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Women in Medicine: Chandrika Gowda, MD

A head and shoulders professional portrait of Chandrika Gowda.

Chandrika Gowda, MD

September is Women in Medicine Month, presented by the American Medical Association Women Physicians Section. Penn State College of Medicine honors Dr. Chandrika Gowda of the Division of Hematology and Oncology in part three of this seven-part series.

Dr. Chandrika Gowda wants women to know that if they don’t follow the same path as male physicians, they will still be successful.

“I wish someone had told me it was OK to slow down for those years when I was a young mother,” she said. “I’m thankful for the support I got from my mentors and division at that time, but it may not be the case for many.”

Now Gowda, an associate professor in the Penn State College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology and Oncology, makes it her mission to tell other women to seek help when they feel that pressure. Too many women believe they have to stay on the tried-and-true road to becoming a doctor or they will never be able to move up in their profession or specialty.

As she looks back on what she has accomplished in her career and the joy she experiences being a mother to two young sons, Gowda says she realizes women physicians need to do what works best for them and their families. She believes that message is starting to resonate with medical schools.

Gowda also said she recognizes that being a physician means having a support team behind her. This includes mentors, peers, experts in her field she reaches out to, but more importantly her husband and her sons.

“I explain to my sons what I do when I am at work, and they understand,” she said. “They care about the important research that I do and because they care, they’re more accepting of my long hours or late nights on the computer.”

Along with caring for patients, Gowda teaches and pursues research on new therapies for treating childhood cancer. She received several extramural grants and the John Wawrynovic Leukemia Research Scholar Endowment at Penn State College of Medicine.

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Gowda was raised to believe she could accomplish anything she set her mind to. That background helped her as she went through medical school and specialized in pediatric oncology. She reiterates that mentoring is key for women physicians as they move through their careers, but she also says that is not enough.

“Too many women physicians are over-mentored and under-sponsored,” she said, adding that women need to have the same ability to boost their career opportunities as men.

Mentoring provides women with the advice and roadmap they need to move ahead in their careers, but they also need someone to advocate for them and become invested in their success.

“This is still missing for a lot of women and shouldn’t be,” she said, “because we all know how important it is to have a community and support system.”

Gowda says she sees microaggressions at times and explains that women need to know they should speak out when they face indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination. She believes too many women still stay quiet rather than make others feel uncomfortable.

She hopes that will change, especially as more women pursue leadership roles in medicine.

Searching for a cure

As for her work, she loves it but admits it can be difficult working with children who have cancer. Yet she is buoyed by knowing she can make a difference in people’s lives.

“It’s very inspiring and rewarding to know that my research work will one day potentially help the same children that I see in hospital do better,” she said. “That is meaningful, knowing you are part of someone’s life is amazing.”

Her advice to women who are starting medical school is to know when you need help and don’t hesitate to reach out and find support – talk to other women physicians about their journey and seek advice.

“Don’t hesitate to say what you are going through,” she said. “Have your own support network, not just for subject matter expertise help but for life advice.”

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