Breaking Barriers and Building Success: A Conversation with Dr. Judith Lee-Sigler and Dr. Daneca DiPaolo on National Women Physician Day

In honor of National Women Physician Day, we delve into the experiences and wisdom of two accomplished women in medicine, Dr. Judith Lee-Sigler and Dr. Daneca DiPaolo. From their motivations to pursue a medical career to the challenges faced as women in the field, the interview provides a glimpse into their remarkable journeys. As they share memorable patient success stories and offer advice for aspiring women in medicine, their insights serve as a source of inspiration for the next generation of female physicians.


Q. What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine, and are there specific challenges or triumphs you’ve experienced as a woman in this field?

DR. DIPAOLO: My inspiration was my love of science. I was fascinated with the application of that scientific knowledge to improve/alter human ailments.  The challenge I experienced was the perception that women didn’t really belong in scientific, rigorous pursuits. My triumph was the ability to pursue training and a career that exposed me to some of the best and brightest people. It was a lonely pursuit at times but one that has allowed me to flourish in a field that is truly my passion. 

DR. LEE-SIGLER: I am told that I first expressed a desire to become a physician at the age of five. I know that I have never wanted to pursue any other profession. My pediatrician was a woman, and this may have played an inspiratory role. She was excellent. I remember that she was very smart and direct. I could see the respect that my parents and those around her had for her. Although I never had an interest in general pediatrics, her memory remains with me. 

One of the things that I appreciated during my active and reserve duty service in the Air Force as well as my residency was the feeling that the men and women that I worked with were treated equally. We had equal call, equal duty, equal pay, and equal chance at promotion. I also received great inspiration from other female medical students, residents, and the other female officers that I had the honor to serve with. I feel very fortunate in this regard. 


Q: In celebration of National Women Physicians Day, can you share a memorable patient success story or a moment in your career that highlights the positive impact you’ve had on someone’s life? 

 DR. DIPAOLO: I have been blessed with so many memories and success stories! One young man crashed his motorcycle on New Years, sustaining bilateral complex arm injuries.  I can still see the swarm of family and friends in the OR waiting room anxiously waiting on his status. For 20 some years now, he calls me every New Year and his family sends Christmas cards.  He was the injured one, but he and his family make me smile every time I think of them. 

Also, taking care of the vulnerable. Restoring a child’s hand or leg function; replacing someone’s knee or hip so they can keep working and moving; the look of calm and relief on an elderly patients face when they can get up and walk after fixing their hip. Orthopedic knowledge and skill are powerful and it’s a privilege to be able to utilize them. 

DR. LEE-SIGLER: One of the most memorable success stories that I can share is that of a woman who I met almost thirty years ago. I was asked to see this woman in consultation after the orthopedic surgery and neurosurgeons at our hospital group recommended surgery. She asked if there was any other opinion she could get. At that time, I worked in the Orthopedic department three days per week and the Rehabilitation department two days per week. The orthopedist asked me to see her and give an opinion. I had only been in practice for a year or less. I evaluated her and had a frank discussion with her and her husband explaining that conservative care may not work but that I was willing to work with her if she would work with me. She did and even though we have both moved several times, she keeps up with me, comes to see me occasionally to get my opinion on her exercise program. She never had surgery and takes minimal medication. 


Q: As a female role model in the medical field, what advice do you have for aspiring women who are considering a career in medicine or currently navigating their medical education and residency? 

DR. DIPAOLO: Unfortunately, I still see many of the same barriers affecting women in training now, similar to what I faced. Systems change but human nature often remains the same. The advice I would give women pursuing a career in medicine, including my two daughters (one of whom is a surgical resident and the other currently in med school), is that the goal of acquiring the  privilege to be allowed to touch/diagnose/cure another humans body is a skill that is difficult to acquire but very much worth it to those for whom it is their calling. You need to be able to learn even from bad teachers. Love the process, learn, and persevere. 

DR. LEE-SIGLER: Advice that I have for aspiring women who are considering a career in medicine or are currently navigating their medical education and residency includes the following: 

  1.  It is not easy, but it is so worth the effort. 
  2. Since you know that others before you have done it and been successful, you can too. 
  3. Try not to ever feel sorry for yourself, learn from your mistakes and challenges, give yourself grace, and press on. 
  4. Positive affirmations are really helpful!