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SPECIALTY SOCIETIES Residents’ Perspectives at the 2024 Society of Women in Urology Conference in New Orleans

By: Courtney Capella, MD, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Maria D’Amico, MD, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Posted on: 18 Mar 2024

On February 1, hundreds of medical students woke up to find out their exciting Match Day results: where they will spend the next 5 to 6 years in their urologic training. One statistic that stood out to us in particular was that 40% of applicants were women! It is no secret that women not only are flocking to the field of urology, but are excelling in the field as leaders. This was on full display at the 2024 Society of Women in Urology (SWIU) conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, January 26 to 28, 2024 (Figure).


Figure. Courtney Capella and Maria D’Amico at the 2024 Society of Women in Urology conference.

There has been increasing acknowledgment that there is more that goes into being a good urologic surgeon than just surgical skills. Properly caring for our patients and being productive members of the urologic community also involve communication skills, mentoring, leadership, and advocacy.

The first set of lectures focused on leadership, and the conference began with Dr Heidi Rayala discussing “Self-Assessment of Your Temperament & Leadership Style.” We all filled out a PACE Palette score card, which assigned us colors based on our answers that revealed our temperament and how it can affect a team dynamic. The exercise was designed to provide personal insight and to increase effective communication and teamwork in the workplace. Not surprisingly, yellow was the top color for both of us, which puts a focus on rule-following, organization, and productivity, which is common among type A surgeons! Everyone at the conference put a color sticker on their badge based of their top color, and it was fascinating thinking about the different strengths of those around us, and how it can be important to have various perspectives on a team.

Dr Hadley Wood next shared a value-focused approach to optimizing our careers. Our personal values should serve as our North Star, she explained, to help clarify what our expectations should be of ourselves. Crafting a fulfilling career involves a combination of purpose, mastery, and agency. While the first 2 may be more easily pursued, many surgeons are bad at finding their own agency. We can easily lose a sense of what matters most, which can contribute to burnout. We learned that building time into our own day for reflection can help with problem-solving and acknowledging that we are in charge of our own happiness. Dr Katherine Amin’s discussion bolstered this principle further. She gave us actionable ways to utilize emotional intelligence and high self-awareness to assist in leadership development, specifically by reflection, positive affirmations, and self-talk.

Dr Jennifer Anger, Dr Elodi Dielubanza, and Dr Gillian Stearns next hosted a panel on coaching and career transitions. One interesting point they made was the utility of having a coach who is not in medicine, one who can provide an objective 1000-foot view outside of the health care space. We learned the difference between a coach, who is more focused on performance and a goal, and a mentor, who may have a more longitudinal reach throughout training and a career. Dr Nicole Miller next gave a very practical talk on balancing family, leadership, and surgery. Raising children as a female surgeon can seem daunting, especially to trainees. She highlighted the importance of defining the “never miss moments”—moments in her children’s lives she refuses to miss—to help give her clarity and a sense of purpose when declining work opportunities. She shared, “The AUA will never remember I missed a plenary, but my daughter will always remember if I missed her birthday.” Also, being transparent to trainees about your limitations or conflicts can help you to serve as a role model for balance between family and work. We learned so much from these sessions due to the tangible and actionable advice that we can use as tools to help shape our careers. Despite the utility in this guidance, it is not content that we get to discuss commonly at residency didactics, so we feel very appreciative that SWIU puts such programming together.

The second day of the conference began with the keynote lecture by Dr Kemi Doll titled, “Your Unapologetic Career.” Dr Doll is a gynecologic oncologist and health services researcher who also founded a coaching company for women of color in academic medicine. She explained 4 different career dynamics, with roles including the builder, the traveler, the maintainer, and the adapter. Each has challenges, but can all be impactful and help us to create a legacy. She noted there are mindsets in surgical training that can limit us, such as the belief that our institution determines our value, or the idea of obligatory gratitude, that if we are grateful for our position, we must say yes to every opportunity that comes our way. To follow, Dr Denise Asafu-Adjei presented “Tackling Challenges in Inclusive Leadership,” and explained the difference between diversity and inclusion through a case-based and interactive session. Additionally, there was an excellent panel on advocacy moderated by Dr Ruchika Talwar and a panel of female department leaders from around the country including Dr Kathleen Kobashi, Dr Polina Reyblat, and Dr Martha Terris, who are truly trailblazers among our specialty. This is just a brief summary of the weekend highlights, but as an audience member it was evident how much thoughtful and deliberate crafting went into programming the conference.

A standout moment of the conference included the 6:30 am Zumba sessions with Dr Jennifer Anger! We had a blast, had a great workout, and were thoroughly impressed at how much energy Dr Anger has to dance so early in the morning. It was a great way to wake up and kick-start each day.

Another exciting aspect of the conference was the opportunity for mentorship throughout the weekend. Our personal favorite part was the speed mentoring session, where attendees were split up into 3 different rooms. Every 5 minutes the mentee stood up and switched mentors. The session was fast paced but was excellent to promote introductions, facilitate networking, receive advice, and exchange contact information for future conversations. It was truly an invaluable opportunity to speak to chairs at different institutions, attendings in private practice, and fellows who provided advice for the fellowship interview trail. There were also plenty of informal opportunities for mentoring at the social events. The conference was small (much smaller than the national AUA conference, for example), which made it easy and manageable to approach people and strike up conversations throughout the weekend.

Throughout our training, there are always opportunities for mentorship and guidance from those ahead of us, as well as the ability to pay it forward by mentoring residents, medical students, or even college students who are steps behind us. The SWIU conference gave us time to think critically on our own mentoring skills and the goals of what we want to receive from mentorship and sponsorship. The conference was also a time for self-reflection to think about what we want out of our careers, and we highly recommend the conference to all female urologists.

Books and resources recommended throughout the weekend included:

How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, by David Brooks

Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things, by Adam Grant

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., by Brené Brown

Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood, by Maureen Ryan

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, by Nedra Glover Tawwab

International Coaching Federation

Common Thread Women Surgeon Coaching by Room One Facebook Group

American Women Surgeons Coaching Program

Doctor’s Crossing Podcast

Dr Kemi Doll’s Coaching Newsletter

Your Unapologetic Career Podcast