A boss move: A support group of women doctors is growing throughout the Northwest, West suburbs

Lauren Matteini is the original “Boss Lady Doc.” She's learned she has many kindred spirits.

Matteini, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the spine at Fox Valley Orthopedics, set out two and a half years ago to find a few fellow female physicians in the West and Northwest suburbs. The result has grown into Boss Lady Docs, a multipurpose organization that is a mix of social and professional, with local female doctors providing each other informal support, mentoring, medical consultations, business help and camaraderie.

It was a real boss move by Matteini, given the respectful nickname “Boss Lady” by a resident when she worked at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.

The organization that Matteini started in late 2020, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has grown to 165 members, organized primarily out of the WhatsApp chat in Matteini's cellphone. With that growth in membership, it also has expanded its purpose.

“Prior to Boss Lady group, maybe my colleague in the same office might be the only person that can benefit from my experiences,” said Kushleen Dhillon, a primary care physician at Advocate Medical Group in Elgin, noting that doctors who don't work in hospitals can feel isolated from their peers. “Now there's (164 other) people that can benefit from my shared experience.”

“I have only very high admiration for Lauren and what she has done to create this,” added Shital Tanna, a population health physician at Advocate Physician Partners and Sherman Hospital in Elgin.

A multipurpose organization

What started as a group to help doctors find other doctors to help their patients in the pre-vaccine days of the pandemic has grown into a part-professional, part-social organization.

“It started at a time when we really needed that kind of support,” Tanna said.

At first it was just the chat group and, of course, Zoom meetings. Then the vaccines became available, and they decided they wanted to meet each other in person in a social setting. They vary the sites in different parts of the area so nobody has to drive too far every time. One time it's the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, another it's a bar in South Elgin or Elgin.

“We have the ability to access every person on this chat group to help our patients,” Matteini said. “And so that's kind of how it grew. It grew into this messaging system where we can all just use each other for good, for each other and our patients.”

The group grew to about 25 women after the first meetup and has continued to grow informally since. Matteini just kept getting requests to add new members to the group.

“Everyone knows you text me the cellphone number, who they are, spelling of their name, where they practice and what their subspecialty is. And I keep track of everyone. I'm the admin,” Matteini said.

The in-person meetings are informal. Not everyone attends, but there's always somebody new at their outings. Many come from work still dressed in scrubs. Others work from home and choose to get dressed up for a night out. The exception is the holiday party, where RSVPs were requested and Matteini addressed the group.

Otherwise, there's no agenda. Just meet and have fun and talk about whatever.

The Boss Lady Docs pose for a group photo at a recent social event. Photo courtesy of Lauren Matteini

The group is nonpartisan and apolitical, but they will talk about issues facing them in their practices across the many hospital systems or for those in independent practices, including how changes in abortion laws affect their practices and how to handle it when a hospital system makes significant changes to its anesthesia department.

“No one's judging you, no one's going to judge you, no one's going to tell you you're wrong. We're there to support each other, to learn about different things in the area,” Matteini said.

The group is decidedly noncompetitive. Contacts are not there to market anyone's practice, whether they be in solo practice or part of a large health system.

“Part of the ability of this group is for all of us to share certain experiences and use each other to bounce ideas off of,” Matteini said. “We're still struggling in the workplace with certain aspects of health care, whether it be administration or cuts or lack of access for our patients or having an issue with other colleagues or people in the hospital, men or women. Or patient experiences.”

The group members also help each other find internships for students and mentor young doctors. Some members have been practicing for 30 years, others are new to the profession.

“It's a resource, and it's a resource like no other for a lot of these doctors who've never had that,” Matteini said. “The hospital doesn't really give you the ability to know who's accessible, who's not, who's got space, who doesn't, who wants students, who can have students.”

Doctors helping doctors

There's a lot of value in the meetings for the doctors that goes way beyond networking, however.

“For me it really became a huge part of my month. I always make sure I have it penciled in and nothing is coming in between me and my meeting with my (Boss Lady Docs) friends,” Dhillon said. “It's great. I have known physicians for many years, but now there's a face. There's a personal communication.

“For my patients it's so, so much helpful for them because I can literally text my specialty doctors and if somebody has access problems - which a lot of patients are having now in terms of getting in with a specialty doctor - it makes a huge difference, when my patients call and say, 'I'm calling from Dr. Dhillon's office.' And the staff at the other office already knows who are the physicians that are frequently referring patients and they will make sure that patient gets taken care of.”

But perhaps the best aspect of the group is that it has kept women doctors from leaving the profession. For women especially, it's difficult to manage raising a family while juggling a difficult and time-consuming job.

Matteini said she's been told by members that Boss Lady Docs kept them from quitting. They are, she said, practicing physician wellness as well as helping their patients.

“If there's some who feel like they wanted to stay and they didn't know how to and they didn't think they had the ability to or the emotional support to or whatever, there's a few of them who've found that here,” Matteini said. “And more than one of them has said that. And I think it's really cool.

“I didn't know I was doing that, but, you know, it's nice.”

It's very boss.

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