HERstory: Dr. Lauren Maloney
auDr. Lauren Maloney joined our Emergency Medicine Faculty in 2019 but has been part of our Stony Brook family for far longer. Dr. Maloney attended Stony Brook University for both her undergraduate and medical school education. She made the decision to stay with Stony Brook and complete her Emergency Medicine residency in 2019 and EMS fellowship in 2020. Dr. Maloney additionally serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook University and the Medical Director for the SBU Paramedic Program. She is incredibly involved with our Stony Brook students as the EMS elective co-director, main instructor for a student course focused on medical device innovation at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Dr. Maloney’s efforts have not gone unnoticed as she is the recipient of the 2019 Society for Academic Emergency Medicine Resident Educator Award, 2019 SAEM RAMS Excellence in Research Award and most recently she has been awarded the EMS Physician Excellence of Suffolk County award. We had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Maloney to learn a little more about her, get some great advice and share lots of laughs.
So diving right on in, how did you end up where you are today [laughing], from the moment we were introduced to you intern year we have heard Lauren Maloney has published more than anyone else, she’s a bad ass flight medic, now she’s winning EMS physician excellence of Suffolk County award and I’m over here being like I can’t even put those words together in a sentence. How do you do it all?
One of the coolest people I ever got to listen to speak was Sally Ride-and of course it was at some super nerdy high school international science fair. She gave this amazing presentation about small opportunities you don’t realize are going to be the life changing opportunities. Saying yes to an opportunity even if it seems minor or trivial may lead you down an unexpected road or provide unexpected connections. It may not be the exact experience you’re signing up for but it’s often the people you meet and what comes from that journey overall.
A lot of these little opportunities involve networking and talking to other people and getting outside your own department, which is why I do a lot of research with Anesthesia, Trauma, and people outside of this institution. I don’t necessarily have a specific research focus (cringe factor)- my point of doing most of my research is it lets me collaborate with people who I want to work with, and who I don’t get to work with everyday. You have to get 1 of 3 things out of everything you do, it either advances you professionally, it makes your heart happy, or it advances you financially. So figuring out what the balance is between taking something small and getting the biggest bang for your buck vs. being completely overloaded is key. It is tough and can be overwhelming so learning at some point to say no is what I am learning to do now. It’s important to be aware that saying no is okay. No is a complete sentence. And I am not sure where that balance is; I’m still working on it and trying to find it everyday.
For people that are just getting started with us having so many resources here at Stony Brook what would be your one big salient piece of advice for them to get started.
Think about what actually makes you happy and then think about what is available. If it’s not available how can you get it to be available? Find someone who can help you get to the next step in making it happen, or someone who can help at least point you in the right direction. Don’t get discouraged if you spin your wheels a bit with the “Stony Brook shuffle,” where you call someone and they have no idea so they transfer you to someone else and then they transfer you to yet another person and it takes the fun out of it. That’s where loving what you do comes in to get you through the energy-consuming
parts of the process. You have to be happy and you have to do things for you, which is tough especially when you’re so used to doing things that you think you should be doing for medical school and residency applications.
When you find yourself in the midst of this craziness and you’re only half way through your shift and the overhead “new patient” in critical is nonstop how do you put yourself in the mindset to keep going?
You have to take a pause and support each other so that if you need to step away for a moment to catch your breath, you can. I had a couple shifts as an intern and it was just one patient after another after another and I found myself saying this is too much, this is my breaking point. At this point you feel like you’re just going to lose it so what do you do? One thing that was mentioned at FIX 2019 was to have a walk up song. You can take 3 minutes to put an ear bud in and have a rotation of 5-6 songs that are just kick ass feel good powerful songs to just refocus and reset. And its okay to take a pause- very rarely can you not take 3 minutes to refocus yourself. It’s insane we get into this crazed vortex that we really believe we can’t take 3 minutes for ourselves.
I think one of the things that prevents us from taking these 3 minutes, especially as an intern is that we don’t want to admit we can’t handle it or be perceived as weak.
Exactly. If you spoke to any other human outside of medicine and told them what your day is like, they would be like, “Excuse me, what is wrong with you, why would you do that to yourself, what do you mean you didn’t use the bathroom today?” The greatest irony of it is in that to take care of other people you have to neglect your own care which is insane but it’s exactly what we do. So we need to break that and learn that it’s okay to take even just those 3 minutes to refocus and reset. Let yourself be human.
Over the past few years what kind of challenges do you feel you have faced as a female in a male dominated profession?
[Laughs] Where to start? I think part of the challenge is knowing that this is my third professional arena in which I am the minority as a woman. I started in engineering and was one of the very few women. When I started in EMS 10 years ago I only knew 3 female paramedics. So the house of Emergency Medicine is actually a more balanced environment than I’ve ever been in, and yet there are still glaring gender inequalities, which is disappointing. The biggest challenge for me is learning how to express myself in a way that’s socially and professionally tolerated, but still effective. It’s frustrating knowing that if I were to ever speak to somebody the way some of my male colleagues are able to, I’m called a “bitch” or “aggressive”, even if it’s a matter of true emergent patient safety. At some point, I’ve come to the realization that I just have to accept that sometimes I’m not going to meet whatever the expectation is for female behavior, at the end of the day, I need to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did right by my patients. It hurt, when you know you’re doing the right thing but someone is perceiving your tone as being too “sharp”. And when you know in your heart that things said to or about you would never would be said to or about a male colleague.
Do you feel like in trying to not come off as all of these negative connotations associated with strong females you end up losing a piece of yourself?
Potentially. So I try and frame it to myself as, what little things can I do so that it gets better over time? The big thing that I think has really helped me get to a point where I am not afraid to be warm and human is the CODE LAVENDER project. One of the Paramedic Supervisors and I started it with EMS where the long-standing culture is stoicism and you do not acknowledge your feelings, no matter what. To the point that even after a patient tried to stab me with a knife, I knew I could not show any kind of emotion or reaction to the event. I finally feel like after 12 years, and getting to where I am in EMS, I can finally give myself permission to be human and acknowledge that a situation was awful and that it’s normal and human to have feelings about it. And knowing that and showing others that it isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help- to the contrary, it takes a lot of courage to say you’re not okay and allow yourself to lean on someone.
So we have 5 new female interns coming in this year which is super exciting, what would you tell these 5 women coming into our program how to deal with being treated differently because they are female.
First and foremost the biggest thing to know is that it is not ok that it happens. But it’s a matter of picking your battles. In many of those circumstances you can be completely correct but you will never win. I have learned this the hard way repeatedly and been frustrated over and over. You have to think to yourself “Is this really worth my energy and mental space?” and if not, let it go as best as you can and just move on. It’s something I haven’t completely mastered myself. It’s important to have someone you trust who you can reach out to when you find yourself in a situation like this. I have 2 or 3 people I can reach out to and vent- this way you can acknowledge the event happened and let it go. Keep in mind there are things that require immediate action and are unacceptable under any circumstances and need to be reported. If you need an advocate, for whatever reason, I’m delighted to help or listen or do whatever I can do.
Knowing everything you know now, if you could go back to Day 1 intern Dr. Lauren Maloney and give her advice what would you say?
Let go of the little things. There are so many things you are not going to be able to change- so focus your energy on what’s really worth it. One of the best papers I ever read was a narrative published in JAMA, written as a letter to a new medical student. It’s a reminder that you are allowed to connect with patients on a human level, you’re allowed to show empathy and love and connection, and that you should have something called a sunshine folder. You are going to have bad days, they’re unavoidable. But keep a folder of things on your phone or computer to remind you why you do what you do to bring sunshine to your soul on those rough days.
Finally, any last minute advice?
Everything comes back to taking care of yourself which is quite possibly one of the hardest things to do. You get stuck in this cycle of doing things because you feel like you have to do them, and this needs to change. Get a primary care doctor, go to the dentist, find what makes you happy and know that it’s ok to do things to take care of yourself.
Lauren Maloney, MD is a Clinical Associate Professor at Stony Brook Emergency Medicine. She can be found on Twitter @medic2erdoc
Amanda Correia, DO is a PGY-2 Resident at Stony Brook Emergency Medicine.