We Celebrate National Women’s Physicians Day

Every year on February 3, National Women’s Physicians Day celebrates women’s achievements and contributions to medicine while reminding us of the importance of diversity and equity in healthcare.

National Women Physicians Day also honors the country’s first female doctor – Elizabeth Blackwell, who overcame discrimination, ridicule, and sexism to achieve her medical degree. Her determination laid the foundation for countless women to pursue physicianship, forever changing patient care, medical research, and leadership.

As a proud supporter of diversity and equity, Stormont Vail Health encouraged our female physicians to share their stories. We appreciate their unique perspectives and recognize their contributions to our organization, communities, and the medical field.

Susan Brian, M.D., Diabetes and Endocrinology Specialist at Cotton O’Neil Diabetes and Endocrinology Center

I grew up watching my mother, a nurse, care for family and friends. She was always reading her nursing books, growing, and learning. I loved peering over her shoulder as she helped people in their moments of need. Because of my mom, I decided early on to do the same with my life, though she convinced me to become a doctor instead of a nurse because “I wouldn’t take orders very well.”

I was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, where I lived until I moved to Texas to attend Baylor University. I was nervous to leave the only home I’d known, but I’d heard Baylor had a great premed program, so I moved just after my birthday.

We didn’t have very much money and couldn’t afford private tutoring for the MCAT. Fortunately, I did well and had the opportunity to attend the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, which was such a dream come true, considering I was initially just hoping to get an interview with at least one medical school! Dartmouth School of Medicine was the first medical school in the nation to reach a 50% female student population, so it was a wonderful atmosphere when I joined as a young woman.

I chose internal medicine as my residency because I love the depth of thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to develop long-lasting relationships with patients. I further sub-specialized in Endocrinology because it was so complex I couldn’t figure it out! But I was determined to learn all about it.

I had the other great fortune of attending the Yale-New Haven Medical Center Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism fellowship program. These three years helped me learn and grow so much that I’d do them over and over again!

I particularly love Endocrinology because I work with a mix of all ages and genders. For example, some patients are long-term, while with others, we can fix the problem quickly and send them on their way. We deal with rare diseases and various genetic syndromes and interact extensively with multiple subspecialties and all primary care physicians. We’ve developed a great department with a fantastic team of educators and mid-levels!

I’ve loved returning to my hometown and raising our five kids in Topeka. My husband has been my biggest fan, starting in medical school when he used to come to the library and sit by me and pass me notes.

I would study there for hours and hours at a time, and he would make me cookies and bring them to share. I’ve achieved a terrific work-life balance at Stormont Vail Health, and I’m so grateful for my career as a physician. I tell my kids being a doctor is a win-win situation! I get the great satisfaction of using my mind and skills to help others so they live healthier lives.

Michelle Schierling, M.D., Emergency Medicine Specialist at Stormont Vail Health Topeka Hospital

I’ve been an emergency physician at Stormont Vail Health since 2009. I remember my hire year distinctly because I was pregnant with my son then, so his birthday reminds me of my years of service at Stormont each year. In the last 15 years, I’ve seen the number of female physicians in our department grow from two to six, plus two additional female physicians starting this summer.

Before becoming a physician, I worked as a physician assistant for Dr. Henry Searight, a family doctor in Hiawatha, Kansas. Dr. Searight was the first person who ever encouraged me to pursue medical school. I always worried about the long academic commitment becoming a physician would require and if this career path would allow for a family life.

However, Dr. Searight assured me I could do it and even allowed me to work part-time so I could finish prerequisite classes to apply.

While working in a rural family medicine practice, I also discovered I enjoyed the pace of the emergency department the most. Although my call nights there were exhausting, I found the work exhilarating and rewarding. What I love most about emergency medicine is caring for patients of all ages. I enjoy reassuring patients who are well, but I also like caring for critically ill patients. Emergency medicine offers the best of all worlds!

When Stormont Vail hired me in 2009, we had a single female emergency physician, Dr. Kay Crider. She was an amazing mentor because she had a softness to her but was also clearly the person in charge. All the team members loved and respected her, and I aspired to be like her when I “grew up” – which I still do!

Shortly after starting at Stormont Vail, I became our department’s medical director and chairperson. This promotion was a big leap as I was fairly fresh out of residency and, honestly, didn’t feel capable. But Dr. Kent Palmberg, our then-CMO, believed in me and always made me feel I could accomplish anything. His encouragement profoundly affected my years in leadership. I will remain forever grateful for his confidence and our continued friendship.

I’m proud of how all of our doctors (including our male peers) support our momma docs as mothers.

We cover maternity leaves for each other, try to make pre- and postpartum schedules gentler, and support new moms in breastfeeding/pumping schedules when they return to work. We have created an environment where women doctors can succeed at work and at home. I’m proud to be a part of this team!

Young women often ask me for advice about pursuing a career in medicine. I think finding good mentors is crucial. And those mentors don’t need to be physicians to help guide and shape your career path. Angie Gamber, Renea Wilson, Carol Perry, Janet Stanek – all these women were cheerleaders for me and genuinely supported me as my career advanced.

I would advise young women to connect with women who will BE HONEST with them and keep them accountable to their personal goals. I would also recommend marrying well! I have the support of my husband, Dr. Kevin Schierling, who is also an emergency physician. His support has allowed me to be a mom to our three kids and still have a rewarding medical career.

I’m grateful for a happy marriage, a supportive spouse, three healthy children, and a fantastic career in a group of physicians I admire greatly. And I’m grateful to the female physicians who paved the way for me – those women who were the only ones in their medical or residency class, who have been pioneers in their specialties and broken down barriers for female physicians today.

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