Career Development | Nanette K. Wenger, MD, MACC, Offers Career Advice For Female FITs

This article is authored by Olivia Hung, MD, PhD, Fellow in Training (FIT) at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

Nanette K. Wenger, MD, MACC, is a professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA. She has built an illustrious career as an academic non-interventional cardiologist, leading the paradigm shifts on cardiac rehabilitation and coronary atherosclerotic heart disease in women. In recognition of her leadership and accomplishments in the field of cardiovascular disease in women, she received the ACC Inaugural Bernadine Healy Leadership in Women’s Cardiovascular Disease Award in 2015. In a recent interview with Olivia Hung, MD, PhD, a Fellow in Training (FIT) at Emory University, Wenger offers career advice for female FITs.

What advice would you give female FITs who are interested in a career in academic general cardiology?

The secret of academic cardiology is finding a niche, as the necessity is to become the go-to person at your institution for a specific area. Start by asking: What interests you? Where do you see knowledge gaps and what can be done to fill those gaps? Additionally, so much of what we do in cardiology is changing rapidly. The advent of new procedures, devices and medications leads to questions about the relevance of older methods and evaluation of new ones as they come on the scene. Are they redundant? What do they replace? Are they any better than what we have? Are they likely to be costlier?

While sitting in conferences week-in and week-out, people often say, “We're not sure of…” or “This is the way we have done it, but we are not sure how good the data are.” These conversations identify areas where cardiologists can find something fascinating and spend time to address the challenge.

There has been much discussion about gender discrepancies in the workplace, especially regarding the differences in compensation between male and female cardiologists. What are your thoughts about what female FITs should look for in their first job?

Female FITs should start by looking at the salary range. As a woman, it is important to learn how to negotiate and value yourself and contributions. When FITs go on job interviews, they are selling themselves. They are telling the prospective employer what it is that they bring to the institution, why they should be hired instead of someone else and how they can augment A, B, C, D within the organization. What they tell the employer determines their worth.

FITs also have to be productive – they cannot promise something and not deliver. This delivery has interpersonal relationships and quantity. However, the negotiation at the outset is probably the single most important step, and that is why it is exciting that the WIC group at Emory has been having discussions pertaining to salary negotiation, interviews and more, as these skills are necessary to interview well. The most important skill to learn is self-valuation.

The decision regarding the type of work is personal. During fellowship training, FITs have had months of working in the intensive care unit, inpatient service and ambulatory care, while also reading multiple studies. If they find an experience that they enjoy, they should go for it. FITs need a few basic and marketable skills (i.e., reading imaging studies that will augment workload and income), but they should not settle for something that does not interest them. If the work is boring, find something else.

There is an old saying that states if a family has two breadwinners, the woman is the secondary winner. In modern times, that does not always apply. It is important to discourage people from part-time or shared work unless it is absolutely necessary. The recognition and compensation is usually for half of the time when the contribution is three-quarters of the time. People who take those positions are not adequately compensated or recognized.

How do you plan for family while pursuing a high-powered career?

In a sense, marriage is a co-job, and you should be working at it as hard as you do at your remunerative job. Since there are so many things that require planning and arrangements, it is just as important to schedule time with your significant other and family as it is to schedule your patients in the clinic.

In my household, dinner was sacrosanct because that was when so many things happened. We arranged dinner so that it took place when the children were finished with school and after-school activities and we were finished with our work, but before any evening activities began. It was time that was spent simply as people around the dinner table. When we were on trips or vacations, we did as much planning as I would do if I were running a course or a conference because I wanted as few glitches as possible. I wanted our private time to be the best that it could possibly be, and to reflect the needs and wants of everyone involved.

Personal relationships are important. Learning how to cultivate them is just as necessary as learning practice skills. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed with what happens at the office, hospital or research lab that we forget there is a life outside, and that it must be navigated carefully. We have the skills to do this; we have worked and honed our interpersonal skills when it comes to colleagues, patients and staff. It is vital to use those skills in relationships, which are just as important as work.