March 22, 2021

Three more letters behind M.D.: How a M.O.M. in medicine discovered the best of both worlds

Margit Chadwell, M.D., poses with her daughter Corinne, at left, who is graduating from college and getting married this summer, and Cara, right, now a high school junior and an accomplished athlete, musician, and academic all-star.

Associate Dean Margit Chadwell, M.D., has led the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Office of Student Affairs and Career Development since 2017. The office’s role is one of nurturing and encouraging the wellbeing and success of students through advising, wellness opportunities and major events that celebrate medical school milestones, from the first-year White Coat Ceremony to the fourth-year Match Day.

Dr. Chadwell, a Class of 1994 alumna and mother of three, joined the School of Medicine faculty as a voluntary clinical assistant professor in 1999. She realized after having her second child while still practicing full-time Family Medicine and Obstetrics, teaching and conducting research as an associate program director that the schedule just wasn’t sustainable.

Dr. Chadwell and her son, Caleb, visit Germany, where he is finishing a two-year position as a financial analyst for an international company in Frankfurt before starting law school this fall.

“I met with my director, a wonderful and seasoned family physician. After hearing me out, he said, ‘Margit, look at your male counterparts, they are working 80 hours per week.’ My response was, ‘Yes, look at them. I don’t want to and can’t be one of them.’ From there, we reached a workable part-time option, which seemed revolutionary at the time,” she said.

Her biggest challenge as a woman in medicine is integrating her personal and professional roles in a manner in which both thrived and neither suffered. She had very few role models in that arena. “Personally, I took my guidance from the ideals and faith values I experienced and embraced in my own family growing up, and from some key friendships with accomplished female physicians on both fronts. Professionally, I had excellent mentorship and an expectation to contribute and advance from my home department of Family Medicine, and continually stayed open to taking opportunities and risks to grow. I learned early on in my career that you can have it all, but not necessarily all at the same time. There has to be a give and take, and it is unrealistic and unfair not to make time for the people and things in your life that matter,” she said.

Dr. Chadwell remained part time in various arrangements until her middle daughter graduated from high school four years ago. “The flexibility this afforded me let me perform and develop to my full potential while keeping my family in full focus. On his retirement, my former boss recalled our pivotal conversation in helping him to better understand the unique role and needs of women in medicine. I am thankful to this day,” she added.

She became a faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences in 2010, serving as the Family Medicine and Continuity Clinic (from 2013) Clerkship director until taking her current position. She won the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award from the Gold Humanism Honor Society’s WSU chapter in 2012, and the American Academy of Family Physicians Program of Excellence Award in 2012, 2013 and 2017. She has also won various teaching awards from WSU, including the Faculty Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching in 2017.

When she transitioned to working at the university, her department co-chair came to her office on the second day, saying that they needed to talk about her career.

“Barely having a pen on my desk and feeling pretty good about this major career transition, I was baffled and asked him what he meant. He pointed out that my CV had a sizable time gap during which publications were scant. When he asked what happened there, I replied, ‘I had three kids,’” she said.

What does she think of being a woman in medicine and science?

“I think having the additional letters M.O.M. behind my name and the unique struggles that represents in achieving meaningfully in the scientific world allow me to bring an important perspective clinically and academically,” Dr. Chadwell said.

While having no regrets, she said she worked hard in the ensuing years to compensate for the perceived deficit.

“I think the attrition rate for women in academic medicine is high because of the convergence of family and professional demands without the accommodation of alternative work schedules to retain their talent. This is certainly unfortunate, but perhaps remote work arrangements learned during COVID-19 will change all that for the better,” she said.

During the last two years, with support from the School of Medicine, she has been part of the Women in Academic Medicine Leadership Scholars Program at the University of Michigan Medical School and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

“This experience has been invaluable at this stage of my career and during the pandemic to hone new skills for the benefit of those that I serve. To all the women in medicine and science out there, I encourage you to stay the course and do what it takes to stay inspired and true to your calling in all spheres,” she said.

Her greatest joy now is working with and building relationships with medical students. “Their creativity, enthusiasm, intellect, curiosity and commitment to succeed in medicine energizes me. Being in a position to provide support for them in any way possible and watching their incredible professional identity transformation through medical school to becoming a physician is an honor I don’t take lightly,” Dr. Chadwell said. “Even with all the challenges, I am deeply grateful for this providential opportunity and take much more pleasure in the accomplishments of our students than my own. I also cherish the amazing Student Affairs team that supports me every day and cares for our students as much as I do, and my exceptional colleagues on the leadership team.”

With more than 50% of WSU medical students being female, underscoring their place in medicine and science sends an incredibly important message of support and value. “I am always mindful of this when meeting with students and count it a privilege to walk part of their journey with them,” she said.

And was the effort all worth it? Besides her professional relationships, Dr. Chadwell enjoys the strong bonds she has with each of her three grown children now starting to launch their own careers and families. The steady partnership of her spouse, with support from her extended family and church community provided the framework for her accomplishments. “My parents, who are my daily prayer warriors, have often remarked that I’ve already packed three lifetimes of effort into one, but God gave me the passion and strength to do it and I believe I am called to use all I have been given in service to others,” she said.

This is the latest in an occasional series of articles spotlighting women at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in honor of Women's History Month.

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