Hala Sabry (D.O., M.B.A. '07) makes sure she greets her patients very clearly.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Sabry,” she says. “I’m going to be your doctor today.”
Sabry hopes she won’t always have to emphasize her role. But for now, she highlights it due to the more-than-occasional instances when patients, having spoken to her about symptoms or history, follow up with a question: So when will the doctor be here?
As CEO and founder of Physicians Mothers Group (PMG), an online medical society for female physicians with children, the 2007 graduate of NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) is leading efforts to raise awareness about female doctors and their work. Sabry and the group, which boasts 50,000 members, also have declared Feb. 3 to be National Women Physicians Day.
Sabry chose the date because it is the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., the first woman to graduate from a medical school in the United States. Blackwell graduated in 1849 from Geneva Medical College in New York.
“I feel for the path that we choose, to serve the public, regardless of hours and pay, we should be respected and recognized more,” says Sabry.
“This is the first time we’re coming out to the public to say we’re here,” she says of the National Women Physicians Day announcement. “We started realizing that a lot of our stressors that have to do with work—caseloads, financial issues—are similar stressors to men. But in addition, we have patients who don’t recognize us as physicians. What if we had a female physician day just to make people aware?”
The group asked its members to use social media hashtags #IAMBLACKWELL and #NWPD and change their Facebook profile pictures to show the group’s logo.
Sabry says she feels she had “a lucky path” and did not directly encounter gender bias during medical school (about half of NYITCOM’s students are female) or even in her emergency medicine residency at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in California.
But she was always aware that the field did not celebrate family life and that female physicians often held back in talking about having children. And when she became a mother, that new role brought its unique challenges. Sabry took only five weeks off after having her first child. Ten months later, when she was pregnant with twins, she recalls sitting on her couch and thinking nervously about managing her future.
She looked around for support groups that might provide a sounding board or advice but couldn’t find any that fit her needs. Sabry recalls: “I said, ‘I’m gonna break the mold here. I’m going to start a group.’”
At 11:30 that evening, she emailed 20 female colleagues who had children to invite them into a closed discussion group revolving around being a physician and parent. Some were NYITCOM graduates and others were people she grew up with or who she knew from rotations.
“They all happened to be awake and they all accepted,” she says.
Part support group, part networking platform, and part resource for medical expertise, information, and advice, the group quickly grew as requests came in from the original members to expand the invitation list.
“Within a week, we had 1,000 members, within a month we had 3,000,” she says.
Sabry says her roles as wife, mother, emergency medical physician, and now CEO of the nonprofit organization combine to bring satisfaction. She’s hearing stories of women “remodeling” their jobs and practices as they celebrate their achievements and commitment to patient care and their families.
“I’ve heard that since they’ve been part of this group, some members’ job satisfaction has increased," Sabry says. "They have an area to vent, share ideas, and they’re excited about their work. I never want anyone to feel as anxious, overwhelmed, and upset the way I felt that time on my couch. We’ve banded as a community and we’ve found a common ground. It’s like being able to go for coffee with your girlfriends at any time.”