Rochester Medicine

Profiles in Perseverance — Gina Cuyler, MD

Aug. 31, 2019
Women Leaders Share Their Stories

This profile is part of the story Women Unlimited: Closing the Gender Gap in Medicine and Science.

Wanting to know more about concierge medicine, Gina Cuyler, a primary care physician, asked a male colleague about his work in the area, but he shared little information. More recently, after sitting beside a different male colleague for two hours at a lecture, she broached the subject again, but he was no more forthcoming.

But when Cuyler approached a female physician on the topic—someone she had just met—their discourse was casual and fluid. “Possibly the shared affinity of being women facilitated the conversation,” she says.

“Possibly some unspoken bond of having overcome challenges based on being different than the traditional white male physician prototype made it easier to connect.”

Originally from Panama, Cuyler says she knew firsthand about conscious and unconscious bias—both because of her gender and race—through microagressions during her residency and internship in internal medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“I realized you can work as hard as you possibly can, but somebody else’s opinion can result in an outcome that’s different than it should be,” she says. “There isn’t always a concept of fairness.”

Cuyler responded with advocacy work to diversify the face of medicine, work that earned her the University of Rochester Presidential Diversity Award in 2017. She co-founded and serves as president of the Black Physicians Network of Greater Rochester, Inc., a nonprofit agency that matches engaged role models with underrepresented youth who want to pursue careers in medicine—and she serves as a mentor and collaborator herself.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” she notes.

With black female physicians representing about 4 percent of doctors in the U.S., and women representing approximately 39 percent of all physicians, “it would be impossible to find all female mentors for female mentees, given these demographics,” says Cuyler, who also owns a medical consulting firm. “It is even more challenging to find mentors along racial lines.”

Complicating matters, she continues, is the trend of men in leadership roles becoming increasingly reluctant to mentor women in the age of the #MeToo movement, afraid of being accused of harassment. The answer is not in simply pairing women with women, or one race with the same race, in Cuyler’s opinion. It is about building on shared experiences and shared goals.

“We need to create environments where we can give people the knowledge and tools they need not only to thrive, but also to help others be all they can be,” she says. “We need to keep thinking outside the box and encouraging each other.”