animated bubble


Women in Medicine Summit

A few weeks ago, I attended the first annual Women in Medicine Summit, a conference created by some fantastic physicians in Chicago geared entirely towards combating gender inequity. It was a great meeting, and as I’ve been reflecting on the contents, I realize that there are some newer themes facing women in medicine now. When I first started reading about our challenges five years ago, it seemed that almost everything related to leadership, work-life balance, and confidence. Those issues haven’t gone away, but over these two days, we talked a lot about tokenism, advocacy, resilience, and social media, too:

Tokenism: This one is tricky. I used to think that having one woman at the table was better than having none – but now, I don’t know. At this conference, Dr. Julie Silver talked about how “diversity structures” can lull leaders into a false sense of security. Consensus on quotas are mixed. So how do we really fix the underlying problem? I think about this question a lot, and truthfully, I’m not sure. There is plenty of data about gender inequity in medicine, and still, there are folks who refuse to acknowledge its existence – to me, that’s a good starting point. We know that women can actually be hurt by their efforts towards improving diversity, so augmenting allyship is key. Sheryl Sandberg just shared how at least in business, the first manager position might be a worthwhile target.

I don’t have the full solution, but, I can share these words from Ed Yong that always reassure me, because I think they apply in our field as well – in an article he wrote about improving the gender imbalance in his stories, he said:

“Skeptics might argue that I needn’t bother, as my work was just reflecting the present state of science. But I don’t buy that journalism should act simply as society’s mirror. Yes, it tells us about the world as it is, but it also pushes us toward a world that could be. It is about speaking truth to power, giving voice to the voiceless. And it is a profession that actively benefits from seeking out fresh perspectives and voices, instead of simply asking the same small cadre of well-trod names for their opinions.”

Advocacy: At this conference, we heard a fabulous talk from Victoria Medvec, a negotiations expert, about advocating for ourselves. She encouraged us to be unapologetically ambitious and not to undersell; one comment in particular really resonated with me: “If you are interested in a job, put your hand up and apply. It is not your job to evaluate your qualifications; it is someone else’s.” Along these same lines, Dr. Vineet Arora, Christine Malcolm, and Dr. Karen Remley talked about creating a Legacy Statement, and how that exercise can help us figure out what our professional goals truly are. It was a very cool thought experiment, one I’m looking forward to refining now.

Resilience: as I said, this word came up a lot over our two days together. I’ve written before about fear of failure and trying new things, but honestly some days, resilience is aspirational for me. My way of coping has always been to imagine the worst-case scenario and how I would get through that – and let me say, these scenarios can really spiral! When the women on this stage were sharing their stories – the trials they had been through, and the barriers they had overcome – I was truly inspired. It was amazing to get that sense of perspective, and a reassuring reminder that other ladies face bumps in the road, too. One of the things I’d like to focus on going forward is how we can grow our resilience.

Social media: the growth of social media in medicine has been frankly exponential over the past few years, and advocates note it is a useful tool not only for connecting with remote individuals on clinical care or research, but also for general networking and advocacy. My own feelings on social media are mixed – I think it’s a good platform, but I also think it is a considerable time investment when done properly. I will say that every time I log on to Twitter, I see tweets that make me think, and ones that make me laugh, and I appreciate both. Specifically with respect to gender equity, there are several hashtags with similar overarching goals: #BeEthical, #MoreThanOne, #WIMStrongerTogether, #HeforShe, #SheMD, #GenderMoonshot, and of course, this WomenAsOne account (@WomenAs1).

Lots to unpack here, but a final thought I left with is that there are lots of really wonderful people, in every medical specialty, fighting the good fight. We still have work to do, but, I believe there will be a day (hopefully before 2070!), when we no longer need these conferences or campaigns.

The next Women in Medicine Summit will take place October 9-10, 2020.

Save the date!