Although I'm someone who is still relatively early on in their medical career, I can already vouch for the importance of mentorship and words of encouragement at the right time.
I've just started in my dream speciality of radiology and I certainly didn't get here on my own. The week of application I had a wobble about my abilities, what it would mean for my personal life and questioned if I even had a chance in hell of getting in. A wise colleague who was also applying for radiology encouraged me to just go for it. I took the jump, got out of my own way, and thankfully landed on my feet.
My story could have ended very differently. Fear, listening to some of the discouraging “oh that's really competitive” talk around me and a lack of confidence would have seen me stop chasing the thing I really wanted; and then where would I have been?
In my first week of radiology training we had a session introducing us to the interventional radiology and a fancy bit of kit we would have the opportunity to play with. We also got to meet Dr Nelofer Gafoor, one of the interventional radiologists.
After our introduction Dr Gafoor spoke about entering interventional radiology and then came this off the cuff statement: “Oh and by the way, don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something. You can get married and have children and work and be an interventional radiologist if you want to. Look at me.”
And look we did. These words struck a chord. I remember discussing it with one of my colleagues. She had never met a female interventional radiologist before, let alone one who wore heels and lipstick, smiled at us and was so encouraging.
I'm not saying we should all be interventional radiologists, but I am a firm believer in doing whatever you want to do regardless of your gender. As a strong convert of the Sheryl Sandberg effect, I'm talking about sitting at the table. For those of you who are unfamiliar; Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, talks in her book Lean In about women not sitting at the table and essentially taking themselves out of the competition too soon due to lack of self-belief, amongst other reasons.
I know this very well because I've done it to myself at times when I experienced a crisis of confidence and I saw it yesterday in someone else. Walking a 10 minute journey with a bright intelligent final year female medical student I was floored when she said she didn't think she would be good enough to enter a speciality such as radiology. At the very start of her medical career I could see no reason as to why this could be true. When I dug a little deeper it was a confidence issue. I tried my best to encourage her, gave her my e-mail address so I could answer more of her questions in the future and wished her the best.
She may take heed of my words and maybe she won't but the point is, you never know the potential impact your words could really have. When I approached Dr Gafoor to get permission for this post, she barely remembered what she had said but I remember them as if they were yesterday. And so do my female colleagues. Sometimes a few words of encouragement are enough to plant the seed of possibility in someone’s mind. They won't all grow, but I'm going to keep planting them because I'm only here since someone took the time to throw the seed of possibility along with some sun my way. I will always be grateful for that and try to pay it forward.
Dr Salma Aslam
Dr Salma Aslam is an ST1 Radiology Registrar who since graduating from Bristol University has continued her love of writing and has written for the BMA and the Guardian.