it’s constantly evolving. So I know that I’m busier so I think I have less time off, but I do maximize my time with my family when I do have that time, especially in the mornings before the kids are going to daycare and school, and the evenings before they go to bed. So I feel like I’ve learned from the women in the group how to maximize the time that I’m home to feel fulfilled, but ultimately I think the balance works out for me because I am so happy, Ryan. I am actually- at this point I feel like the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. And you know I feel happy in my career, I feel happy with PMG, I feel happy with my husband and my family, and especially my husband. And a lot of PMG members and their husbands have reached out saying that because they’re individually happy, so is their spouse because there’s nothing worse than having one unhappy spouse about a situation that you cannot fix, and just sitting there and seeing- it’s kind of like watching people circle a drain, and you can’t help. You just feel like they’re drowning and you can’t help. And I felt like that’s what my husband may have felt like, and I know that because I know other husbands have felt the same way. It’s like, ‘How can I help my wife? She’s giving me problems I cannot solve in any kind of way.’ You know? So I think not that I solved them but I think that just having that community to vent makes it better, and makes it tolerable, and then in turn I think for me it’s made me a way better wife, it’s made me a better mom, I think it’s made me a better doctor if I’m happier. In fact I won a really huge award at work for a service excellence, and all the stories happened to be about compassionate patients which I didn’t even think of that I was doing, but when I look back I felt like I had that time for patients because I have spent less time stressing about myself. And so I just think that the balance part, although on the surface it’s not apparent, I think mentally and emotionally it’s there 100%. And so I just hope that everybody hearing this, whether they’re actually a physician, or they’re a premed, or even a high school student whoever’s listening to this, I hope that they realize that- I think that everybody has to be a little bit flexible with the idea of balance and just know that ultimately you have to do what makes you happy, and I think right now I’m doing all of that at once.
Dr. Ryan Gray: It’s funny you talk about balance. The biggest thing I think I’ve learned along the way is that I think when we talk about balance we picture evenly balanced, right? 50/50. When in real life it’s balance could be 70/30 work and family life, or 70/30 family life and work. It doesn’t have to be perfectly balanced, it just needs to even out.
Dr. Hala Sabry: Right and I think even between my husband and I, we always felt like balance and parenting was 50/50 and then if it was 70/30 I felt like we were like keeping tally. But what we didn’t realize is that our amazing, amazing, amazing nanny can take a part of that percentage too, and she is a really close family friend, actually my kids call her Grandma. And so we got really, really lucky with our nanny situation, but I almost feel like we added a person to our marriage. And so if anything, I think that just realizing that that balance doesn’t have to be just between yourself, or yourself and your partner, it could be with other help that you have from the outside. And I think that was a hard thing as a physician to let go, because I’m very territorial over my patients, over my charting, over my life, that it was nice to see other physicians lead- in PMG, mentor me in how to do that. How to delegate, and how to I guess find my happiness with using other resources. And in fact my nanny, she’s talked to me a lot about this because she sees me- she’s seen me transform. She’s been with me since my first- my eldest has been four months, and for her my children fill a void for her. And so it’s kind of neat to see how you’re not really just dumping on anybody else, but you’re actually helping everybody’s situation. So it’s kind of been- you know honestly now that I’m talking to you Ryan, I just can’t believe how many people in this world are not very honest with themselves or forthcoming with maybe areas of deficiencies that they have in their life probably because they feel like they’re going to be judged or it’s going to be used against them in some way. But I think once you are able to be vulnerable and honest, I think that you just- you’re not losing anything, you’re just gaining a lot of opportunity to improve it. And so I’ve just seen that in even non-medical or non-PMG stuff, just like my nanny. You know? Just talking to her. And so to see that everybody’s super happy, and I know that the situation may be unique to me, but it’s inspired me to do that in other parts of my life.
Words of Encouragement to the Struggling Premed
Dr. Ryan Gray: As we wrap up here with the premed student who’s listening to this, struggling on their journey maybe like you did, wondering if this was the right step for you, what would you say to them to encourage them to continue down this path?
Dr. Hala Sabry: I think take a breather, maybe step back a little bit and see what’s making you unhappy, and see what your options are because I think approaching problems like that is always helpful. I think that the worst thing that you can do is what I did when I was getting stressed out when I was pregnant, is letting these problems that I was having just fester in my mind. And so I think that if you relate that to anything that you’re approaching, it doesn’t matter what it is, that you go, ‘Okay well I’m really upset about this one situation, or I feel like I’m not performing at my best,’ or whatever it may be, and you think, ‘Okay well what are my options?’ And just see what your options are, go with it, go with an option, and if it doesn’t work then you go with one of the other options. But I also think reaching out for help whether you have a mentor, or maybe someone that you depend on, a parent, or even a colleague of yours. I think it’s super important because I think that sometimes we don’t even know what options are out there and someone will open up your mind. And I’ve actually had premed students reach out to me, and I have no problem pairing them with anybody that would help them as well. And so there’s a lot of resources and I just hope that as premed students you guys realize that, and that you use it, because this is a really, really awesome and fantastic time to go into medicine, and you guys are really, really lucky, and so I wish you guys luck on your journey and if there’s ever anything that I can do for you, just reach out because I would love to help.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright again that was Hala, founder of PMG. You can go find their website over at www.MyPMG.com. If you happen to be a physician and a mom while you’re listening to this, then you can go over there, join up, join the Facebook group, although I think it might be a secret group, I’m not sure. I’m not allowed to know because I’m not a mom. But I am part of the Physician Dad Group which has grown out of PMG. So I am part of the- a proud member of the PDG family.
So thank you Hala, for taking the time to join us and share your message, share your hope for the future for female physicians, for mom physicians, for all physicians. I know that you are doing great things and I’m excited to see where PMG goes and where you go in the future.
And if you want to reach out to Hala directly she told me that you can just email her at [email protected]
I do want to thank our sponsor for today’s podcast, Elite Medical Scribes. You can find out more about Elite Medical Scribes at www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/EMS. Hala mentioned she’s an emergency room physician. Being a scribe in the emergency room is a phenomenal job. You get to see and experience so much as a scribe, it’s an amazing opportunity to get clinical experience; being in an emergency department, standing side by side with a physician, working side by side with a physician as you’re charting and doing everything that scribes do in the emergency department and anywhere else for that matter. Scribes can work in out-patient clinics, in hospitals, in emergency departments, anywhere and anywhere.
Go check out the opportunities that you have over at www.MedicalSchoolHQ.net/EMS. That will take you to a list of all of the places where Elite Medical Scribes is currently hiring scribes. Thank you, Elite Medical Scribes, for supporting The Premed Years.
Alright that’s it for this week. I hope you join us next week for more great information with a conversation about wilderness medicine, which is very interesting. So join us next week for that, and as you continue to go through your week, stay collaborative and we’ll see you next week here at The Premed Years and the Medical School Headquarters.
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