For most working professionals, finding a work-life balance is an ongoing challenge.
Dr. Shivangi T. Kothari, an interventional endoscopist in Rochester, New York, would argue this was true even before COVID-19 lockdowns. The workplace restrictions brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic have forced many to have to figure out for the first time how to compartmentalize work and home responsibilities — sometimes from the kitchen table.
Dr. Kothari and her husband are both gastroenterologists and have two children. Juggling rotating clinical schedules and childcare has been both a blessing and a challenge throughout the last year, she says.
As the advanced endoscopy head, Dr. Kothari also plays a key role in keeping potentially life-saving procedures from being cancelled or postponed while prioritizing staff safety. She regularly meets with her colleagues/team to discuss safety protocols and the urgency of new cases presented to the practice.
“That’s when all the things about leadership and balance you’ve learned come into play,” she says. “You step up to the situation when your division, institution and patients need you and you lead by example.”
Dr. Kothari is chair of Women in GI for the American College of Gastroenterology and also a member of Women in Endoscopy (WIE). WIE seeks to serve and support female endoscopists as they advance in the field, though the group is open to both genders. Ambu Inc. is a corporate sponsor of the group.
In an interview with Single-Use Endoscopy, Kothari explored how WIE has helped her navigate the pandemic and offered advice for future female gastroenterologists in the field.
SUE: How did you get involved in Women in Endoscopy and how does the group support its members during “normal” times?
KOTHARI: Dr. Sethi is a great friend, mentor and a leader in the field of advanced endoscopy. So, when she started the WIE organization, I thought it was very exciting because there is no such organization of this kind. It is inclusive to both men and women but also caters to certain topics that celebrate women in endoscopy, and champions it. It’s a great vision and it’s fun being a part of it.
There are just different ways of engaging women, not just teaching about leadership, but all the other things in terms of work-life balance, ergonomics, health, and social media. All the other things that are an integral part of being a woman in endoscopy today, and catering to topics that you don’t hear at the scientific meetings. This is something that you take back with you. Every speaker or session is unique. I’ve never been to a duplicate session as a part of a seminar. And it’s actually fun.
I think the WIE platform is not just celebrating women. It is resourceful in terms of connecting and networking women across the world and bringing them together. It also provides a great opportunity for networking and collaborations for various projects, research, book chapters, faculty panels etc. I think what’s really important is the mentorship it provides. Dr. Sethi and Dr. Siddiqui, have been a great support and I joined WIE because of them, and I’m glad I did.
SUE: How has WIE supported its members throughout the pandemic?
KOTHARI: Dr. Sethi and Dr. Siddiqui started a webinar series for fellows which was dealing with both clinical topics as well as non-clinical topics. These were on various topics from the pandemic to work-life balance to all the things in between. It was very informative and refreshing. I was fortunate to be a part of two of those webinars, supported by WIE for the members, speaking on the role of EUS in the Hepatology and liver biopsy and second one on basics of EUS.
Of course, with the virtual platform, the reach is wider and people in the comfort of their homes have access to world renowned experts sharing their tips and tricks on various topics. I think the nice part about the WIE initiative and webinars through COVID was it was geared for everybody from clinical to non-clinical topics that are relative to all our lives.
I feel all the societies [American College of Gastroenterology, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, American Gastroenterological Association] have done a really good job in guiding members through this pandemic, right from when we shut down, to slowly opening up in a systematic matter and keeping our patients and our staff safe.
Some of the upcoming WIE initiatives are a joint event with American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) on topics of private practice such as exploring the business aspect, issues around work-life balance, creating equity in practice, advanced endoscopy issues and private practice. Another initiative will be establishing a job posting/recruitment resource on the website since there are places that are looking specifically for women GIs.
SUE: Were there particular WIE seminars or workshops that you participated in prior to the pandemic that helped you as you tried to navigate new challenges posed by COVID-19?
KOTHARI: Yes. There have been many. I have been fortunate to be a part of WIE since it started. One of the webinars was in collaboration with the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) on how to give a Ted talk, seek leadership position in academics at different points in your career, and thoughts on considering a career change. I have also been fortunate to be selected for the inaugural batch of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) Leadership Education and Development program that was started by Dr. Colleen Schmidt. All these programs have taught skills in leadership, career development, negotiations, strategies for team management and seeking promotions. These workshops have helped me recognize and define what I saw as my core values and strengths.
Thus, a lot of what I have learned from WIE, as well the ASGE LEAD courses, is that when the time or situation calls for it, you step up. When you have a task at hand, you give it your best and lead by example. During the lockdown as we were trying to work from home, prioritize procedures, guide staff, and at the same time manage kids at home, it took all the skills one has learned over the years on how to integrate and balance work and life.
The one very important thing above all is making time for yourself. I think your own physical and mental health is very important for you to be at your best for your family and your work.
SUE: How do patients benefit from more female gastroenterologists entering the field? What do you see as the biggest challenges for physicians in residency or fellowship right now?
KOTHARI: Women currently make up 34.1% of gastroenterology fellows, 19.5% of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) physician members, and 17.6% of practicing gastroenterologists. There are lot of patients who prefer getting their care with female gastroenterologists. It’s an exciting time for female physicians as you see on the national and international radar with diversity and inclusion being talked about and women being supported the way they are with organizations like WIE.
When the lockdown happened it certainly affected the residents and the fellow’s trainings. There were multiple online courses and webinars that all the societies were providing to help continue the education for the trainees. Now I can see that as things are opening up, they are getting back into the groove of it.
I would strongly recommend all the residents and fellows to make most of these online learning avenues. There are so many webinars and online teaching platforms at their fingertips, and they have world-renowned experts available on these webinars and virtual courses offering valuable education. I would urge all trainees to make the most of it. I surely think the online platform learning is here to stay.
SUE: Given your previous experiences and how medicine has changed in the last 12 months, what is your advice for women looking for a career in GI endoscopy?
KOTHARI: In the last 12 months we have all seen how unpredictable things can be. One thing that surely stands out is communication with patients, your team and making sure things don’t fall through cracks. The field of GI continues to expand and helps us serve our patients in need. For anyone, not just women, to join GI, there should be a love for the field and excitement for the cognitive as well as procedural aspects of it.
Of course, in this day and age, we want everything. We want to help/serve our patients, have great careers, and have a social life and life outside of work. The one thing that I’ve learned and strive for is work-life integration. You’re never completely cut out of the family and you’re never completely cut out from the work. It’s how you, on any given day, balance and integrate it in life that’s important. Some days your work takes over and some days your family takes over, and I think that’s a very important thing for the younger generation to understand.
It is also important to find the right job. It’s exciting to see more and more women going into medicine and GI, but you must find what you’re excited about, the right workplace, and of course, the support system at, and outside of, work. My one piece of advice would be getting as much help as you can. It does take a village!