Time out with T.O. - One successful woman

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC public relations (retired) | June 09, 2020

Image with caption: Sasha Shillcutt, M.D.

Sasha Shillcutt, M.D.

Sasha Shillcutt, M.D., is on a mission to help more women become leaders.

For women to advance their careers, Dr. Shillcutt said they often can face backlash, as it requires them to take on some of the leadership characteristics typically seen in successful men.

A passion for writing

Writing has been a passion for Sasha Shillcutt, M.D., ever since she was a student at Blair High School.

She credits one of her teachers, Robert Bair, with being her mentor.

Working as editor of the school newspaper and yearbook, Dr. Shillcutt said Bair encouraged her to "say what you want to say in the fewest possible words..and to start with a story, because people learn better when you tell a story."

Dr. Shillcutt said, "Writing is therapy for me. I've always kept a journal."

When her four children were small, she couldn't find the time to even maintain her journal, and she stopped writing for seven years.

As her children got older, she is thrilled to have regained her passion.

A tenured professor in the UNMC Department of Anesthesiology, Dr. Shillcutt encourages women to embrace their own authentic leadership traits and lead as women.

In February, she released her first book -- "Between Grit and Grace: The Art of Being Feminine and Formidable" -- to provide women with the tools to discover their confidence, step into the arena, and be their authentic selves at work and at home. The book highlights 30 women leaders.

Immediately after the book was released, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. "The book is available on Amazon and in 12,000 Target stores around the country," she said, "but nobody is shopping right now."

Dr. Shillcutt is optimistic the book can gain some traction when the pandemic subsides, but in the meantime, she is spreading the word through podcast interviews. She has done about 20 in the past month.

If her past track record is any indication, don't be surprised if book sales skyrocket.

Dr. Shillcutt already is an iconic figure among women in health care. Her "Brave Enough" blog, which was launched in 2016, is read by more than 118,000 people annually. She also heads a private Facebook group that includes more than 12,000 women physicians. In 2019, she delivered a TEDx Talk ("Resilience: The Art of Failing Forward") that has been viewed by more than 14,000 people.

"Women get the message early on in our careers that if they want to be taken seriously, they need to model themselves after men," she said, noting that 87% of upper level leaders in health care are men, even though 83% of workers in health care are women.

What others are saying

"Dr. Shillcutt's accomplishments span the gamut, and her publications in peer reviewed journals demonstrate many important contributions. From perioperative transesophageal echocardiography to physician burnout to gender equity for women in medicine, Dr. Shillcutt is an accomplished physician and scientist. She is also, as we say in Boston, wicked funny. Dr. Shillcutt's incredible sense of humor stems from her keen intelligence and insight into the human condition."
-Julie Silver, M.D., associate professor/associate chair, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School

"I don't know how she does it! Sasha has accomplished more in her academic career than most accomplish in a lifetime and has simultaneously led and supported several thousand women physicians. Perhaps her greatest strength is her courage to be both authentic and vulnerable. She allows others to feel less alone and to continually feel encouraged and inspired."
-Sarah Richards, M.D., assistant professor, UNMC Department of Internal Medicine, Division of General Medicine, and medical director of patient and provider experience for Nebraska Medicine

"My message is simple -- we need to embrace the gifts and unique characteristics of women leaders," she said. "For example, it's OK for me to take charge one minute and run a code, yet show empathy and compassion with my patient if something goes wrong the next minute.

"We, as a culture, should embrace men and women leaders to be who they are, authentically. A well culture does that. A strong and diverse culture allows women to lead as they are. This allows women to not feel they need to constantly change who they are to please everyone around them."

The word Dr. Shillcutt uses is "perseverate."

She cites her husband, Lance, a physical therapist, as an example. "He comes home after a stressful day and just rolls with it," she said. "He goes out and hits golf balls. He doesn't replay in his mind if he was too strong or too soft in his interactions that day. It got me thinking -- why do I?"

For the past four years, Dr. Shillcutt has held conferences, retreats and webinars and used her blog to provide women with the skills they need to boost their confidence and succeed.

She addresses a plethora of topics including leadership, work-life balance, how to negotiate like a pro, and how to avoid workplace burnout. More than 50 female physicians helped her lead the most recent conference, which was attended by 450 women physicians from 48 states.

A mother of four children between the ages of 7 and 16, Dr. Shillcutt lives on an acreage outside of Blair, Nebraska, less than a mile from the home where she was raised.

She loves writing (posting her blog once or twice a month) and speaking in public about 30 times per year.

Somehow she still manages to find time to use her anesthesiology skills in the OR, where she specializes in advanced perioperative echocardiography.

Before she started her website, Dr. Shillcutt said, "I was too afraid to promote myself, to realize my value and my ability to contribute. Now, I'm a better physician, mother and wife. I lead at national meetings, review articles for peer journals, and have been invited to do research with leaders in my field.

"All I did was speak up, put myself out there and believed in myself."

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Dr. Ann Anderson Berry
June 09, 2020 at 1:49 PM

Dr. Shillcutt, you are an inspiration to a generation of female physicians and faculty. We are lucky to have you here at UNMC! Congratulations on your first book, I can't wait to read the next ones too!

Danielle Thies
June 09, 2020 at 1:31 PM

I can't wait to read this! I'm not a doctor, but find it hard to navigate becoming a female leader when my behaviors are called "aggressive, emotional, etc" but for men, they get a "pat on the back" and a promotion.

Dr. Sheritta Strong
June 09, 2020 at 9:38 AM

Keep doing what you are doing, Dr. Shillcutt. You are inspiring to so many of us. Your grit and grace are some major components of what it means to be women physicians. I appreciate your wisdom and fortitude and that you are willing to share them with me on a personal level.

Jennifer L. Gonzales, MD, FACP
June 09, 2020 at 8:57 AM

I absolutely loved Between Grit and Grace. Dr. Shillcutt really gets to the meat of what women physicians face. The beauty of all this is she makes you realize you are not alone in your struggles. So proud to consider her my friend and thankful our paths crossed when they did.

Lisa Runco
June 09, 2020 at 6:50 AM

It's been amazing to sit back and watch you become what you are today. You are the real deal Sasha. Thankful to have been a part of your world in the beginning.....