Dr. Relly Nadler: This week we have a great opportunity to focus on women’s leadership in medicine. We always like to bring on top performers, people at the top of their fields that can teach you a few things that can help you, whether it’s yourself or your organization. We are going to be talking about women’s leadership in medicine with Sherilyn Gordon Burroughs who is an MD FACF and graduated Magna Cum Lade from Howard University. She obtained her MD at Washington University School of Medicine and that is where she returned to complete a general surgery training at Howard University in DC. During her residency, she was granted an Immunology Research training scholarship at the Thomas Scales Transplant Institute and that is part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
These days Dr. Gordon Burroughs has joined the Houston Methodist JC Walter Jr. Transplant Center in 2009 where her clinical efforts have been focused on liver transplantation, hepatobiliary surgery and intestinal failure. She is currently Associate Professor of Surgery and has served in the role of Program Director for the General Surgery Residency Program since 2003. She assumed this role of Designated Institutional Official for Houston Methodist Hospital in 2015. There her research interests include access to transplantation, early diagnosis and surgical treatment of cholangiocarcinoma, and innovation in medical education, particularly the transition from undergraduate to graduate medical education.
We met Dr. Burroughs in doing a program for a lot of her Program Directors and really looking at physician burn out and she was the one who really had coordinated this looking at what goes on with physicians today and really looking at some of the culture.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I’m very much looking forward to our show today with Dr. Burroughs, especially having been a board member of Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a big advocate of coaching in the medical industry. I’m very excited to hear what she has to say. I also have a family that has suffered from generations of liver disease and so I’m really excited to hear about her historic work in the area of hepatobiliary transplants.
Dr. Relly Nadler: Dr. Burroughs, welcome to the show.
Dr. Sherilyn Burroughs: Thank you and thank you for having me.
Dr. Relly Nadler: Thanks for fitting us in. I know you are outside of Houston now at a conference. I so enjoyed getting to know you and your passion for your work. We always like to start off hearing about who has been some of your main influences and that may lead to some of the themes that we have about looking at women in leadership, especially in medicine.
Dr. Sherilyn Burroughs: Well it’s interesting that you would start out there because it is something that I don’t think I think about enough on a daily basis. But when I stop to reflect on it, it sort of an amalgamation of several different types of people and for several different types of reasons.
I’ve been fortunate to have been raised by my parents and I’m actually still very close with them having them in the same town with me now, currently. I consider them, although we are very different in our personalities, to have had an extreme impact on my life.
Then there are several educators from all the way back in the elementary school time that I still remember very well. Through high school, and medical school, and now those people who have actually trained me most recently in surgery and transplant surgery, have all impacted my life in a dramatic fashion.
Dr. Relly Nadler: One of the things is that we know that doctors are in the top 1% of probably IQ and achievement orientation. Are there any kind of key messages that stand out for you when you were younger that you may have carried with you that have allowed you to pursue all the successes that you have had?
Dr. Sherilyn Burroughs: You know honestly, I would think that as I look back and thankfully have had some maturity now, it’s really not taking myself all that seriously is what has turned out to be probably the best advice that I keep telling myself. In fact, it serves me well in dealing with both patients and colleagues and the problems that come with that domain. I would say this is the #1 thing because as you analyze the problems that come across your desk or issues that can actually inhibit your ability to deal with people, to understand where they are coming from, often times we get in our own way and we get in the way by taking ourselves too seriously.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Yah, I couldn’t have said that any better and I understand where you are coming from and why you would take that stand in life. I do something very similar, Sherilyn, I don’t myself too seriously because it’s hard sometimes being competent, capable women in an industry that is dominated by men. It’s an easy way for us to also, if you will, accommodate and cope.
Let me ask you when you started this career journey, you know often as we can be in a male dominated environment like medicine, being the only female or a minority in the room, what character traits do you think were really most important to your success?
Dr. Sherilyn Burroughs: Well I’d say aside from not taking myself too seriously, I would say also having a sense of humor. It kind of goes along with that. It’s often very easy to mistake statements that people make or offhanded comments as a slight and when you actually take the time to get to know people and where they are coming from, I think and I’ve found that I am surprised often time how uncomfortable they are.
Now, does that excuse outright malicious things, no, but often times in these social / professional situations people are just trying to walk a fine line that allows them to say and be who they are while not being offensive necessarily or finding their own way of embracing you. They don’t always succeed and that is okay. I think to take yourself too seriously and not have a sense of humor actually detracts from the ability to move forward in a working relationship. So, I would say those one and two things go together.
The third thing though, that in the professional realm sometimes has to trump this, having just to hold yourself to the highest standard possible. Now, do those two things conflict, no and you can actually hold yourself to a very high standard by having done your reading and your homework and staying on top of your game but simultaneously not making people feel as if you are the smartest person in the room all of the time or the person who knows the most who needs to be acknowledged for knowing.
If you can balance that, I do think in these situations that I have been fortunate or unfortunate enough to have been in, which there is no one like me for miles and miles in this room or the next room, I think it just softens the situation.
Listen to the complete interview, above!