The future is female.
Katherine Sharkey, MD , PhD, was a resident in Rush University Medical Center’s combined medicine and psychiatry program when she had her two sons, Nick and Alex. No problem, she figured—she was already used to staying up all night.
“I got my butt kicked,” she recalls. “You’re not on call every night. With a baby it’s every night.” But as a neuroscientist, the ordeal piqued her interest—she’d been studying sleep since her first job out of college, as a research assistant in Brown’s Sleep for Science Research Lab—and she’s worked at the intersection of circadian rhythms, mood, and women’s health ever since. Now an associate professor of medicine and of psychiatry and human behavior, and the medical director of the University Medicine Sleep Center, Sharkey (whom everyone calls Katie) is studying whether light therapy for pregnant women will improve their mood and even lower their risk for postpartum depression.
“When pregnant women complain that they’re not sleeping well, people say one of two things: ‘Well, of course, you’re pregnant,’ or ‘Just wait, it’s going to get worse’— neither of which are helpful,” she says. “So that really gets ignored as a problem.” Just as Sharkey advocates for women patients, she speaks up for her female colleagues, too, as the assistant dean for women in medicine and science. She says her office’s professional development and educational programming helped her navigate a “challenging work environment for young women with young kids” when she arrived at Brown 10 years ago. R eflecting on the office’s continued relevance, Sharkey says, “The fact that it exists acknowledges the fact that we’re not done.”
She adds, “It would be great to not be needed. But … there are a lot of people who don’t believe that women can contribute.”