A woman should be two things: who and what she wants. In a 70.3% male-dominated workforce, being a woman in the field comes with its own unique challenges. We must be aggressive, but not overbearing. We must be empathetic, but not emotional. We must be gentle, but still, have a firm hand when managing difficult patients. However, the female leaders in our field have surpassed all expectations. They fight for our equal rights in the field while still trying to build up those around them. After all, true queens help to adjust each other’s crowns.
I was able to speak with three amazing women in the field. Each of them had their own unique story and perspective about the specialty. They had various ways of becoming interested in the field and different journeys that led them to leadership roles within podiatry. It showcases that not everyone is meant to embark on the same path, but rather our different journeys are what allow us to develop the field for the better.
Dr. Vilayvanh Saysoukha
I spoke with was Dr. Vilayvanh Saysoukha. Dr. Saysoukha is a recent graduate of the Northwest Residency program in Margate, FL, where she served as chief resident. She also completed her Fellowship in Podiatric Dermatology in Alpharetta, GA. Dr. Saysoukha has published multiple posters and presented on numerous topics since 2011. She also has spent many hours volunteering throughout her career. She currently practices at the Foot and Ankle Specialists of Middle Tennessee.
Dr. Saysoukha wanted to be a physician ever since she saw the movie, Patch Adams. After all, isn’t laughter the best medicine? What inspired her to become a doctor of podiatric medicine was her desire to treat the large variety of foot and ankle pathologies seen in her patients. Furthermore, she enjoyed the option of treating patients either conservatively or with more invasive procedures, such as surgery. With this much diversity in practice, she knew podiatry was her calling. As she became more immersed in the profession, she discovered a passion for limb salvage and reconstruction, a specialization needed with the rise in diabetes.
This passion for the profession also inspired Dr. Saysoukha to pursue leadership positions throughout her career. She thinks educating the general public and healthcare professionals alike is part of the duties of our profession. The desire to lead, Dr. Saysoukha believes, is somewhat innate. Leadership requires a lot of time, effort, and hard work without receiving anything in return. So, if someone chooses to be a leader, especially a female leader, it is important to be genuine as there is no need to exaggerate or diminish who you are to be a great leader.
was constantly told: “girls don’t do that”
If at any point, she needs a little inspiration, Dr. Saysoukha looks to everyday people to find just that. People overcome obstacles of their own every day and are still able to achieve peace and happiness in their lives. In her own life, Dr. Saysoukha was constantly told: “girls don’t do that”. This has driven her to be confident in her gender and identity. It is easy to get tunnel vision, and failures can be humbling learning opportunities. When Dr. Saysoukha failed her first exam, she realized that failure is part of learning and not the end of the journey. Those who Dr. Saysoukha admires and is inspired by the most are those who have failed and risen above their challenges.
A challenge Dr. Saysoukha faces on a regular basis is being a female minority. Doctors on many occasions have mentioned that she should change her name so it’s easier for patients to pronounce. Dr. Saysoukha also feels that patients might shy away from her because of a tough last name. However, Dr. Saysoukha is proud to say she is the ONLY Dr. Saysoukha in the world. She wears her name with pride as a symbol of who she is, where she is going, and why she continues to be a leader in the field.
As a woman and leader in the field, Dr. Saysoukha has encountered some challenges. She has experienced some resistance in the field from other women. Dr. Saysoukha believes this stems from women having to compete with each other as well as the other sex for positions. This gives the fear that someone will be valued more than another professional. As a woman, she believes we are still having to fight for equal pay for equal work and skills. However, Dr. Saysoukha feels that the idea of a woman working full time and having a family has gained popularity and acceptance in society. While there are some practices or residencies that shy away from hiring women due to the fear of pregnancy and missed work, this is becoming less and less common. This is why Dr. Saysoukha wants to be a leader in the field and help those around her achieve their goals. She wants to be a listening ear and an advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves. While this applies to her colleagues, she is motivated to lead to help those underrepresented and underserved in healthcare, minorities, and the general public as well.
Dr. Saysoukha would not change a thing about where she is now and the path she has pursued. She feels one of the best decisions she has ever made was to become a DPM, and all the decisions she has made has shaped her into who she is today. She is one of the first Laotian American females who has overcome many obstacles to pursue her purpose and passion in life. She’s a practicing physician, a fiancé, and a mentor to many of the Barry University students who have gotten to know her.
By Elizabeth Ansert
Barry School of Podiatric Medicine
The Strong Women of Podiatry
Leading with Heart and Mind
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