With at least 50% of the medical workforce graduating out of medical school being women, it’s essential that there are female role models in medicine that can inspire and mentor them. This Women’s Month we’re celebrating the importance of women in healthcare, women who teach and motivate those around them, women like Victoria Stephen, a Specialist Emergency Physician working at Far East Rand Hospital.
Dr. Stephen spends most of her time working in the emergency department seeing patients and teaching junior doctors in Emergency Medicine. She also works part-time as an ICU fellow at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital.
Despite the sacrifices it takes to work in healthcare, sacrifices such as spending most of your twenties working and becoming a better doctor, then specialising further; missing out on travelling with friends, or watching series and having hobbies. Despite these sacrifices, Victoria says she would still do medicine, but advises her juniors to take more time for themselves in their early years of working.
“Do medicine if it is your passion to work with people. It’s not a career to make money in; it is a sacrifice, so you should be happy in what you do. A happy, passionate, enthusiastic doctor is what our patients deserve. If you feel this way, then go for it, it is an absolute privilege to be a doctor and help people.”
Medicine is NOT Grey’s Anatomy, ER, or Scrubs.
When it comes to her proudest moment, she says there have been many, but one stand-out moment was when she was working at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in 2015. “A man out of nowhere asked me if I was Dr. Stephen. I said I was. He said that I saved his brother’s life when he was badly injured in 2008. I remember the patient well. I was really thankful that I had made a difference to the patient and his family.”
Dr. Stephen says she chose emergency medicine because it’s a broad speciality, with new things to learn all the time. “It’s a rapidly growing speciality, you have to keep current in your knowledge to ensure that you are up to date and giving your patients good quality care. Every day in the ED is different.” But she also wants anyone thinking of pursuing a career in healthcare to know that medicine isn’t like the medical TV shows we all love, “. . . that is not the real world. In fact, nearly all doctors I know can’t stand watching medical TV shows.”
On Being A Woman In Healthcare
As a specialist today, Dr. Stephen notes that she wasn’t always confident in her medical abilities and even though she was interested in medicine, she didn’t think she was good enough. Luckily for her patients and the many lives she’s saved working in the Emergency Department, her mum inspired her and gave her the confidence to follow her dreams.
Women need to be given more opportunities, such as bursaries to enable them to study further. A lot of women are locked out as they don’t have the financial means to study.
Women form the bulk of the healthcare workforce, as most nurses are women. Some of the misconceptions about women in various roles in healthcare are that nurses are greatly under-appreciated and under-paid. “I have worked with many fantastic nurses over the years.”
My Experience with COVID-19
Healthcare workers are disproportionately infected with COVID-19, despite the hygiene measures and precautions that they take, as COVID is a highly infectious disease. The physical, mental, and emotional toll on healthcare workers cannot be under-emphasised. Women have also been responsible for most tasks around the home and caring for children. "A more equal home environment would assist women in being more effective, both in and out of the workplace."
“I contracted COVID-19 while working in the ICU in May. I was very fortunate to have had a mild illness and have recovered fully. My biggest concern was who I may have inadvertently passed it onto – my colleagues and my husband. My husband started to feel sick right after my diagnosis. I was very worried about him while we were waiting for his result.”
Victoria and her husband isolated from each other, but she was still looking after him by bringing him food and medication. “He looked sicker than I felt. His results came out negative, and after that, I made sure he looked after me, of which he did a great job. But I thought it was very typical; I was the one who was sick, and I was still looking after him!”
One of the most notable outcomes of the COVID-19 alcohol ban was how the amount of trauma in medical facilities dropped. Alcohol abuse has a devastating impact on our society, on families, and the patients themselves as victims of trauma. South Africa sees a disproportionate amount of trauma patients. This is often linked to alcohol abuse, in the form of car crashes, domestic violence, assault in the form of stabbings and fights.
“As much as the ban has not been fun for moderate drinkers, and the economic loss of sales has had a devastating effect on our alcohol industry, the amount of trauma in our facilities has dropped. Regulations around alcohol should have been improved decades ago.”