A human rights lawyer with a background in fertility medicine, Dr Romina Santos Reyftmann (BMedSci (Hons) ’02, PhD (Medicine) ’12) was on the path to becoming a surgeon when she discovered she was pregnant with twins. Without the option of deferment and the impracticality of managing intense medical studies while caring for two newborns, she was forced to reconsider her career.
She admits it was a disappointing realisation at the time after spending years studying medicine and building a successful gynaecological surgery and fertility practice with her husband. Yet, she could recognise that she was ‘a square peg trying to fit into a round hole’ and sought the help of a careers counsellor to figure out what to do next.
Now a human rights lawyer forging a rewarding career in discrimination law, she has some useful advice for others navigating a new chapter in their careers:
Honest self-assessment is crucial. You spend so much of your life at work that sometimes it becomes part of your identity. No matter how far you have gone down one path, there’s no point pretending to yourself that a particular career is really for you if it doesn’t suit your strengths or current situation. It was a cathartic process for me to admit to myself that becoming a surgeon wasn’t the right fit.
To get clarity, you really need a third-party observer to help you see your blind spots. A career counsellor will help you to identify your career strengths, interests and goals and can provide insights to align your passions with career paths you might not have considered before.
I recognised that the whole arc of my career has been about service and women’s empowerment. My strengths were pointing towards social work, but I wanted something that was both hands-on and academic, where I could focus on a problem using a methodical and intellectual approach, so that’s how I arrived at human rights law.
Mentorship can be a powerful tool in your career development. Finding the right mentor is about being intentional about where you want to be and not being afraid to ask for help. Many successful professionals are willing to give back by mentoring aspiring individuals.
Before I started law, I trawled the media looking for anything about mature-age women who had gone into law. I reached out to someone who transitioned from business to law, and she was happy to offer an hour of her time to speak with me. Once I finished my law degree, I reached out to her again for more advice on becoming a practising lawyer and we formed an ongoing friendship.
When you're seeking a new direction in your career, one of the most valuable resources at your disposal is your networks. Use LinkedIn to find people who work at organisations you are interested in and tap into any mutual connections that may be able to facilitate an introduction. Sometimes, the right connection can open doors that you might not have found otherwise.
My role at the National Justice Project was facilitated by an introduction from one of my medical school friends who knew the Associate Legal Director. It's about asking a friend of a friend and having the skills to back it up.
Navigating a career crossroads might seem daunting at the time, but it’s also a great opportunity for growth and self-discovery. By being honest with yourself, seeking the guidance of a career counsellor, and leveraging mentorship and networking, you can find the clarity and direction needed to move ahead on a more fulfilling path.
Dr Romina Santos Reyftmann has a Bachelor of Medical Science (Hons) and a PhD (Medicine) from The University of Sydney. Together with her husband, she helped to set up the Illawarra Reproductive Medicine and Laparoscopy Clinic.
Romina later re-trained as a Human Rights Lawyer and has worked with the Aboriginal Legal Service, Redfern Legal Centre and The National Justice Project, dedicating her skills and expertise to discrimination law and pro bono work.
Romina has been able to use the intersection of her skills in science, medicine, and the law, for criminal and civil cases such as coronial inquests, royal commissions, and most recently in a test case that challenges the Australian Constitution with regards to the duty of care question for refugee children held in detention in Nauru.
She is passionate about empowering women and culturally and linguistically diverse communities while championing equity and social mobility.
Romina is open to working with registered charities on a project-to-project basis. Connect on LinkedIn.