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Jewish Alliance for Women in Science

Helping Women Enter Careers Related to Science and Medicine

JAWS Highlighted Feature

Visit Mentors' Round Table to read our interviews of women in the fields of science and health. These are women of varying levels of experience and backgrounds, brought to the table to answer your questions about everything from work-life balance to financial management. Read on, be inspired, and leave them (and us!) a comment!

Newest Interviews: Ecologist, MD Student 1 (2nd year) , MD Student 2 (2nd year) , Optometry Student and Speech Pathologist

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August 2010

Mini Verter MD ’75

Source: "A Rare Road through Residency: Her part-time journey took 10 years" View source here. (page 36)

By Lisa Jacobs  

 “I think it’s all very doable. But you have to be creative and think outside the box.” When Mini (Ehrlich) Verter, MD, graduated from NJMS in 1975, she never imagined her career path would be easy. Inspired by her father’s cousin, a woman pediatrician who served in the French forces during World War II, Verter went to NJMS when only 10 percent of the students were women. “I had to be assertive,” Verter explains. “I had to be my own advocate.”

Overcoming the gender barrier in medicine was just the beginning for Verter, who observed the personal struggles of female medical students and residents, and became determined to find an alternative. Many women were given only three to four weeks for maternity leave. Others left children behind in their home state or country. Some abandoned medicine for years before returning to finish their training, and one became so depressed she could not function. Verter became intent, after her first post-graduate year of a full-time residency, on finding a part-time situation in pediatrics, family medicine, or psychiatry in central New Jersey that would allow her to answer both the needs of her family and her Jewish religious obligations. “When I went to medical school, no one spoke about part-time programs or combining family with a career in medicine,” she explains. “My friends who have daughters in medical school today could never even conceive of doing what I did.”

An advertisement in a medical journal for a residency-sharing program sparked the idea that she could pursue her goal part time. Verter called local hospitals, trying to strike a deal. Through diplomacy and negotiation, she eventually found one that worked with her to create a plan that would answer her family needs while fulfilling the requirements of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

Verter became the first psychiatry resident at New Jersey’s Monmouth Medical Center as part of a newly developed joint program with Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital in Pennsylvania. Because of the program’s unusual structure, where residents were expected to split their time between Long Branch, NJ, and Philadelphia, PA, she was able to choose her own hours, take a six month maternity leave for her second child, and arrange her schedule to stay home and observe the Jewish Sabbath by not working. In exchange, she did extra Sundays and American holidays. “This was like an unofficial Shomer Shabbos residency program which I first heard of years later. I had worked it out on my own,” Verter explains.

But even with this flexibility, she still had trouble. To get to Philadelphia by 7 a.m. via public transportation, she had to wake up at 3 a.m. Babysitters were unwilling to work the “crazy hours” demanded by her night and weekend calls. “At one point, I had three babysitters quit within a single month, but I was able to network and get a good sitter who then launched a childcare business for working moms,” she explains. Later, Verter moved her start time to 9 a.m. “No one gave me any problem with this,” she recalls. “If you are a good worker, qualified, and appreciated, others are willing to bend over backwards to work with you.”

In 1982 while Verter was in the middle of the part-time equivalency of her third-year as a resident, ACGME revoked accreditation from the Hahnemann/Monmouth program, forcing her to scour the market for a place to complete her fourth year in psychiatry. With the help of Herman Belmont, MD, a professor and head of child psychiatry at Hahnemann Medical College, she secured a full-time fellowship at UMDNJ without any on-call duties. In 1985, a decade after graduation from NJMS, Verter finally completed her training.

She became board certified in adult as well as child and adolescent psychiatry, and went to work for Staten Island Mental Health Society, a children’s community mental health clinic, where she is still employed today. There, Verter was able to work a part-time schedule for several years with no night calls. She had her children join her commute to Staten Island from New Jersey, enrolling them in school there so that she would be accessible to them during the day.

Today, Verter feels accomplished to have seen thousands of patients while raising three daughters, and later becoming a grandmother of six. “Being a parent is intertwined with being a doctor and both enrich each other making for a more empathic doctor and a more knowledgeable parent,” she says.

Verter believes that the lessons she learned in obtaining scheduling flexibility through self-advocacy, diplomacy, and compromise are applicable to women in medicine today. She also stresses the importance of networking, problem-solving, and creativity. Part time residency programs would provide residents flexibility to accommodate family and educational pursuits. At Hahnemann, she was surprised to see other part-time psychiatry residents, some of whom were pursuing law degrees simultaneously. Twelve years ago, Verter approached Stanley Bergen, Jr., MD, former UMDNJ president, at a lecture to share her thoughts on the issue. “He was so amazed,” she recalls. “He was just trying to work out a sharing residency program. It was something brand new to him.”

Verter regrets that more shared residencies are not available today. She views those offered on a poor solution because they offer three month alternations of full-time residency and time off. “That is no different than being a full-time resident, but more impractical. There is no flexibility for caring for young children, a chronically ill family member, personal health problems, or for pursuing further education. If something happens to one partner, the other has to take over and become full-time.” She advises women to try to negotiate their own schedules. “All you have to do is ask nicely. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll get a no. But hopefully, you’ll get a yes.”

Source: "A Rare Road through Residency: Her part-time journey took 10 years" View source here. (page 36)