As the number of women physiatrists continues to grow, it is important to celebrate the achievements made thus far and learn from the challenges that we face as a community. Physiatry is a close-knit field, and throughout my training I've had the privilege to interact with strong, diverse and accomplished women physiatrists who have made strides in patient care, research and leadership. It was through meeting these impactful women that I realized the importance of having sponsors and mentors, finding a supportive community and amplifying each other's voices.
For this issue of AAPM&R's Resident Newsletter, I had the honor of interviewing two prominent physiatrists, Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez from UT Health San Antonio and Dr. Heidi Fusco from Rusk Rehabilitation-NYU Langone about their personal journey, career advancement and work-life balance.
What led you to pursue a career in physiatry?
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez: Mission. It continues to drive me. Spending time with people and listening to them - sometimes at the worst times of their life - and offering hope.
Dr. Heidi Fusco: I had not even heard of physiatry until my third year of medical school. I found my neurology rotation absolutely fascinating, but my patients kept going off to "rehab" and I didn't get to see them again. I was so curious as to where they went. One day, while I was with my very sad patient, a very cheerful (and surprisingly athletic looking) group of doctors came into his hospital room and said, "you are coming with us to rehab; we will get you into Olympic shape in no time." It was the first time my patient, a distinguished writer who lost his words due to a left MCA infarct, smiled. I immediately scheduled my next elective with this rehab team and never turned back.
Do you have any insight or pearls for women interested in physiatry?
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez: Please come into the field! Women are quite impactful in PM&R. Numbers need to continue to grow. Please reach out to other women (and men) and we can all help each other.
Dr. Heidi Fusco: Do it. Come join us. It is the most compassionate field of medicine and absolutely rewarding. You can make a difference for every patient you meet.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez: Listen to others. Listening goes a long way and helps with empathy and building relationships.
Dr. Heidi Fusco: From Dr. Steven Flanagan: "You have to have a sense of humor to practice brain injury rehab. I laugh at work: Every. Single. Day."
How do you maintain a work/life balance? How do you promote resilience/wellness as a leader?
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez: Balance is a tough word... First, you must know your priorities. Part of mine is my exercise/self-care. So each morning I wake up really early to workout. It doesn't cut into my work or into family time (unfortunately, it does cut into sleep). Also, I always say it takes a village. And my village is my extended family who helps me with my kids and home. My husband has worked his job from home most of the pandemic and that's been amazingly helpful, too. Making sure my own cup is full before trying to fill the cup of others. You must care for yourself first or everything else will fall apart.
Dr. Heidi Fusco: During the pandemic a very close friend and I made a pact to meet every morning virtually and do yoga. We have done more than 500 hours of yoga together and it has changed my life. I am currently engaged to the most compassionate man who also loves people and understands that the majority of my patients are sometimes helpless and need unpredictable amounts of my time. I follow an Instagram handle @mentalhealthwithmerette and my favorite post is: "Do what is good for you because people will always do what it good for them."
Do you have any tips for women interested in pursuing research/applying for grants?
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez: Find mentors who have been there. If you want to do research, show initiative and follow through on it.
Do you have any advice for finding good mentors/sponsors and maintaining an effective mentor-mentee relationship?
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez: Ensure your goals align and then both mentor and mentee will learn and grow from each other. Again, deliver good work and follow through on what you say you will do.
Dr. Heidi Fusco: A mentor-mentee relationship works both ways if it's a good one. As a mentee if you can help your mentor with some time consuming more menial work, they will have time to help you and teach you the more high-yield, important items.
Do you have advice for women physiatrists interested in pursuing leadership roles?
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez: Don't have imposter syndrome. Go for it. You can find a supportive team to work with you and help you. You don't have to meet every perfect criteria before you decide to lean in.
Dr. Heidi Fusco: Male or female, you will not ever just be handed a promotion or raise, and it is not a personal slight. You need to ask for these promotions, but you must do something first to deserve it. Lead a committee, organize a lecture program, etc. There is always a lot of work/responsibilities that people are happy/relieved to share. Just make sure it is something you enjoy and actually want to do, though!