Published March 25, 2022

It’s 2022. Why haven’t women achieved more equity in medicine, or in other professions? When veteran physician and writer Dr. Suzanne Koven toured the country after the publication of her recent memoir-in-essays, Letter to a Young Female Physician, she expected the stories she told about sexism towards female physicians and patients, the macho culture of medicine, and the difficulty of combining pregnancy and childrearing with a medical career to be of largely historical interest to her younger audience members. It was not.

At event after event she heard young female physicians tell of how inadequate accommodations during pregnancy, childcare and housework unequally shared with male partners, harassment, pay inequity, and imposter syndrome resulting from internalized sexism—all exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic—had contributed to burnout and caused many to leave or consider leaving clinical medicine years before they’d planned to. In this lecture Dr. Koven will examine the long history and current state of sexism in medicine and offer ideas about how policy change, male allyship, medical humanities, and even social media can help dismantle it.

Watch the video from this event:

About the book:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Best Book of 2021

A poignant and funny exploration of authenticity in work and life by a woman doctor.

In 2017, Dr. Suzanne Koven published an essay describing the challenges faced by female physicians, including her own personal struggle with “imposter syndrome”—a long-held secret belief that she was not smart enough or good enough to be a “real” doctor. Accessed by thousands of readers around the world, Koven’s Letter to a Young Female Physician has evolved into a deeply felt reflection on her career in medicine.

Koven tells candid and illuminating stories about her pregnancy during a grueling residency in the AIDS era; the illnesses of her child and aging parents during which her roles as a doctor, mother, and daughter converged, and sometimes collided; the sexism, pay inequity, and harassment that women in medicine encounter; and the twilight of her career during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she traces the arc of her life, Koven finds inspiration in literature and faces the near-universal challenges of burnout, body image, and balancing work with marriage and parenthood.

Shining with warmth, clarity, and wisdom, Letter to a Young Female Physician reveals a woman forging her authentic identity in a modern landscape that is as overwhelming and confusing as it is exhilarating in its possibilities. Koven offers an indelible account, by turns humorous and profound, from a doctor, mother, wife, daughter, teacher, and writer who sheds light on our desire to find meaning, and on a way to be our own imperfect selves in the world.

Community partner

Presented as part of the UVA Medical Center Hour, a program of the UVA Center for Health Humanities & Ethics.


Virginia Festival of the Book staff, volunteers, partners, and attendees appreciate all of our sponsors. It is their crucial support, along with individual donors, that allows us to present the 2022 Virginia Festival of the Book almost completely free of charge. We appreciate the generous commitment from our Premier Sponsor, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and these major sponsors: Michelle and David Baldacci, Dominion Energy, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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With generous support from Michelle and David Baldacci

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