More women are entering the medical field than ever before. In 2017, for the first time, the number of women enrolled in U.S. medical schools exceeded the number of men. And this wasn’t a one-time fluke—that trend has continued. Changes are in motion.
At NYU Langone one outcome of these changes is that as of 2022, the NYU Langone medical board is led by three women: Joan F. Cangiarella, MD, vice chair of clinical operations in the Department of Pathology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and chair of the medical board; Tessa (Kate) Huncke, MD, vice chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Care, and Pain Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, chief of service for anesthesiology at NYU Langone’s Tisch Hospital, and vice chair of the board; and Katherine Hochman, MD, director of the Hospitalist Program at Tisch Hospital and board secretary.
The medical board is key to NYU Langone’s success, conducting the business of the medical and dental staff, supervising the conduct of clinical sites, implementing policies, and recommending actions on medical matters. As leaders of this vital group, Dr. Cangiarella, Dr. Huncke, and Dr. Hochman offer guidance for other aspiring leaders.
While roles in leadership may seem a logical outcome when examining the careers of these women, none of them remembers making the conscious decision to pursue that particular goal.
“A lot of my career has been about being at the right place at the right time,” says Dr. Cangiarella. “But of course, there are ways to increase the odds of that happening. When you put yourself out there, say ‘yes,’ or even volunteer without anyone asking, opportunities grow from that.”
“True. I also said ‘yes’ a lot,” says Dr. Hochman. “And sometimes I went for things I didn’t get. It stings when that happens, but you get up and get back out there. For me, becoming a leader was a result of—not a prerequisite for—hard, meaningful work. Leadership is all about the team and working together to make meaningful change for our hospital system and for our patients.”
Find a Mentor
While she too has a history of stepping up, Dr. Huncke points to another career driver that’s crucial to the creation of new opportunities: mentors.
“I am so grateful for my mentors. Even when feedback is a little harsh, it’s so valuable. And you need that just like you need encouragement,” she says. “My mentors have been instrumental. They’ve promoted my progression, and in some ways they’ve made my career.”
“Absolutely,” affirms Dr. Cangiarella. “To have someone to support and guide you or who is able to actively advocate for bringing you into a certain program or position is absolutely invaluable.”
Support Your Colleagues
When asked about the importance of women in medical leadership, again there’s agreement. They highlight mutual support as a value they see women actively bringing to the mix.
“We all love our work. We live our lives here—caring for our patients and being around our colleagues,” says Dr. Huncke. “But a lot of us also have families, so it’s just very natural for us to strive for work–life balance by working together and helping each other out.”
“Yes,” adds Dr. Hochman. “And for a long time showing that kind of vulnerability or any kind of vulnerability was viewed as a weakness, but it really isn’t. If you own your limitations and you aren’t afraid to ask for help, others will respond. They will want to support you, they will root for you.”
Be a Role Model
In addition to their medical expertise and clinical leadership, these women also embrace the importance of being a positive role model for other aspiring women leaders.
“Women do come to me and tell me how much it means to them to see me in this position, which I’m always humbled by,” Dr. Huncke says. “To the institution’s credit, though, it is becoming more common.”
“Over the last several years we have made great progress,” Dr. Cangiarella says. “We are making great headway in promoting and hiring women leaders and in making sure our women faculty have opportunities for leadership training. But all the more important is that we keep inspiring women to step into leadership. That we keep showing them that it’s doable.”
Learn from Failure
Putting failure in perspective and not fearing it can be a powerful tool. “I’ve had to learn how to be more comfortable with failing and doing it without getting too down on myself,” says Dr. Hochman. “I now reframe failure and instead view it as courage to be bold and get uncomfortable and as a learning opportunity. It’s always a learning opportunity.”
Build Emotional Intelligence
“I’ve learned how crucial emotional intelligence is,” says Dr. Cangiarella. “The ability to understand other people’s views, to listen more, and to build communication skills. When I see people that don’t get where they want to go, it’s never for lack of knowledge, but if you don’t know how your emotions come across when communicating what you want to others, it gets in the way of achieving your goals.”
Believe in Your Abilities
“I had to build my confidence along the way,” says Dr. Huncke, “but one day I realized that someone needs to do this, and I have so much training, so it might as well be me. There’s really nothing standing in the way of it being me, so I might as well go for it.”