Feature | Why Being a Female Cardiologist Matters: An Experience From Indonesia

This article was authored by Amiliana M. Soesanto, MD, PhD, head of the Department of Cardiology and Vascular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine at the Universitas Indonesia and National Cardiovascular Center Harapan Kita in Jakarta, Indonesia.

During my cardiology residency, one of my professors jokingly said that there are three kinds of subspecies in humans – men, women and female cardiologists. It took me years to really understand what he meant.

Many decades ago, fewer female physicians joined the cardiology residency compared to recent years in Indonesia. Perhaps the reason was that they carefully considered keeping the balance between their professional and family lives. Nowadays, more and more female physicians intend to join cardiology training programs. The evolution of gender roles in marriage and families has widened the opportunities for women to enter professional life, including a profession like cardiology, which was regarded as a man’s world initially. When I started my cardiology residency, I was married and had a 16-month-old son. I admit that it was the most difficult period of my life. The challenges were huge, but gender discrimination was never one of them. The cardiology training programs in Indonesia give everyone the same opportunities, tasks and responsibilities, without gender bias or preference. Undeniable, full support from my family, colleagues, friends and the community helped ease the burden.

Since the beginning of my career as a cardiologist in Indonesia, I have never experienced gender discrimination. There is no survey or study about gender bias in Indonesia. However, based on conversations with others, it was confirmed that there is no bias by other Indonesian female cardiologists from various subspecialties including interventional cardiologists, non-invasive cardiologists, electrophysiologists and pediatric cardiologists, who work everywhere from academic and non-academic hospitals to small clinics and large hospitals. In general, they never felt any sense of gender discrimination.

Although the number of male cardiologists exceeds the number of female cardiologists, the number of women in cardiology has increased significantly in our country. Current data from the Indonesian Heart Association showed that there are almost 900 cardiologists in Indonesia, approximately 30 percent of whom are women. In the largest and oldest cardiac academic center in Indonesia, there has been an increase in the number of female physician applicants who want to become cardiology residents. On average, male and female physicians apply in equal numbers, and the average acceptance ratio is 43 percent male versus 38 percent female. What about women in academic or strategic positions? Over the past 30 years, there have been six department chairs. Three of them have been women, including myself as the current head of the department. Furthermore, of the 12 cardiology academic centers in Indonesia, three are led by women as the head of department. Some female cardiologists even hold strategic positions in professional organizations, including the presidents of the Indonesian Heart Association, the Indonesian Society of Echocardiography, and the Indonesian Society of Hypertension; heads of Department Cardiology and Vascular Medicine at several universities; and director of the National Cardiovascular Center. In my country, women have an equal opportunity, career path and responsibility for taking care of cardiovascular disease.

All cardiologists should have the ability to think and act fast and to work in highly demanding and stressful situations. Perhaps it is true that female cardiologists have more social responsibilities, as they have professional roles along with their roles as wives and mothers. For me, it is not a drawback, but rather a privilege and welcomed challenge to keep us moving forward. In fact, the key to success depends on your own character. Positive attitude, healthy self-esteem, self-confidence and effective collaboration are some of the qualities women should possess to be acknowledged equally in the community. There are a significant number of successful female cardiologists who have balanced professional and family lives. Those women become role models and inspire younger generations to follow their paths and become cardiologists. This could be one of the reasons for the increased number of female cardiologists in Indonesia.

After all, it is not the quantity of or ratio between male and female cardiologists that matters; it is the quality. If someone would like to become a cardiologist, regardless of gender, he or she simply needs to be an excellent and professional physician who works well with others to improve cardiovascular care. At the end of the day, it is a woman’s own choice to decide how to incorporate a profession into her life because she must believe that society and her community do not treat her differently.

Female cardiologists, like male cardiologist, have a sharp analytic ability, good logic and a cool head. At the same time, female cardiologists also have multitasking and time management skills, sharp intuition and empathy. Perhaps these are the traits that make female cardiologists the third subspecies of humans. Regardless of the professor’s joke, we should accept that “female cardiologists” is no longer a relevant issue in our professional life. It is only “cardiologists” that matters.