We’re discussing a piece of mid-20th century historical fiction — about a woman who makes great contributions to medicine without getting the credit — that unfortunately feels like modern nonfiction. Lynn Cullen, author of “The Woman with the Cure,” and Dr. Shikha Jain walk us through the historical and present-day challenges women face in the workplace.
We talked with:
- Lynn Cullen is a bestselling author of several historical novels including “The Sisters of Summit Avenue,” “Twain’s End,” “Mrs. Poe,” “Reign of Madness,” and “I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter.” Lynn’s novels have been translated into 17 languages. Her latest book is “The Woman with the Cure.”
- Dr. Shikha Jain is a board-certified hematology/oncology physician. She is a tenured associate professor of medicine at the University of Illinois Cancer Center in Chicago. She joins us today as the founder and chair of the Women in Medicine Summit, and founder and president of the nonprofit organization Women in Medicine.
We talked about:
In this episode, Dr. Millstine and her guests discuss:
- Where are the women? When we look through history at incredible accomplishments, they’re often credited to men. But where are the women? Usually they were in the background, generating work, ideas and discoveries that provided critical links to success and progress — but their contributions were downplayed, stolen or erased from the history books.
- We‘ve come so far, we‘ve got so far to go. While many more women are employed in the science and medical fields today, there are still plenty of instances of bias and discrimination when it comes to promotion, pay, credit and leadership roles. You’ve probably heard personal stories to this effect, and there’s data and research on these topics as well. As Dr. Jain says, “It’s a slow, slow, slow train moving toward progress.”
- We‘ve got to work together. As cliche as it sounds, women have to support other women and minority gender identities — and need to find male allies. Highlight other women’s accomplishments when they’re not in the room and speak highly of their work. And help yourself — ask for awards, promotions and raises — hopefully backed up by your allies.
Can’t get enough?
- Purchase “The Woman with the Cure.”
- Purchase the Mayo Clinic Press book “You’re the Leader. Now What?”
- Want to read more on the topic? Check out our blog:
- If you’ve got ideas or book suggestions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- We invite you to complete the following survey as part of a research study at Mayo Clinic. Your responses are anonymous. Your participation in this survey as well as its completion are voluntary.
Read the transcript:
Dr. Denise Millstine: Welcome to the “Read. Talk. Grow.” podcast, where we explore women’s health topics through books. In the same way that books can transport us to a different time, place or culture, “Read. Talk. Grow.” demonstrates how books can also give a new appreciation for health experiences and provide a platform from which women’s health can be discussed.
At “Read. Talk. Grow.,” we use books to learn about health conditions in the hopes that we can all lead happier, healthier lives.
I’m your host, Dr. Denise Millstine. I’m an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where I practice women’s health, internal medicine and integrative medicine. I am always reading and I love discussing books with my patients, my professional colleagues, and now with you.
Our book today is “The Woman with the Cure,” by Lynn Cullen, where our topic will be one that many women face but may not connect in your minds yet to their overall health. We’ll be discussing women being passed over professionally even when their work, their ideas and discoveries provide the critical link to success and progress. While our book is historical fiction based in the mid 20th century, this continues to be a modern issue.
Our guests today are Lynn Cullen, the author of “The Woman with the Cure,” and Dr. Shikha Jain. Lynn is a bestselling author of several historical novels, including “The Sisters of Summit Avenue,” “Twain’s End,” “Mrs. Poe,” “Reign of Madness” and “I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter.” Lynn’s novels have been translated into 17 languages, and her latest book is “The Woman with the Cure.”Lynn, welcome to the show.
Lynn Cullen: Thank you. Great to be here.
Denise Millstine: Where are you living and writing these days?
Lynn Cullen: Atlanta, Georgia.
Denise Millstine: Wonderful. Our second guest is Dr. Shikha Jain, who’s a board-certified hematology oncology physician. She practices mostly gastrointestinal cancer care. She’s a tenured associate professor of medicine at the University of Illinois Cancer Center in Chicago. Dr. Jain, welcome to the show.
Dr. Shikha Jain: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to talk about this topic.
Denise Millstine: Shikha, and I know you said it was OK if I called you by your first name, we’re not here to talk about cancer today. There’s actually another professional avenue that you pursue that I want you to tell our listeners about.
Dr. Shikha Jain: Yeah, I actually started about five years ago, the Women in Medicine Summit, which is a conference that happens in Chicago every year, focused on really working towards closing the gender gap that exists in healthcare. Then, when the pandemic happened, I ended up — my husband jokes, my autobiography is going to be called “I accidentally started a nonprofit” — because I then started a nonprofit organization called Women in Medicine that is now the primary sponsor of the Women in Medicine Summit and the goal of the nonprofit is to again, close the gender gap in healthcare by empowering women, by empowering allies, by providing professional and educational development, and really finding ways to make sure more women’s voices are heard. Make sure we don’t overlook the amazing women that are in medicine, and also to make sure we keep women in medicine because it’s a sad thing when we see all these wonderful, brilliant minds leaving healthcare for a variety of reasons.
Denise Millstine: Well, thank you for doing such important work in all avenues of your career, but particularly in professionalism for women. We both happen to work in healthcare. Lynn, you don’t work in healthcare at all. You are a professional writer, and yet you have extended yourself to talk about what happens to women in the workforce and took the leap to write about medicine. Thank you for doing that.
Lynn Cullen: It was a journey, but it was a complete pleasure. I learned so much and I will be interested to hear today how things have changed since Dorothy Horseman’s time in the ‘40s and ‘50s. I’m hoping they’ve changed a lot.
Denise Millstine: Well, I’m hoping. I’m wishing they had changed more than they have, but we’re going to hear from Shikha about that. Certainly there are more women in medicine and science now, but how they’re treated is maybe not drastically different. Our book today, “The Woman with the Cure,” is a historical fiction novel based on the real-life scientist Dr. Dorothy Horstmann, who was a physician during the years of polio when children were falling sick with a known but still mysterious illness called polio.
Dr. Horstmann perseveres to answer questions about how these children are infected, and most importantly, how the polio virus gets into the nervous system where it does its greatest damage. But this is not really a polio story, it’s one of professional women at a time when there were very few women in science. Lynn, tell us how you decided to focus and became interested in Dr. Horseman’s story.
Lynn Cullen: Well, I came about it from walks that I take with my good friend and neighbor over the decades. Every Friday. My friend, Karen and I would walk and talk. Karen has been an oral historian for the CDC. She did this a few years back and during this period she would talk about the epidemiology pioneers. They called themselves Disease Detectives, which really describes them well.
She would tell the stories about the search for malaria and the cure for malaria and that kind of thing, which is how the CDC started, but it was when she talked about Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin and their race for the polio vaccine that I thought, “Oh, I want to write a book about this. This is so interesting.” There was this pandemic that was claiming children that lasted for decades. It started in 1916.
Every summer it would roll around, that there would be outbreaks around the world. They were racing for this important thing, but here these two guys that were going at each other’s throats. It seems sometimes that they were more concerned about being the first and having the best vaccine, better than the other guy, than about what their goal was.
Even though I thought the idea was really intriguing to write about the race for the polio vaccine, I kept saying to Karen, “But what about the women? Tell me about the women.” She really couldn’t tell me about very many women in the race, and she had told me about Isabel Morgan, who developed the vaccine that went on to use and could be called the Morgan vaccine because it was her recipe. But we don’t hear about her. Unfortunately, Isabel Morgan dropped out of the race. I think she was muscled out in some ways, and she dropped out to marry, and that was not the story I wanted to tell.
I dug deeper and I found — well, first of all, because Karen, my friend, knows Sabin so well — she told me about his lab assistant who contracted polio by handling some polio virus, shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Sabin. She got polio and had a terrible case and was permanently paralyzed. She came back and was a statistician. I thought, “OK, this is good.” But then I saw Dorothy Horseman about an incident in 1944, an outbreak, I should say, in the Charlotte, North Carolina area where the hospitals filled up so quickly the patients were on the lawn and hearses were pressed into service because there were no more ambulances to bring in the children.
Anyhow, they put up this hospital in 10 days time. And when I was looking at these pictures in Life magazine from 1944, there was this tall woman who was showing people how to use a fly trap because they thought polio was in flies at the time. She was also taking the blood of patients.
I learned about her through the back door. I learned things about her and included her in the scene with Barbara Johnson, this lab assistant of Sabin and Sabin, and she took over the scene. It was from then on I thought, “I have to know her.” And the more I learned about her, she’s such an underdog. Yet she ended up opening the doors for the vaccine. That’s how I found her. But it was all through the back door. She was not my first choice, but I’m so glad that I found her.
Denise Millstine: We are so glad that you found her as well, and I think you’ve done a good job of really describing a very common situation where we think of the polio vaccine and many people will think of Jonas Salk and people will think of Albert Sabin, perhaps, but it takes someone like you, Lynn, to ask, where are the women?
Where are the other people whose names didn’t get attached to the eventual vaccine, the eventual outcomes? Shikha, can you comment on how important it is for just that pause in that question? Where are the women supporting this work?
Dr. Shikha Jain: Absolutely, and thanks for that question, Denise and Lynn, thank you for writing this book because I think a lot more of a spotlight needs to be placed on this type of overlooking of amazing women in history. You actually asked us something before we started recording, which is I hope things have changed now and I’m sad to say that they have not changed nearly as much as they should have.
There’s a very common effect. It’s called the Matilda Effect, where men’s work and women’s work is basically assigned to the man. The example they give is “Mary has done this phenomenal research. She talks to someone else about it. And then all of a sudden, John is the one getting all the credit for the research.” It happens time and time again.
A very famous example of somebody who is impacted by the Matilda Effect is Rosalind Franklin. She was very integral in DNA. And who do we think of when we think of the double helix? We think of Watson and Crick, and she has completely been left out of the story.
Unfortunately, while we would hope that now in 2023, this is not as common of a problem, I will tell you anecdotally, I know numerous women who have written papers that have then been credited to someone else. I personally was once told that after I did all of the work on a project, I was told my name was going to be removed from it because they didn’t just want a pretty face out there. They said, “Think of it like writing a research paper where junior people do all of the work and the senior people get the credit.” Funny enough, all the senior people getting the credit were men and even more funny all the work was related to gender equity. I think it’s such a sad state of affairs that we’re still in this moment in time where exactly what happened historically continues to happen now.
I would hope that we would learn lessons from the past and have started to give credit to these women. I think it’s now becoming a part of the dialog, the national dialog, that these things are happening. So I think it’s being acknowledged more. But unfortunately in medicine we really are not seeing the needle move as quickly as we need to, and it’s impacting women’s advancement.
We know that women aren’t getting as many awards and it’s because they get left off of things or because they’re just not considered for things. Women are not getting advanced into leadership, even though over 50% of matriculating medical students are women, we aren’t seeing that reflected in the promotions. We’re not seeing it in our leadership, in the C-suite, at Dean level, chair level, it’s all less than 20% still women, which is not indicative of what our healthcare workforce looks like.
A lot of that is because women are simply being erased. There are a lot of reasons for this. I shared some anecdotes, but there’s a lot of data that supports this. I actually gave a lecture earlier this week where I had a gentleman who stood up and basically said to me, “Well, I have seen women who have been in leadership and I have worked with women who get paid the same.”
My response to him was, “Your anecdotes are really no comparison to the immense amount of data that’s out there showing that this is still a huge problem.” A lot of it is because of the way the healthcare system is set up. The healthcare system was created before women were in the workforce. It really lends itself to erasing the names and the accomplishments of these incredible women who oftentimes are the driving force behind these discoveries.
Sometimes it’s their idea, but because of who they are, because of their gender, because of the way promotions happen, because of the way conversations happen, many of these women’s names are completely left out of the history books, and we really need to be intentional in how we change things because if we tried to write a book for every woman whose name was erased from a groundbreaking discovery, we could fill libraries and libraries and libraries with those women’s names and it still would not be enough. That’s why I appreciate you writing this book, because it’s so important to give those women a voice and get their names out there, but I think there’s a lot more to do now in 2023 to make the changes stick and to show that we really need to work on the systemic problems that are resulting in this becoming a perpetual and pervasive issue in our healthcare systems.
Lynn Cullen: Wow, that is really discouraging because I have these examples that I would like to share with you from the polio vaccine hunt alone. The women who made major discoveries of these vaccines or developed them could not be made without these three women I’d like to tell you about. But like I had said earlier, I thought things were better.It’s very discouraging.
There’s an example, Dorothy Horstmann, after she had made her discovery, she had her idea and was kept from working on this. It took her nine years to come to proof of her discovery. And then another man came along, David Bodian, and just a few years before she had finally been able to make her discovery, he came along and proved the same thing.
It’s sad because I think she was given a push at the last minute when they saw that Bodian was working on the same thing. They were like, “OK, go ahead and go.” So they came up with their discovery at the same time and they announced it at a conference, and Time Magazine knew to be there because they knew it was big.
After the conference, they had Dorothy sit at a desk, and she’s looking up with a pen, and it looks like he’s giving her transcription. That little picture just drove me wild that she looks like she’s taking his dictation when it was her idea. It’s maddening. It seems almost unreal. How is this possible?
Dr. Shikha Jain: I can share a study that we published recently, in the last few years, talking about the titling of women. There have been several studies, one in internal medicine, one in oncology, looking at men and women and how they’re introduced at conferences. and it goes to exactly what you were describing, Lynn, where it looks like she’s transcribing when in actuality it was her idea.
Well, we found and what other studies have found is that women are more likely to be introduced by first name when they’re being introduced at a conference or before speaking, and men are more likely to be introduced by title. What ends up happening is if you have a stage and you’ve got Jessica, Suzanne, Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones, all of a sudden Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones are the experts and Jessica and Suzanne, who knows who they are?
It leads to, number one, more opportunities for Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones, because all of a sudden they are the experts, even if let’s say it’s Jessica and Suzanne’s paper that’s being discussed, you don’t know that they’re both M.D., Ph.D.s who got multiple board certifications. All you know is they’re Jessica and Suzanne, and they’re just up there on stage with these world-renowned Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones.
It leads to that implicit bias that then results in these women being seen as beneath these two men who may not even be experts in the field. Maybe they’re there to give the commentary, and so by untitling women, we really do them a huge disservice when we’re looking at their career advancement, their overall professional satisfaction, and it happens all the time.
A lot of times people do this without realizing it. It’s not intentional often. I had a boss once who I told her that people did this and she said, “Oh my God, I do the same thing. I had no idea I was doing that.” And she said: “I do it because I usually know the women and I think of them as friends and I don’t usually know the men.” And I said, “Well, you’re doing your women friends a disservice because you’re automatically elevating the men and dropping these women down in prestige.”
I don’t want you to be discouraged because things have improved somewhat since the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s. Women are now required to be included in NIH-funded research which was not required until the late ‘90s.
So I think that there are ways that we are moving things forward. I just don’t think it’s moving fast enough because we still see untitling of women, we still see the acknowledgment of men’s accomplishments over women’s and it’s a slow, slow, slow, slow train that’s moving towards progress, but it’s definitely not moving as fast as it needs to.
Denise Millstine: I want to comment on how powerful I think using story for these issues is. Lynn, in “The Woman with the Cure,” just that picture that you’re talking about. So this is historical fiction. It’s fiction, but it’s very much based on a real-life person with real-life facts, and you go into great detail in your author note, at the end of the book about the pieces that are truly created as fictions and some of your inspirations for that.
But when you look at that picture of Dr. Horstmann sitting at the desk with somebody looking over her shoulder, a man looking over her shoulder, many of us will have seen that picture and have just gone right past it. Not stopped to think about how the optics are. And I think that’s exactly what you’re talking about.
Shikah, in terms of how we treat women professionally and how so much of that is clearly unintentional and takes conversations like this for people to really recognize that even though they feel like they’re being friendly and inclusive, they might be damaging.
One thing that’s definitely changed is your first scene in the book where Dorothy shows up to be a resident physician and her attending physician is talking to his wife, who I think brought him lunch or something like that, and they basically are like, “Well, who are you?” And she’s like, “I’m Dr. Horstmann. I’m your new resident. I was so excited to receive your invitation.” He thought he was inviting a man, and here he was surprised by having this female physician walk in.
I thought that scene was so well depicted. That truly has changed. 50% of medical school graduates are now women. Nobody is surprised when a female resident shows up, but I think you were spot on with showing that history and where we started just a mere 50 to 80 years ago.
Lynn Cullen: That was totally true. I did not make up that scene. It was based on a recollection that. Dr. Horstmann — I’ve been schooled here — Dr. Horstmann. But I call her Dorothy, kinda like what your colleagues had said. I think of her as a friend. I’ve lived with her for several years now writing about her, and I love her so much, she’s Dorothy to me. But maybe I’ll call the others Jonas and Albert.
Dr. Shikha Jain: Exactly. And that’s the thing. I think if you call everyone the same, it’s fine. That being said, obviously, when you talk about Jonas Salk, people know the last name Salk more than Jonas because of the historical context. So I think it’s completely fine that you call her Dorothy.
Lynn Cullen: I can’t help it.
Denise Millstine: You’ve spent a lot of time with Dorothy, so we are totally open to you calling her whatever you feel most comfortable.
Lynn Cullen: I guess the point I was making is that she told that tale about how hard it was to get her foot in the door for a residency, and it was a fluke that she got in because he thought he was hiring D.M. Horstmann, a man and it tickled her because she told us over and over how he just about went into shock.
But they became good friends. It took him a while to warm up to her, but she had the same thing happen when she went on from her residency to her fellowship at Yale. The Dean there essentially said, “I don’t know why you came, because I hired a woman once and she didn’t work out. She did something terrible, so I’m not hiring any more women.” And Dorothy was desperate, and I think she was kind of used to this sort of thing. So she said right away, “Well, if a man had made a mistake would you not hire men for the next 50 years?” And he took her on and she stayed at Yale for the rest of her life. Most of the time. There was a time where he let her go during the war. Due to money. They didn’t let the guys go, but they let her go. All throughout her career there is just one example after another where she was overlooked and she kept fighting. I’ve had people say, “Why didn’t she keep fighting? What kept her going?”
Well, she knew the disease. She knew polio more than anybody, being part of the Yale polio study unit and going around the world to all these outbreaks, and also she studied it in the lab and she had patients as well. So she knew polio and she knew the patients perhaps more than Salk and Sabin knew of them in their labs.
She saw the damage it did to the children and to their families and to the community, and she didn’t care how much that she had to overcome. She was going to do it. The thing that gets me, I wonder if she had been a man and been able to do her research freely and been encouraged and funded, how much sooner they would have had the polio vaccine because her piece was really important in developing it. And I wonder when would there have been lives saved? Lives changed? How many? That’s the worst effect of keeping women down in medicine. It costs lives I believe.
Dr. Shikha Jain: You’re spot on. I absolutely agree with you. I want to circle back to a point that you made earlier, Lynn about how Dorothy made the point of, well, if one man made a mistake would you not hire men for the next 50 years? I actually just had a conversation with a surgeon the other day, and there’s data that shows if a female surgeon makes a mistake, the referral patterns to female surgeons in the area drop.So if one woman makes a mistake or has a poor outcome or has a complication, all of a sudden referrals to all of the women in that area drop. But that doesn’t happen with men. If a man has a complication or makes a mistake, not even a mistake, but has a patient outcome that’s not ideal, it doesn’t impact the referrals to all of the other male surgeons, but it does impact women.
Those types of things continue to happen, and I think we’re all lucky for her standing up and saying exactly that statement that, “You aren’t going to hire me because one woman made a mistake?” I think that type of thinking, whether it’s implicit, whether it’s the way society has programmed us, whether it’s just the way the culture is, who knows why it perpetuates, but it continues to happen. I agree with you. There is a lot of discoveries in medicine that I think we are probably missing out on or that are slow to come by because we are discounting the work of these incredible women who many do not have the desire to continue to fight and who just end up leaving or wash their hands of it and say my skills that could be used better somewhere else, and so we need to prevent that from happening.
Lynn Cullen: That’s what happened to Isabel Morgan.
Dr. Shikha Jain: Yep.
Lynn Cullen: Her parents were Nobel Prize winners in chemistry. She was just muscled out, as I had said, and it’s a shame to think what she could have contributed. But on the other hand, in Warm Springs, Georgia, there’s this monument, a wall plaque of all the different giants of polio, and there’s about 12 renditions of all these people, and they did include Isabel Morgan in that.
They included David Bodian, the one who made the discovery the same time as her, but no Dorothy Horstmannn and she did as much as any of those men. But it’s like she didn’t even exist. Another example is this picture, a very famous picture of Salk posed with this wall of vials of live polio, which were going to be used to develop his vaccine, which had to be the one that killed the virus.
But anyhow, here’s this wall of all these vials that he’s posed in front of. Well, there’s a much lesser-known picture of the woman who actually developed that. That’s the thing about Salk. His teams did all these things and he got all the credit.
But there was a woman, Elsie Ward, who scaled up all this virus that was needed to make the immunization, and there’s a much lesser known picture of her in front of that wall that she created. So it makes me want to write another book looking at another scene in medicine to find the women there. I’m sure there are all these other hidden figures.
Denise Millstine: I want to go back to Isabel Morgan because she is in the book, and as you say, is a historical figure, but what I particularly appreciated is how she and Dorothy were the women in the room, and instead of being at odds with each other, they recognized that together they could amplify each other’s voices, which is something that’s very important for women who are working in professional settings. So tell us a little bit about how the exchanges between Isabel and Dorothy were created in the book. Were they based on correspondence between the two women, or is this part of the fiction of historical fiction? How did you create their relationship?
Lynn Cullen: It is fiction. I knew that they were at these meetings. I have seen pictures of them together, but their exchange I did make up based on what could have happened. Everything in my book is carefully based on things that could have happened. There’s nothing that was out of the timeframe or out of character. It was all drawn on possible things.
Denise Millstine: I love that you chose then to create them as supporters of one another. Shikha, talk about how important it is for women to support other women.
Dr. Shikha Jain: I think it is incredibly important for women to support other women, and I think it’s incredibly important to find male allies who can also support you. So one of the things that I’ve learned over the last five years is the power of the network, the power of sponsorship and the power of that community. What I often recommend to people is you need to find your band of people who, you know, you can go to when you need help or when you’re struggling or going through a crisis.
You also need your little group text so that you can send a message to when you want to be nominated for an award or be put up for a leadership position because that’s how things have been done for years and years, and I think women are just starting to realize that they can actually ask for those opportunities. I’m embarrassed to say it was three years ago when the first time I realized I could ask somebody to put my name in the hat for something. I had never done it before. The reason I even realized it was because one of my male friends messaged me and said, “Hey, I’m really interested in being nominated for this award. Would you nominate me?” And I said, “Oh my gosh. You can do that?” I didn’t realize you could ask people to do those things for you. That’s one thing that I very strongly support, is having women and men who can have your back, who can support you, who can nominate you, who can really be there for you when you struggle.
Every woman in medicine that you talk to has their own stories and stresses about what has happened in their life and what has happened in their career, and I think as they talk about navigating those challenges, each of those women can pinpoint who it was that helped them through a difficult situation.
I could tell you each difficult situation I’ve been through, exactly who I relied on, exactly who I contacted. Having women who support women, having women who lift up women, having men and women who talk about other women when they’re not in the room, I think that is a really big key that we don’t realize how important it is to talk about each other when they’re not in the room.
I will highlight my trainees, my colleagues, my mentees when they’re not in the room and I will say, “Did you know that Tricia just did this incredible project? We should put her name in the hat for something.” I think that the power of that network and the power of that community cannot be understated. And it’s so important when we’re trying to strive towards leveling the playing field.
Denise Millstine: I think what you’re saying is we all need to tap into our inner Dorothy Horstmann. Instead of saying, “Who, me? No, I don’t deserve that,” saying, “Yes, of course I’m a lady scientist. I have a brain,” and supporting one another in that way.
I do want to make sure, though, that we talk a little bit about the sacrifices required for Dorothy to eventually achieve the success that she did, because she made a lot of really hard life choices, nevermind that she had to be a pioneer and be the only woman in the room many times. But she had to make decisions that culturally were not typical for women at the time in terms of her relationships and where she lived. Talk about the sacrifices to be a successful professional woman, Lynn.
Lynn Cullen: A statement she made in her later life to her colleague had caught my eye. She was a very upbeat person, never letting anything stop her, but she did tell this colleague. She said, “I couldn’t have made the discoveries that I made without giving up something. Women can’t have it all.” That set me back. She was so powerful. She would let nothing stop her. In her own way she bulldozed to whatever solution needed, and here she had to give up something and she sounded regretful, and from friends that I had heard of, this was kind of a big point for her. I didn’t hear what she gave up, but I assume she was never married or had children, that there was nothing known about her having a life.That’s what was given up. For all her travel and work in the lab and everything, she gave up on having a family. So I didn’t provide someone for her because I wanted to show the reader what was necessary.
I also provided in the book many instances of Salk and Sabin’s wives making things easy for them. That was important for me to show all the contributions of all those types of women, and some of them were having to be the wife to these guys. They made it easy for them. She wasn’t able to have this personal life, which I imagine that probably hasn’t changed much either. Well, let’s just say this: I’m not saying that women can’t have it all. I think they can, but I think even from a young age — I think of my own daughters who are in their forties and myself — you’re conscious of making decisions. You are conscious of the proportions. I don’t know that men have that much consciousness about what they do with their life and the proportions that they’re going to have of things that count for them.
Dr. Shikha Jain: You’re so spot on, and I think that one of the biggest challenges — so you talk about women not being able to have it all, and I agree with you — it’s I think that women have to make sacrifices, whether it’s professional sacrifices or personal sacrifices. People ask me all the time how I do everything that I do, and I tell them it’s because I have an incredible support system and my parents are a huge, huge part of our lives.And they have allowed me to do all of these things because they come and help out with the kids. If my husband’s on call, they will be here. But there is a difference between when you look at a male working individual and a female working individual, because most females are still very much responsible for the home stuff, whether it’s kid stuff, or the cleaning, or the dinner, or whatnot.
Now that has started to change and men are doing more in the home overall in general, but it’s still very imbalanced. And so when we talk about leveling the playing field, it’s not just changing things in the workforce, it’s also changing societal norms and talking about how we can have more balance at home? How can you divide and conquer as opposed to everything kind of default, falling to the woman, especially in heterosexual partnerships?
I think that really becomes a challenge. Another talk that I was giving and I totally agree with Denise, the power of storytelling and anecdotes are so important in the narrative and talking about these situations because we have lots of data that supports it, but then when you see it happening in your own life or in other people’s lives, those stories, I think, really show the impact.
I had a gentleman who was in a talk I was giving who was being very adamant that, “Well, women can do everything that men can.” And “I’ve been supportive of my female colleagues,” and I asked him, I said, “Well, you’re married…” I said: “How much of the housework do you do? How many of your children have extracurriculars that you know when they have extracurriculars? If a kid is sick who stays home? If a child needs to dress up for a school-specific event, do you arrange for that? Are you making the lunches?” I said: “So your partner could be working and doing their full-time job, but they also have the emotional stress and the mental load of all of these things that are happening at home.
You come home, you put your stuff down, dinner is ready and you have no idea that your partner has been working all day, then had to figure out dinner for the family, had to figure out if the kids’ homework was done, had to make sure that soccer jerseys are cleaned, had to make sure that there’s a pick up for gymnasts.
There’s all of this extra stuff that comes along with it, and so when you talk about sacrificing, I know many women who have decided not to get married, have decided not to have children because they don’t feel that they would have the time to dedicate to that. I know other women who have decided to get married and have children and then feel like they’re failing either at their work job or their home life on a daily basis.
I am one of those people who feels that I am failing at some aspect of my life on a daily basis and it’s all about setting expectations and figuring out what you need to sacrifice. But I think that you’re absolutely right. Men oftentimes don’t have to think that way and they don’t think that way. I mentioned to you that we have construction going on in our house, and I am working from home for a few days a week because I’m in clinic a few days and I work from home.
But who’s responsible for all the stuff that’s happening in the house? Well I am because I’m home, even though I’m technically at work still, and I don’t think that there’s — full disclosure: My husband’s wonderful and he does share the workload with me, so I want to make sure I put that out there — but I think that there’s a lot of misconception on this idea of having it all and how women can have it all and do everything, but it’s really not possible unless you have a support system at home that can help you balance the mental load and the work that comes along with having a life outside of your job.
Denise Millstine: It was well said, yes. I want to comment about this concept of having it all and how we’re seeing a swing in this and you alluded to that a bit, Shikha, but when I was in medical school, there was this idea that women could have it all, and I think what we saw was a huge impact on mental health for women who didn’t feel like they could reach for that perfection.
What I’m seeing now is really what you display in Dorothy’s journey, which is these intentional choices. As painful as they are, to say: “My work is my life, and if that means that I don’t get to spend my life with somebody I love or I need to live away from my family that I love,” as long as those are being seen as intentional choices, it’s OK to make sacrifices in that way.
Or you can try to have it all. I mean, there are women who do it, of course, but I just love this story of Dr. Dorothy Horstmann. Lynn, you did such a great job of pulling together this medical history, but really, where women played a role and you were able to shine a light on how this work would never have been accomplished if it weren’t for the women who were there and yet didn’t get the credit.
I want to thank you for writing “The Woman with the Cure.” I hope our listeners will go out and get the book right away and read it. Dr. Jain, thank you for your work on Women in Medicine and for being such an important voice for professional women. I really enjoyed this conversation today.
Dr. Shikha Jain: Thank you so much for having us.
Lynn Cullen: Thank you so much.
Denise Millstine: Thank you for joining us to talk books and health today on “Read. Talk. Grow.” To continue the conversation and send comments, visit the show notes or email us at email@example.com.
“Read. Talk. Grow.” is a production of Mayo Clinic Press. Our producer is Lisa Speckhard Pasque and our recording engineer is Rick Andresen.
The podcast is for informational purposes only and is not designed to replace a physician’s medical assessment and judgment. Information presented is not intended as medical advice. Please contact a healthcare professional for medical assistance with specific questions pertaining to your own health if needed. Keep reading everyone.
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