Women Leadership in Rehabilitation

In this episode, three physiatrists from Northwestern Medicine Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital discuss strong female leadership within the world of rehabilitation. Included in the discussion are Larissa R. Pavone, MD, pediatric physiatrist and program director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Program; Sonia Sheth, MD, medical director of the Stroke Rehabilitation Program; and Dolly Devara, MD, physiatrist. They share about their clinical contributions, and about their experiences with female mentorship, preventing burnout and more.
Women Leadership in Rehabilitation
Featured Speakers:
Larissa Pavone, MD | Sonia Sheth, MD | Dolly Devara, MD
Larissa Pavone, MD is pediatric physiatrist and program director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Program at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. 

Learn more about Larissa Pavone, MD 

Sonia Sheth, MD, medical director of the Stroke Rehabilitation Program at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. 

Learn more about Sonia Sheth, MD 

Dolly Devara, MD, physiatrist at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital., 

Learn more about Dolly Devara, MD 
Women Leadership in Rehabilitation

Melanie Cole (Host): Welcome to Better Edge, a Northwestern Medicine podcast for physicians. I'm Melanie Cole, and I invite you to listen as we explore women leadership in rehabilitation.

Joining me in this thought leader conversation physician round table is Dr. Sonia Sheth. She's the Medical Director of the Stroke Rehabilitation Program; dr. Dolly Devara, she's a physiatrist; and Dr. Larissa Pavone, she's a pediatric physiatrist and Program Director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Program. They're all with Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.

Doctors, thank you so much for joining us today for this excellent topic that we're going to discuss about women leadership and rehabilitation. I'd like to give you each a chance to tell us a little bit about yourselves and provide a little background on your areas of focus. Dr. Pavone, I'd like to start with you.

Dr Larissa Pavone: Absolutely. So I trained in downtown Chicago in physical medicine and rehabilitation. And then, post that time period, you have an option of specializing and I chose to specialize in pediatric physiatry at that time, which is an additional two-year fellowship. And I was practicing pediatric rehabilitation. And I'm also able to practice adult physiatry as well since I'm boarded in both, but with a focus on pediatrics. And a couple of years ago, I decided to take on the Program Director for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Marianjoy.

Melanie Cole (Host): Dr. Sheth?

Dr Sonia Sheth: Yes. My name is Dr. Sonia Sheth, I'm the Stroke Medical Director here at Marianjoy. I started that position in March of this year of 2021. Prior to that, I was working in an affiliate hospital doing acute inpatient rehab, but more generalized. And I also was a former resident here at Marianjoy about eight years ago.

Melanie Cole (Host): And then, Dr. Devara?

Dr Dolly Devara: Hi, I'm Dolly Devara. Like Dr. Sheth, I'm a former Marianjoy resident too, but not 8 years, more like 20 years ago. And I trained at Marianjoy and stayed back at Marianjoy. I'm board-certified in physiatry, and I'm also subspecialty-certified in brain injury. I've been seeing patients in the brain injury unit for the last two and a half years now.

Melanie Cole (Host): I just love this topic. I love that we're talking about women in leadership and as we get into these stories that you're going to tell us today, Dr. Sheth, I'd like to start with you here. Do you have a story about being the first female to accomplish something or hold a certain position? Any personal story or accomplishment that you would like to share with us?

Dr Sonia Sheth: Yes. So for the first time in history of NM Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, all of our medical directors are female. So the brain injury, the spinal cord injury, stroke, peds, and neuro are all females. To our knowledge, this has never happened before. We've had other female medical directors who have been a part of Marianjoy, but not a part of Northwestern So this is pretty special in my opinion.

Dr Larissa Pavone: Oh, I didn't even realize that that happened. That's pretty cool. I know that Dr. Devara has seen it's changed through the years for sure.

Dr Dolly Devara: Oh, yes. I have seen leadership change and this is really very empowering to see all female leadership through Marianjoy. And Northwestern has promoted the inclusion and, you know, the culture of diversity. This is the first actually, to see all female leaders across the board.

Melanie Cole (Host): I just love this conversation. And, Dr. Devara, since you've been there so long, in recent years, you've seen these changes come about with more women in rehab as well, right? What have you seen as far as those changes? What do you feel has initiated those changes? Do you think it's philosophy of care that women are now more ready to take on these leadership roles? Do you have an opinion on what you've seen, how you've seen this change?

Dr Dolly Devara: You're probably right about the velocity of women, we're seeing more and more women in healthcare across the board, not just as physicians, but therapists, nurses. We are seeing a lot of females in the workforce now. They are taking on. There has been a morphing of gender roles. They are taking on more leadership.

I actually was also the first female president of the medical staff when Marianjoy became Northwestern Medicine So, I saw that during my role as the female president, there was a lot of support from the Northwestern system in the sense of building each other up, backing physicians, employees across the board. So that culture of inclusion and nurturing, it has empowered women across the board, I would say. And we are seeing more females take on the leadership roles more fearlessly.

Dr Larissa Pavone: I could definitely follow up on what Dr. Devara said, having been here about 10 years now and, starting my career here at that time and being an early physician and having one baby right before I started and having that second baby and still being really supported by all my colleagues, male and female, building me up and allowing me that time to have a family and succeed in my career. I think that's something really special, and feeling that it's a good place to be able to do that.

Dr Dolly Devara: absolutely. I would like to say that during my 20 years now, what I've learned, if you learn this with the game, whether it's your practice, the scope or the network, and then play by the rules and if you are a team player, it's the same playing field for everybody without the gender bias and it does open up those doors of opportunities for everybody.

Melanie Cole (Host): I think it does too. And, as an exercise physiologist myself, and I remember 30 years ago when I was starting, there just weren't a lot of women bosses certainly, trainers certainly. We just weren't seeing it. Now, Dr. Pavone, as we talk about burnout, I mean, this is across the board, genders, everybody with physicians nowadays in the healthcare field, this is something we're seeing more of. What do you feel are some of the more important aspects of preventing burnout? And while you're talking about that, because of that, and we've even mentioned babies, some of the myths about medical leadership that might deter women from practicing, maybe the financial inefficiency of on-call duties or things that might make it unappealing for those responsible for childcare that keep them from entering into these kinds of rehab fields and then possibly preventing burnout as well.

Dr Larissa Pavone: Yeah, I think one of the most essential elements for me anyways, and I think when we talk about burnout and wellness, wellness is different for everyone, and I think it's really important to recognize that. But I think one thing that can be really helpful in preventing burnout is having a supportive working environment.

One of the things that has kept me at Marianjoy for almost 10 years is my supportive working environment. I have great partners like Dr. Sheth and Dr. Devara and my colleague who also does peds physiatry, Dr. Mary keen, who was Medical Director of Peds before I came on, have all been incredibly supportive. And so knowing you're in an environment like that, it makes you happy to come to work. And even on your bad days, you have people there that you can lean on and support you. And if you can't go because you're having a bad day, there's also people that can cover for you.

I'm hoping now, as just everything evolves and we're seeing more women in leadership, that some of those myths or bias that previously were there are no longer there. But I think, it takes a team, a group environment to really be able to be successful for both males and females or of any gender to be able to do that.

Melanie Cole (Host): Well, it definitely does take a team. And Dr. Sheth, what's been your experience at Northwestern Medicine in terms of opportunities for female leadership and contributions. What have you seen happen?

Dr Sonia Sheth: I feel that the comradery has really been extremely strong among the female physicians at Northwestern. I think I'd mentioned this when I introduced myself, but prior to working here in Wheaton at the Marianjoy main campus, I worked at an affiliate hospital and it was only acute inpatient rehab. I didn't have the opportunity to see patients as an outpatient. So I had kind of lost a skill that I learned in residency, which was performing Botox injections for spasticity management. All of my patients have had strokes. Some of them experienced spasticity. I was really determined to relearn this skill because I did lose it after having kids. Being at a different site, i, didn't have the practice anymore.

So, I expressed this to my colleagues and everybody rallied around me and encouraged me to learn it. They invited me to their clinics and any questions I had, I asked them and they were more than happy to explain what they felt would be a good approach in certain patients. And even the practice manager was really, really supportive of this. And I'm just really thankful because I'm able to see my patients improve with good spasticity management and it's also good for caregivers, to be able to have the tone managed properly. So I feel happier. I feel more valued and more informed and more skilled after relearning this. And it's just been a really good thing in my practice that's come from the mentorship.

Dr Larissa Pavone: Yeah, I think that's a really great point, Dr. Sheth, that you said about just relearning a new skill that we may have lost or learning a new skill for the first time. I think It's really easy to ask each other questions. We have a group chat at times when things come up or interesting cases and, obviously doing everything, so protecting patient information, but we're really able to lean on each other and seek out questions and get answers and have a supportive environment and be encouraged to do that. It's been really great.

Dr Dolly Devara: Yeah, I would like to piggyback on both what Dr. Sheth and Dr. Pavone have said, the comradery and rallying around to help each other that has certainly helped all the physicians here and the burnout issues. If there's a medical emergency or helping somebody out with a family issue or with practice issues, we've all been working together as a team and trying to build each other up.

Dr Sonia Sheth: We're all, for the most part, mothers. Everyone has had babies, so we all try our best to, you know, help each other no matter what, because things happen with the kids and I have found that to be really invaluable, being a part of a group where everyone understands where you're coming from. And it's not your fault if your kid gets sick and you need to take the day off or you need to take them to the doctor. Things just come up all the time and everybody is willing to help and we support each other greatly.

Melanie Cole (Host): I think that's wonderful. And really, as women, as you're saying, it takes a team because we are the caregivers of the world. We just are. So as I give you each a chance for a final thought here, Dr. Pavone, I'd like to start with you. What role has female mentorship played in your success? How are you paying it forward? And while you're telling us that, I'd like you to tell me the philosophy of care that you have, that you use with your patients.

Dr Larissa Pavone: Sure. Female mentorship, you know, I really didn't have too much until residency and that's where I started to get a lot of female mentorship. And I found it very helpful. The women around me who've been in leadership roles have really, really encouraged me at times that I've been hesitant maybe to take on a leadership role because I'm worried about my family or how much time I'll have to devote to everybody. They have really encouraged me to do that. Whether it be doing a fellowship or taking on the role as program director, it was female mentors that encouraged me to do that. And it's those female mentors that I still go to to this day, to ask those questions. And so in my professional career, it has been incredibly important for me.

And then in regards to my care philosophy, I think coming from the pediatric lens, it's really very team-based. And I think physiatry in general is extremely team-based. We set goals with our patients and their families, and everyone has to buy into those goals together, to be able to attain them and reach them. So I would say that my philosophy is very team-based and every team member, if they are able, needs to have a say and what that decision making may be, and that leads to the best type of team.

Melanie Cole (Host): Dr. Sheth, next up to you. Same question, the role that female mentorship has played in your success, how you're paying it forward and your philosophy of care as a woman working with this team.

Dr Sonia Sheth: So when we think of a mentor, we typically think that they're going to be older than us, but the one that really helped me was actually younger. Like I'd mentioned before, you know, she had taught me a lot about Botox for spasticity management. She showed me that learning a new skill later in my career is definitely possible. And she gave me the confidence to do it. She probably doesn't even realize the impact that she had at the time, but I'm grateful that I'm able to provide that skill to patients.

I'm paying it forward now by helping residents learn to administer Botox injections earlier on in their residency. So instead of starting in their PGY-3 year, they're able to start on their own patients in their PGY-2 year. They're able to see the benefits earlier on and from day one, rather than as an outpatient in clinic. And it's been really rewarding to see them learn it a little bit earlier and see how it really helps patients.

Melanie Cole (Host): Dr. Devara, last word to you on this excellent topic of women leadership in rehabilitation, the role that female mentorship has played in your success, or that you have played in somebody else's success, how you're paying it forward and your philosophy of care as a woman working as a team in rehabilitation.

Dr Dolly Devara: Yeah. I've had many mentors through my life. I still look up to people and role models, but I would be remiss if I didn't bring up late Dr. Chowdhury as one of the strong female leaders. She was then the medical director at Marianjoy with a lot of male counterparts in the other medical directorship roles. Watching her sit at the table, bring the same values the same time, she would see the same number of patients and do the same kind of research and academic teaching to residents. That, to me, broke the myth of the stereotypical female physician role. I never mustered up the strength to go ask her what her success was, but watching her, she was a strong leadership role and a physician role model to me.

I think I'll pay it forward by, we do a lot of resident training and teaching. Like Dr. Sheth said and like Dr. Pavone said, we do mentor our female physicians, acclimatize to the culture and then, There are questions that come up on, "How do you manage with your family life, carreer life and about efficiency and timeliness?" So that's what we mostly focus on while we are doing most of our teaching too.

Dr Larissa Pavone: I think both the points Dr. Sheth and Dr. Devara bring up as the Program Director of the physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency at Marianjoy is that mentorship that everyone provides to residents. It's extremely helpful and they see how we interact with each other. And I hear from residents now that they can see the comradery that we have amongst each other. And they're watching, and I think it's really important that we set good tone for how our interaction should be and how we should respect each other and how we can support one another, because people are watching and I think that's just really important to kind of pass on to the next generation of physicians.

Melanie Cole (Host): What a great wrap up that was. Doctors, thank you so much. As women, it is so important that we build each other up, not tear each other down. And in business and in healthcare, all of these places typically, there's been a lot of this type of competition and thank you all for joining us today and really telling us how you work together as a team to make it such a helpful cohesive environment to work with. Thank you so much.

And to refer your patient or for more information, please visit our website at breakthroughsforphysicians.nm.org/rehab to get connected with one of our providers. That wraps up this episode of Better Edge, a Northwestern Medicine podcast for physicians. Please always remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast and all the other Northwestern Medicine podcasts. I'm Melanie Cole.