Interview with Professor Valeria Caso (Italy)

1.)What’s your career advice for young women about to take their first steps in stroke research/advocacy/medicine?

My first piece of career advice would be to immediately start building up a network so you can contribute to projects. To be successful,  one needs to take an active part in vibrant and relevant teams that are able to produce remarkable results. Secondly, finding a  work culture best suited for you will ease the strain of strenuous workloads made up of long, tedious hours. Moreover,  mentors have played extremely important roles in fostering the careers of both men and women in the field of stroke.

2.) Did you have a mentor? What is the role of female mentorship?

Unfortunately, I did not have a mentor, like many of my female colleagues. I initiated my career in neurology when there were only a few women in leading positions, and often these female leaders had to struggle in an exclusively male-controlled environment. However, I was fortunate to have worked in an open and fruitful environment that made up for the lack of mentorship . Today, female mentorship is widely sought and can be developed due to the networking that female physicians have been carrying out over the last couple of decades. The role of female mentorship is to promote the participation of female expertise.

3.) What have been major challenges in your career?

During my career, I have had to face many challenges that have included discrimination, power struggles and periods of burn out.  Of the three, the most frequent and problematic has been the second, and this, unfortunately, reflects neglect of our true mission, that of putting the patient first and foremost.

4.) How did you become interested in stroke medicine?

During my 2nd year of Neurology training, my Director sent me to Germany to learn how to set up the future Perugia Stroke Unit. During those six months, my passion for stroke flourished because I was in daily contact with eminent personalities who were passionate pioneers of current day stroke care.

5.)  Where do you see opportunities for women in the field? 

Opportunities for women in the field of stroke exist in areas ranging from research, management and clinical care, and today they are more abundant. And as these areas require diverse talents and personalities, there is something  suitable for everyone

6.) Do you have a career goal?

Yes, I am planning to work exclusively on women’s health in the near future.  This is because, after more than 20 years of working with female stroke patients, I  have realized that women need to be better educated regarding their responsibilities associated with maintaining their health.

7.) What does it mean for you when somebody is outstanding in your area of research or field? Do you agree with the current criteria? 

The current criteria should emphasize interpersonal skills a bit more. Academic success, of course, should continue to be the cornerstone of a leading researcher or clinician, with publications being the factor to consider most.

8.) Do you think leadership in Neurology differs somewhat by gender? If yes, how?

I would say that there tend to be slight differences between male and female leaders in stroke. Specifically, males are often solely focused on conclusions, while females have their eyes on the process and the conclusion.

9.) In your opinion, what are the reasons for a women’s lack of advancement into leadership positions despite no visible barriers?

This topic has received a lot of attention of late, and I am in agreement with most of the hard facts: women favor cooperation, they are more likely to be agreeable, and their family life can often impede upon their careers. I always continue to recommend that we cannot waste female talents due to the leaking pipeline.

10.) As a woman, what is your advice to young female colleagues who feel they are not taken seriously by patients or relatives at work?

Women in medicine tolerate these situations quietly because to speak up may attract backlash.  I would suggest not remaining silent and not listening to those who tell you that respect from patients and colleagues must be earned.

11.) What is the best piece of advice you have received?

The best advice that I received is to believe is to always fight for my ideas and take the risk of failing in trying to archive new goals.

12.) What inspires you?

I am inspired by people working together and brain-storming on how to improve stroke patient care. In times of COVID, I missed hearing the laughter, the smell of coffee and the fun of interaction.

13.) What has been the greatest achievement of your career?

In 2014,  I was elected as the first female president of the European Stroke Organisation. This election allowed me to serve the stroke society and foster the female presence in the leading positions of ESO.

14.) You are recognized/succesfull in your field, in what other field would you like to stand out?

I would like to be an expert on mental health in women to face daily challenges in realizing their professional and personal dreams.

Thank you, Valeria, for this inspiring interview and for sharing your valuable insights with us!