Carving a path
“I knew there would be some challenges, but it didn’t stop me,” Jennifer Friedman, MD, said about entering the medical field as a woman. As a matter of fact, when she entered medical school at the University of California, San Francisco in 1993, she joined their first class that had more women than men. Since then, the matriculation of women into medical schools has become roughly equal with the number of men.
Although nobody in Friedman’s family had a career in medicine, she was interested in becoming a physician by the time she started her undergraduate education. Volunteering in an emergency room, participating in a pre-medical student group and working toward fulfilling her prerequisites for medical school all helped Friedman confirm her decision to become a physician. Graduating from medical school in 1997, Friedman went on to complete an obstetrics and gynecology residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in 2002. Since 2006, Friedman has been a practicing OB-GYN in College Station, Texas.
“Women bring as much to medicine as men, not only in health care delivery, but in administration and leadership as well,” Friedman said. Representation of women in medicine is important for equality because men and women take different medical approaches, according to Friedman. “If we don’t discuss those differences and ways to improve equality for women in medicine, that’s a disservice not only to patients, but to the women who practice medicine and institutions as a whole,” she said.
Despite Friedman’s current enthusiasm for discussing equality of women in medicine, she didn’t initially have an easy time finding people who wanted to have those conversations. “It was sometimes hard finding role models to talk about their role as a woman in medicine,” she said. During medical school, Friedman had her first child, and fortunately, a dean of student affairs played a key role in supporting Friedman during her pregnancy. She had her second daughter during her residency, and a faculty member, who was also pregnant, was supportive of Friedman during this time. These two women helped mold Friedman’s passion for advocating for women and supporting students. Since 2018, Friedman has been a part of the Texas A&M University College of Medicine, where she serves as an assistant dean of student affairs for career advising within the Office of Medical Education.
Friedman also serves as the faculty adviser for the College of Medicine Women in Medicine student organization. “It’s one of my passions,” Friedman said. The group includes both male and female medical students, and the group discusses many issues. Friedman said these discussions are important for everyone. Men can learn how to be supportive family members, partners and fathers and how to interact with women leaders and women on their team. The representation of men in the group is an important part of the organization’s mission.
“It is rewarding teaching and advising medical students,” Friedman said. In her position as the faculty adviser for the Women in Medicine student group, Friedman shares her own role as a woman in medicine and educates both men and women about how to be supportive of the different paths women may take in medicine. “I think it is really important, no matter what your role in medicine as a woman is, that you can share that role,” Friedman said.
As for advice for young women pursuing medicine, Friedman said, “Each path belongs to the person leading it.” She describes that no one person has the right path or right answer, and it is helpful to find role models and talk to others to work on creating a path that works. “I encourage young women to seek out advice and stories from women in medicine about how they have overcome obstacles,” Friedman said. Being a mother, forming relationships, and having leadership roles looks different for every woman. “Your path is your own,” Friedman said.
Apart from living out her passion of working with students, Friedman describes her most significant accomplishment to date as her ability to find balance in her life. Friedman’s husband, who is also a physician, has played a tremendous role in this. With the support of her husband, she has managed to raise three daughters, prioritize family time, provide self-care, and still have a robust work life. “I have never not wanted to work,” Friedman said. “Both of us have taken steps forward equally to find balance.” She describes the ability to find that balance as being tremendously important. “I encourage men and women to always have balance in their medical careers,” she added.
Being a mother to three daughters has affected Friedman’s philosophy as an OB-GYN, and being an OB-GYN has affected her ideology about being a mom. “They are quite tied together,” she said. “It impacts how I am as a physician and a physician leader, as well as my doctor-patient relationships.” As a big advocate for women’s health, reproductive rights and equity for women in all arenas of life, Friedman said she knows that she was meant to have three daughters. “It is sometimes entertaining to be an OB-GYN and mother of daughters,” Friedman said. “We have lots of interesting conversations.”
Friedman has carved a remarkable path for her life that allows to her do all the things she loves—being a physician, having a family and working with students. “It has been a pleasure to be involved in the medical school and learn not only from students but younger physicians as well,” Friedman said. “I am truly inspired by the new generation of women in medicine.”
The College of Medicine’s Annual Celebration of the American Medical Association’s Women in Medicine Month will be held virtually on Sept. 28, 2020, from 6–7 p.m. It is co-hosted by the Women in Medicine student organization and the Student Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Article written by Courtney Adams