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National Women Physicians Day 2023

February 3, 2023  |  Posted by ABIM  |  Uncategorized

In recognition of National Women Physicians Day—which is celebrated on the birthday of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849—ABIM asked some members of Governance to reflect on the current landscape for women in medicine. ABIM Governance, which includes the Board of Directors, the ABIM Council, Specialty Boards and Approval Committees, comprises nearly 50% women, demonstrating ABIM’s commitment to increasing representation across Governance.

Why is it important that women are in leadership roles in medicine?

Kimberly A. Bell, MD, Hospital Medicine LKA Approval Committee: Women make up 50% or more of the world population. As such it is incredibly important for aspiring female physicians to see physicians who look like them. Representation matters!

It is equally important for aspiring male and female physicians to observe, interact and identify with women physicians. 

Laura Dingfield, MD, MSEd, FAAHPM, Chair of the Hospice and Palliative Medicine Advisory Committee: Female leaders in medicine serve as crucial role models for female physicians-in-training. They serve as mentors and sponsors for junior women, are in positions of power to advocate on important issues like pay equity, and bring fresh and inclusive perspectives to workplace culture that benefit all employees. I am incredibly grateful to the women leaders in medicine who have supported me throughout my medical training and career.

Laura E. Evans, MD, MSc, Chair of the Critical Care Medicine Board: It’s important that leadership reflects the profession as well as the population to ensure that different perspectives are represented. Women in leadership roles can accelerate changes that reduce inequity and promote diversity in medicine. Additionally, women in leadership can be critical for mentoring and role modeling in medicine. It is much more difficult to be what you can’t see, so seeing women in leadership is very powerful for younger people in medicine. Women in leadership can play a key role in identifying opportunities and sponsoring talented junior persons in medicine.

Marianne M. Green, MD, ABIM Board of Directors: Women make up over half of the health care workforce, yet they are underrepresented in leadership positions—especially senior leadership positions. This can lead to a lack of diversity in perspectives and decision-making. Women in leadership positions also serve as role models for other women in medicine, inspiring them to take on leadership roles themselves.

Scharles Konadu, MD, Gastroenterology Board: It shatters the glass ceiling, ultimately revealing a mirror for women early in their own careers. It creates a new aspirational benchmark, one that is no longer considered unrealistic to reach.

Ann LaCasce, MD, Medical Oncology Board: Having women in leadership roles in medicine is critical for the field of medicine. With the rising number of female physicians, strong role models and mentors are necessary to promote and guide the next generation. Women often bring a different leadership style which may be more inclusive and foster collaboration.

June M. McKoy, MD, MPH, JD, MBA, LLM (Hons), Geriatric Medicine Board: Increasingly, more women are entering the field of medicine. Young women physicians need a cohort of women leaders that they can emulate. Women bring a myriad of skills to leadership, including a very strong ethical framework and superb organizational skills. As we consider issues of burnout and wellness, we need to hear from women leaders how to balance family, childrearing and the practice of medicine; if we do not harness the untapped potential of women physicians, girls from generation X might walk away from medicine to the detriment of future patients.

Margaret Pisani, MD, Chair of the Critical Care Medicine LKA Approval Committee: Women bring diversity to leadership roles. They bring a unique lived experience that can inform important decisions in medicine whether related to how a practice is run, the structure of training programs, or how to face challenges related to pandemics or access to care for all.

Nancy Reau, MD, Gastroenterology Traditional, 10-Year MOC Exam Approval Committee: Setting an example is imperative. Inspiration is nondenominational, but having someone that you can see yourself becoming is incredibly important. Demographics are changing. Today’s incoming medical classes often have a female majority. It is important to make sure these women realize their potential by not just setting an example but also by being in a position where we can provide the resources and support to see them succeed.

What has changed for women in medicine during your career? What hasn’t changed and needs to change?

Dr. Bell: The major change for women in medicine is that by our presence we have normalized female physicians practicing medicine. This in turn has led to more leadership opportunities for female physicians as chief medical officers, chief operating officers and chief executive officers of many health care institutions. What has not changed? There is still a glass ceiling in medicine. The percentage of female faculty, professors and executives is far below our numbers in the field. We need more sponsorship of female physician leaders to break down the glass ceiling.

Dr. Evans: There are more and more women in medical school, but women still represent a minority of faculty members, especially senior faculty. This is changing; it’s no longer rare for me to be the only woman in a meeting, but it has a long way to go. Every woman physician I know has experienced moments where an assumption that they are not a doctor is made by patients or staff. I hope this is changing over time, and I know it still happens. The idea of physician wellness and work-life balance is no longer a forbidden topic and progress is being made, but we need workplace policies that recognize and accommodate the realities of life. A good example of this is that prior to COVID-19, there was an implicit assumption that even if you were ill, you would come to work, and most workplace systems lacked a mechanism for coverage for personal or family illness. I think COVID highlighted that this is unsustainable and needs to change.

Dr. Green: There has been progress made in representation of women in leadership positions and an increasing recognition of the challenges of balancing a demanding career and family life; however, the women I talk to continue to feel that they carry the larger burden when it comes to family responsibilities. We need to find ways to support women’s career trajectories in a way that allows them to succeed at the workplace and at home.

Dr. Konadu: Women are in more leadership roles and there are more women in subspecialty. What needs to change drastically is the lack of support during family planning stage, pregnancy and postpartum. Maternal leave is almost nonexistent in the private world sector and is suboptimal in academia. Often times women feel they have to choose between starting a family and advancing their careers. For those who do choose to start a family they still have to choose between nurturing their children versus nurturing their careers. A work environment that invites and encourages women to develop their careers without compromising their home life is sorely needed.

Dr. LaCasce: Since I became an attending physician—now more than 20 years ago—I certainly see more women in leadership roles, though we have a long way to go. In academic medicine, the number of women who are full professors and leading departments is far too small. In order to recruit and retain the best and brightest in medicine, we need to have a diverse group of leaders with whom trainees can identify and feel supported.

Dr. McKoy: Unquestionably, women physicians are speaking out more. They have found their voices and will no longer be silenced. Women are slowly assuming leadership roles in medicine, but these roles are usually in the midlevel range- namely, roles in which they are supporting their male counterpart.  Women need to be considered for deans and provosts’ positions. Search committees tasked with filling these upper echelon positions in academic medicine must include women to ensure equity at the table. To be sure, until women physicians have representation at all levels, the status quo will linger.

Dr. Pisani: While there are many more women in medicine and even in leadership from when I graduated medical school, there are still far too many women who leave medicine, aren’t considered for leadership roles and who are not supported in their careers. We need to keep moving the needle on these issues. In addition, sexism and harassment of women is still a frequent occurrence and we need to be diligent about addressing it.

Dr. Reau: Medicine is becoming more inclusive and supportive and not just for women. There is a focus on life balance and academic pauses at times when you need a little protective time but you still want to keep your career on track. Yet, there is still pay inequality and challenges on how to reward “nonbillable hours”. Our best educators and researchers still struggle in an environment where clinical productivity remains most rewarded.