alert icon Coronavirus
Now scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments for ages 12+
Schedule a vaccine appointment
COVID-19 vaccine FAQs
New visitation hours
Need a COVID-19 test before travel, school or childcare?

Linda Bradley is an internationally recognized gynecologic surgeon and Vice Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Health Institute and Professor of Surgery at Case Western Reserve University Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. She holds innumerable publications and teaching awards and in addition to many leadership positions in national organizations and at Cleveland Clinic. In this conversation Linda opens up about critical moments in her career, the importance of speaking the truth, and unique barriers that women often face with communication.

Subscribe:    Apple Podcasts    |    Google Podcasts    |    SoundCloud    |    Spotify    |    Stitcher    |    Blubrry

Linda Bradley, MD

Podcast Transcript

Dr. Cara King:
Hi, my name is Dr. Cara King, and my cohost, Dr. Mary Rensel and I, want to welcome you to the Women's Professional Staff Association podcast called Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs. In this podcast, we'll share conversations with women doctors from all career stages and practices, exploring the highlights and challenges of being a woman in medicine. We hope these thought provoking stories inspire you and provide insight into the unique challenges and accomplishments of remarkable women docs.

Dr. Cara King:
Welcome back to Inspirations and Insights. We hope you all are having a fantastic week. The days are slowly getting a little bit longer, which feels so good. We are excited to have Dr. Linda Bradley on our show today. Linda is an internationally recognized gynecologic surgeon within the Women's Health Institute and was the very first African-American woman to join the Cleveland Clinic staff over 25 years ago. She has innumerable publications and teaching awards, and has truly revolutionized the field of gynecology. We hope you enjoyed this riveting conversation as Linda opens up about critical moments in her career, the importance of speaking the truth, and unique barriers that women oftentimes face with communication.

Dr. Cara King:
So, I am so excited to have Dr. Linda Bradley on our WPSA podcast today. Linda, thank you so much for your time and welcome.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Thank you, Cara, for this wonderful invitation.

Dr. Cara King:
Linda, I'm going to jump right into things this morning. You've had an absolutely incredible career, as you've integrated life-changing advocacy work, tremendous clinical care, robust research, medical and surgical education, all while integrating your home life. You really are a superwoman. I don't know how you have done it. I'm curious, as you have lived through this truly amazing journey, have you had any critical moments or lessons in your life that have changed the direction of your career?

Dr. Linda Bradley:
That's a really good question. What changed my life and my career, is when I decided to give up obstetrics and come to the Cleveland Clinic. I was at another hospital, University Hospitals (at) Case Western (Reserve University). I was Residency Director, believe it or not, over there for about three years. But I decided because of the scope of the practice, the true work hours, which are different than today, that sleep deprivation, literally running to six different hospitals, three to four of which did obstetrics, my children were young, between ages, at that time, two and four, that it was too much. I literally, for the sake of my health, my psyche, my marriage, and my kids, I don't know in which order, I had to stop being on the treadmill. I decided literally, very impulsively, to walk into the boss and just literally say, "I can no longer do this."

Dr. Linda Bradley:
That's how I stopped doing obstetrics. There really wasn't big opportunities for GYN only. Then the long story is I came to the Cleveland Clinic where there was no obstetrics at the time and was able to parlay my interests and the growing new technology, specifically with hysteroscopy, into my passion. So, saving my life, saving my family, my marriage, was important. For me, it wasn't money, I could have made more money potentially, but it was just never being able to get rest, or being chronically fatigued, sleep deprivation, always living on the edge of your phone to run for delivery. The life of an OBGYN 25 or 30 years ago was very different than the life for young physicians now, that when you're off duty, you're off and someone else picks up, it was not like that. Literally, you could be up for 30 hours straight and still going to work the next day. If you really want to know, I could not handle all of that, inhumane work circumstances.

Dr. Cara King:
I can't even imagine where your mind and your brain must have been then. When you go into general OBGYN, you're very typically passionate about both sides. It must've been a really big self-reflective moment for you to come to that conclusion, where I just can't do this. I think you make a really good point, and knowing your boundaries and knowing what's too much.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Absolutely.

Dr. Cara King:
How did your family handle that? I know that your husband is also a physician, which adds a whole other element to difficulty maintaining everything. Did you and your husband talk about this? Was that very much a personal, you said it was more of an impulsive type, I can't do this anymore. Tell me where your mind was when you came to this conclusion.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Well, I didn't ask him for permission. It was literally like a sneeze. I just walked in, I had maybe had been up all night the nights before, and I just said, "I can't do it." Certain jobs back then, there just was no flexibility. It was either all or none, so I just decided to quit. I didn't get fired, I didn't have a major lawsuit, there was nothing except for not being able to be a good parent, and a good wife, a good community person, a good daughter. So, I really didn't ask him. It was actually quite frightening. After I let the words out, I'm like, “ooh, I'm not sure”, over the next day, maybe I got a good night's sleep, but it was the right decision, ultimately.

Dr. Cara King:
That takes incredible courage. That embodies you, that is you to a T, in that I feel like you just really, like I said, know your boundaries, and even though it can be scary, it was the best for your health and the best for your family. I applaud you. You truly are a role model on how to make all this work and understand what your body can take and what you can't. Amazing.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
But you know, the beauty now for young women and young men is that there's conversation. Before, literally, it was just all black and white. You either did it and sucked it up and worked hard, or you couldn't do it. So, it's wonderful, sometimes I look back and I don't want to sound melodramatic, but almost like post-traumatic stress. Now, what would happen? Today's conversation would be so different. You talk to your chairman, you look at work-life integration if we want to use that, can we try for three months? Work with your team.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
I think there is beauty in change. I don't think nowadays that young women or young men would have to have an either/or. I think it's a loss when women step out of the workforce for jobs not making accommodations. I think there are many ways to be creative about this, to still be a team member, to get the work done, so the beauty is that we have evolved into a newer dynamic at the job for most women to be able to not have to make that ultimate sacrifice that I did, to just quit.

Dr. Cara King:
I also think you make a really good point, that Cleveland Clinic, you and I, we are really lucky to be here in a very innovative and creative environment, where just like you said, if we are having issues like that, we can go to our chair, have that discussion, get creative with non-traditional clinic hours or some type of better integration. What I want to make a point is that, if you're at a different institution, you're feeling those things, you talk to your leaders and you're not getting that support, look elsewhere, don't you think? Don't just go with it. Understand your boundaries and look outside maybe.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Yeah. That's been the beauty of the WPSA. I think fondly back, many people on the call may not remember the Founder's Room, but I just remember a group of, I won't name them, but we had about six of us sitting having dinner and just talking about putting women forward in our institution, holding each other up, showing our muscles, show me what you're going to do, tell me what you're going to do. I'm so happy to see where we as women in the Cleveland Clinic have gone and are going. I am proud of the WPSA’s accomplishments, that we have every year, every president, every group, has taken on the task. It doesn't happen overnight for things to flip, but really we've made great strides into women's ability to work, part-time, job sharing, breastfeeding, all these kinds of things, equal salary, being a part of many different search committees, boards, committees, and the community, even moving up to where Dr. Ridgeway (Beri Ridgeway, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s Chief of Staff) is, you know what I'm saying? It's really wonderful.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
I remember a poem from high school, I'm very bad at the author, but the symbolism goes something like this, where a farmer plants a seed for a tree that he will never see bloom. Basically, the people of a certain generation have really sewn a lot of seeds here to be then nurtured and fertilized by so many other people that follow each of us. We now are seeing the blossoms and the flowers of the work that was put in decades ago. So, we all stand on the shoulders of many good women and good men. I just think it's hard to talk about, as my children would say, “the olden days”, but it was very different here. I'm glad to see these new transitions.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
My mentor, Dr. Gidwani (Gita Gidwani, MD) God bless her, she was the first woman in our department. She had two boys and she used to have to hide them in the closet (in her office) when she came in to do rounds. We don't do that, we bring our kids through, of course if it's appropriate. But just listening to different stories, I know we've come a long way. It's great to live here, live in this space now, to be in this space. We often say, when you and I drive, how do we drive? We drive looking through the front mirror, but you do have to look in your rear view mirror sometimes to see where you've come from and what's behind you. So, you can't forget your past. It's not that we have to dwell on it, but I think each of us, if you go back and look at the history of this place, it was very different, but we haven't stayed stuck. Our institution and our enterprise is moving forward, sometimes at a pace that's a little slow for me, but we're moving and that's important.

Dr. Cara King:
Continuing to lift as we climb, you're right. You all have paved the way to make our world, my generation's world, completely different than what you went through. Linda, I remember this last year, very distinctly. I had my third baby last year and I came in a couple of weeks after Gus was born for a meeting and I found you, I had Gus swaddled to me. You looked at me with these eyes that, you were so proud that I could come to work with my baby on me, and go to this meeting, and it was accepted. I just remember you telling me, I am so happy you were here with your baby and I'm so happy you can continue to integrate this. To be honest, I was very self-conscious of it when I came in and you made me feel so much better in that, just normalizing that. It's okay to have a life outside of here. That's healthy. I think you guys paving that way has made our lives completely different, so thank you.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
We're just soldiers in the army and we're fighting the battle to move things ahead.

Dr. Cara King:
I want to talk about, again, your career a little bit. Again, you have done many amazing and tremendous things throughout your career. You have a million different awards. How have you yourself defined success in your career? Has this definition of success changed or evolved over the course of your career?

Dr. Linda Bradley:
That's another great question. For me, success is looking at women's healthcare and pushing it to the next level. Looking for solutions to GYN problems, looking for alternatives to women. For me, I would first say the success is for patient care and to move the needle beyond where we were trained, to see that women have more options for everything, you could even say from birth control to endometriosis treatment, to pelvic floor disorders, to fibroids. So, to me, the success has been looking at moving technology ahead, being involved with early on in my career, a number of companies looking at surgical devices.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Actually, Barbara Levy (Barbara S. Levy, MD) and I were one of the few women at the AAGL (American Association Gynecological Laparoscopy) and years ago, we actually went to the big hall at the convention center and said “measure our hands”, because believe it or not, I used to do laparoscopy and we had the hand morcellator to morcellate tissue instead of the electronic. You needed a big, strong size eight or nine hand. I used to have people to help me squeeze the device. I looked inadequate in the operating room, so we said to the companies, our hands are smaller, measure all the women. We may be a size six to six and a half. I have somebody that's a size five that I know. So, don't forget as you're developing instrumentation, we want to look seamless and flawless in the operating room. So, the success is looking at product development and moving things forward in that direction. The success also for me is looking at, yes, where I have been able to go in my career, but it's often said by many women, "It's nice to be the first, but you don't want to be the last."

Dr. Linda Bradley:
So, yes, I'm the first African-American female staff here at the clinic, but it was never my goal to say, oh, I'm going to talk and advise and recommend certain physicians a few years behind me. So, for me, success is seeing others, black women, women of color, white women, everybody that's a female, really. Also for men, I don't want to leave them out. But in terms of success is seeing our department grow, but our enterprise grow, success is seeing leadership. Right now, you might say, oh my God, she just had a straight path, but my path was very circuitous, it had bumps in it. I don't want someone listening to say, oh, she just had this terrific life. No, there's ups and downs. I celebrate these successes. The last is, as we said before, lift as you climb. I'm always trying to find someone younger giving others opportunity, working with others, saluting others, shine lights on other people and get the lights off of you. I think that's really important.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Then success for me is finally finding a voice and feeling comfortable in my own gut about how I feel, what my opinion is, having an opinion. It may not be popular, but for me, it's hard to believe, before I never spoke up. But now it's like, okay, I think I've been here, done that and I do have an opinion and some insight. It doesn't mean that it's always, like I said, going to be acceptable, but I think that's important and something that counts as success for me.

Dr. Cara King:
I love that. What I'm hearing you say, is the main components of success in your career are, number one, keeping patients as your true north. What I'm really hearing is that all of the things that you're doing research wise or advancing technology, it's all keeping the patients at the center. If you keep the patients at the center, everything else will work out. The other thing I'm hearing you say is be a true sponsor. Absolutely, and that is 100% you, and that spreading the light on other women and men, like you said, but other individuals, it's raising everybody up. I think that goes to heart that you absolutely live those values.

Dr. Cara King:
Now, my next question, you took the words right out of my mouth, Linda, in your honest opinion. So, you are one person that I know I can turn to for your honest opinion. I never worry that you will not speak the truth. Even when it's difficult, I know I can turn to you and you'll genuinely tell me what your thoughts are. I want to know, how do you balance standing your ground with political or administrative pressures if they are contrary to your beliefs or values? How do you go about balancing those two things?

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Another deep question. I don't know if I've answered this, but I just always try to explain my point of view and give examples. Sometimes I like to sleep on things and to think, well, am I really being too unbendable on a certain concept? But I think we all have principles. I'm not afraid to say that there are certain things that I don't believe in politically, or I do believe in, that I just have to try either convince and influence others or have enough people to say you need to look at it a certain way. Then also, sometimes you find out I'm so firmly entrenched in something. Sometimes I have to say, just let it go. Maybe it doesn't make that big of a difference, whatever it is. I find as I'm getting older to, as we would say, pick your battles, like when you're raising your kids. You can't fight over everything with them.

Dr. Linda Bradley:

Sometimes now I am more balanced in saying that I'll pick my battles. Sometimes I'm like Teflon. I just let it roll off. Do I really think this is going to make that much of a difference? Whatever the decision is, if it's not going to make that much of a difference, but I just have a certain feeling about something, then that's fine. If I otherwise am very entrenched in something, then I'm going to try to be a lawyer and turn the case so that you see my point of view. So, that's all.

Dr. Cara King:
You do it brilliantly, and you always offer a lens that's really refreshing. I feel like you're one person that you never just go along with it, you always come in with your own opinions and you do it very tactfully and thoughtfully. In your opinion, are there different communication styles between men and women? Do you ever feel like you have to soften your language because you're a female? I feel this way. I'm from Boston, I'm very East Coast. I have to be very much in tune with the way I discuss things. Do you ever feel that way?

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Absolutely. Even now I still feel that way and I always wonder why I feel that way. I think it's part, we all are socialized, we all have biases. I don't care what kind of family you come from, or dynamics, or college, you're just going to have these biases. Yeah, sometimes you feel like you have to soften yourself as a female. I've been in enough meetings that have heated arguments, and I can just think of in my lifetime, and a man put his legs up on the table, get up and walk around. I felt like I can't do that, but there are times that I'd get angry at a meeting or I feel very opinionated. So, sometimes I look back and say, a guy wouldn't even worry is somebody going to be upset or going to call you a “witch with a B” word. So, yes, I still feel that. Maybe that's where women need to go.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
I look at my son and daughter, a boy gets in a little, I might say fight, but altercation with another kid. Boy, they're friends the next day. Women, sometimes they're not speaking for weeks. Why is that? I don't know why it's like that. There's a lot of beauty about being a female, having the chromosomes that we have. I won't give that up, there are times I cry and I feel sad. It's okay, I'm just finding it's okay to have those feelings. It doesn't make you less than. So, I do think that the communication styles may be different.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
I try now to think before I act, I'm not always good at that. Many people probably listen and say, oh gosh, she doesn't do that, or maybe the old me didn't do that, but I'm much more likely now to just try to count to 10, or let's table this and talk about it tomorrow, and blah, blah, blah. But it's okay to have your opinion it's okay to raise your voice. It's okay to be stern. But yes, to answer your question, we as women sometimes feel like we have to temper it.

Dr. Cara King:
Yeah you're right. We should be owning our opinions, not being embarrassed of that. I also love that you said in that men and women have different communication styles and we should not just try to be like the men. We should own being women. I think you bring up a great point, and that's the importance of having this community such as a WPSA, where you can have these conversations and be empowered to not just try to morph into being a male in those type of situations. So, I really value that.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Yeah. One of the things I must confess when you say this about being a man, I wish I had a picture of my interview dress, a suit that I wore when I applied here. There was a shop called Professional Women or something, and I literally had a man's shirt and a tie or a kerchief. Now I would come in, if I were interviewing, in red or pink or whatever. I'm not going to be obscene, but I just gave this suit away. Why is it in my closet all these years? But I just gave it away because I tried to clean up because of COVID and do some projects. It was stuck way in some closet in another room. I'm like, oh my God, I wore that to my interview. In fact, we should all take pictures of ourselves when we interview and look back five, or 10, or 30 years later, like, okay, what image were you projecting? I definitely was projecting that I'm a man and a woman. I don't know. Nothing feminine about it, everything understated. But yeah, that was funny.

Dr. Cara King:
That's such a good point though. It's a funny story, but that honestly hits directly home, in that, how many women were here on staff when you started? Not many, right?

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Not many. Yeah. I said it now, I would be so far off. We could certainly go back and find out, but it was very few.

Dr. Cara King:
Yeah, very few. I spoke with Dr. Wilma Bergfeld yesterday and she said there were five women when she started here on staff. That's the reality of it. You dressing in a suit with a tie, or whatever it was, you were just trying to fit in with the culture norm at the time. It's pretty remarkable. When we go back to language, I think about this all the time. I'm in the OR most days of the week, and I pick up on subtle things that female residents say that's different than male residents. You know, certain things bother us. The one thing that gets to me is how much female residents apologize. We're always sorry. Like, oh, I'm sorry I was standing there. Oh, I'm sorry, did you need this? Oh, I'm sorry for this. For things that we shouldn't be apologizing for. That's such a buzzword to me, because I think that instantly puts us in a different category when we're always apologizing. I always try to empower my learners to stop apologize. Apologize when it's necessary, but don't have that be your go-to phrase. I don't know, have you noticed that? This is something off the cuff.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
I didn't notice that in the OR (Operating Room), but I do tell you, when we did our fellows interview, reading letters of recommendation, even if you took off the name and took out any he or she in terms of someone writing, I would almost bet you that I could tell you who is a male and who's a female by the letter of recommendation, what's stated, what is emphasized, what's in bold. It would be really interesting to do a study, and I'm sure it's been done, but in our specialty, 85% of people applying for OBGYN I think are women. But I wonder if you went to a specialty like orthopedic surgery, or just find a specialty where there's so few women applying to whatever the subspecialty is, there's more men than women. I bet you if you went to an read an orthopedic letter of recommendation between all those who applied, I bet you, you would be able to tell who was the male applicant.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
I'm really conscious about when I do letters, who are now mostly for women, I don't say anything about kindness. I'll use a different word, but there's too much of this flowery stuff for women in the letters of recommendation. Whereas men, clearly it's decision-maker, thinks under pressure. This is in 2020 for last year. I look at some, it's just fluff. The kids can't see their letters of recommendation, it's just fluff. It doesn't give me like, okay, are they critical thinkers? Do they act under pressure? How do they act under pressure? I've just read so many different things about what people say about candidates that are sexist, if you ask me, and demeaning. I'm going to assume, and maybe the assumption everybody's kind. There's not that many crazy people that are just bullish, but I do hope that, as we move forward, because we are now the influencers, when we write a letter for a resident, to even get a job, to go to a fellowship.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Words matter and I think that we have to be really intentional for everybody, but women in particular, the language that we use, must show leadership, must show all those things that we would ascribe to a good doctor joining our practice. So, I didn't get the idea of, I'm sorry, but that would be somewhere else. Just maybe I just haven't picked up on it, but I'll start looking, but maybe now you've trained them so they won't say it to anyone anymore, but I hadn't seen that, but the letters of recommendation, for sure.

Dr. Cara King:
It's a great point. I bet you, a lot of us may be using those same words in our letters without even realizing it, right? That's a really good point that words matter, and being cognizant, even when we're writing our own letters. So, I think you bring up a point that, again, is built into this entire culture that we need to have a new lens at, and look at differently, and start changing the times moving forward, for sure. Linda, your wisdom, I learn something new every single time we speak. I can't thank you enough. I am so lucky to have you right down the hall from me, truly. So, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it, and we will for sure have you back on our podcast soon.

Dr. Linda Bradley:
Thank you, Cara. I really appreciated this.

Dr. Cara King:
Thank you for listening today. Join us again as we draw inspirations and insights from women doctors, past, present and future. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at WPSA1, that's @WPSA1. This podcast is supported by Cleveland Clinic's Women's Professional Staff Association, as part of the Cleveland Clinic Centennial Celebration.

Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs
WPSA - Insights and Inspirations VIEW ALL EPISODES

Inspirations and Insights from Cleveland Clinic Women Docs

In celebration of Cleveland Clinic’s centennial, hosts Dr. Cara King and Dr. Mary Rensel share conversations with women doctors at Cleveland Clinic, exploring the highlights and challenges of being a woman in medicine.
More Cleveland Clinic Podcasts
Back to Top