It is a strange time to be in medicine, and an even stranger time to be a woman in medicine. Our nation has been thrown into a pandemic for which we were unprepared where the majority of frontline (Rho, et al, 2020) essential workers are women. Unfortunately, during times of strife, it is easy to fall back into old habits (Agarwal, 2020) and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated inequalities (Villarreal, 2020) for women at many levels. The impact of this public health crisis on women has the potential to reverse years of progress towards gender equity.
Gender imbalances (Jain, 2019) in healthcare have been well documented and researched for decades and include disparities in award (Silver, et al, 2018) nominations, pay (Paturel, 2019), promotions (Nonnemaker, 2000) publications (Silver, 2018) and the size and number of grants (Oliveira, et al, 2019) awarded to women. The Association of American Medical Colleges (2013-2014) reported that only 21% of full professors, 16% of deans and 15% of department chairs were women in 2014. At that time, women made up 46% of medical school applicants, and 38% of full time academic medicine faculty. These types of inequities have only widened in the wake of the current global pandemic, and the effects of this crisis on women are likely to persist even after it has passed.
Women take on the bulk of unpaid family care at home and with the added challenge of social distancing and the loss of childcare, this burden has only become more exacerbated. In the United States, the majority of unemployment applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic in many states were women (Scharff and Ryley, 2020), coinciding with school closures and stay at home orders. As we eventually emerge from this pandemic, there is concern that with a depleted job market, men in more lucrative industries will compete for roles typically filled by women. Women may also need to wait to start the job search until childcare and care for sick family members has been arranged. Women represent 70% of the global workforce, however as health care resources are depleted, essential services such as maternal care and reproductive health services (United Nations, 2020) may not be available leading to more health problems. Yet despite these barriers, through crisis and challenges, women across the globe have continued to demonstrate resilience, grit and incredible strength and there is hope and a path forward.
During this pandemic, cities, states and countries with women leaders (Anderson, 2020) have shown disproportionate levels of success, despite the fact that only 7% of heads of state are women. Women across the globe are exemplifying authentic leadership and are showing the world that not only do women lead, but women lead exceptionally well. These prominent leading women are a step toward dismantling the implicit biases that have been forged for decades where the default (Biddle, 2018) leader is seen as a man. The path forward towards an equitable system requires identification of these inequities and an intentional plan to address the disparities that permeate our health care system. In order to change the narrative that only men are successful leaders, it is important to celebrate the amazing women leaders (White, 2020) who have emerged in this pandemic and amplify their accomplishments to begin to change the narrative.
The Women in Medicine Summit (WIMS) was created to empower women by providing education, opportunities for networking mentorship and sponsorship, and inspiring women to take control of their futures by learning skills to help them achieve success. The Summit has evolved to now include an annual conference, monthly webinars, take home skills and tool kits, an international social media platform, and tangible results that have helped women from across the country achieve leadership success with personal and professional development. By developing content and specific programming for medical students, trainees and early career physicians, as well as for those already in senior leadership positions, the Summit aims to empower women at all parts of their training and careers. By inspiring, educating and motivating women at different points in their careers, the WIMS is creating networks of women from across the country who are not only equipped to fix the system, but empower and educate others to do the same. By creating specific programming meant for allies, the HeForShe track educates and empowers male allies to work together with their colleagues to fix the system, not the women. The Summit provides toolkits and action plans for attendees to take back to their organizations and institutions with the purpose of making meaningful change. Members of the steering committee, faculty and attendees have published extensively on the topic of gender equity in healthcare and through continue academic pursuits with the purpose of further understanding and working to correct these inequities in medicine. In this compendium are pieces written by invited faculty speakers from the 2019 and 2020 WIMS. These thought leaders share their expertise on the evolution of empowerment that has occurred in medicine, and ways to achieve equity in healthcare utilizing evidence, science, and authentic leadership.
There are ways in which we can emerge from this pandemic with new structures in place that work to erase the systemic sexism and structural inequities that have been built in to the hierarchal infrastructure of medicine and healthcare. However, in order to truly make a difference and not lose ground in the equity space, it is essential leaders at all levels are purposeful in the solutions put into place to ensure an equitable and equal environment for all. The evolution of the empowerment of women does not stop with women, it requires male allies, and a thoughtful, well executed path forward to ensure we do not lose ground in addressing the gross inequalities that currently plague our healthcare system. There is hope for an equitable path forward, but we must all do our part to ensure its success.
We invite you to join us virtually at the 2020 Women in Medicine Summit October 9-10. Be a part of the change that is needed for the future of healthcare by equipping yourself with the leadership skills and tools necessary to make a difference. Connect with leaders from across the globe, sign up for personal mentorship sessions and learn skills to enrich both personal and professional development and work towards closing the gender gap that continues to plague our healthcare system.
Shikha Jain, MD, FACP
Agarwal, P. (2020, March 31). How Is The Pandemic Going To Affect Gender Equality. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/pragyaagarwaleurope/2020/03/31/how-is-the-pandemic-going-to-affect-gender-equality/#6e06cbbb5dfd
Anderson, C. (2020, April 19). Why Do Women Make Such Good Leaders During COVID-19? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/camianderson1/2020/04/19/why-do-women-make-such-good-leaders-during-covid-19/#1f3c95d342fc
Association of American Medical Colleges. (2013-2014). The State of Women in Academic Medicine: The Pipeline and Pathways to Leadership. https://store.aamc.org/downloadable/download/sample/sample_id/228/
Biddle, M. (2018, August 09). Men are still more likely than women to be perceived as leaders, study finds. University at Buffalo. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180809144524.htm
Jain, S. (2019, September 27). Can Gender Disparities in Health Care Be Fixed? U.S. News. https://www.usnews.com/news/healthcare-of-tomorrow/articles/2019-09-27/commentary-how-to-help-women-rise-up-the-ranks-in-medicine
Nonnemaker, L. (2000). Women Physicians in Academic Medicine — New Insights from Cohort Studies. The New England Journal of Medicine, 343, 399-405. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM200002103420606
Oliveira, D.F.M., et al. (2019). Comparison of National Institutes of Health Grant Amounts to First-Time Male and Female Principal Investigators. JAMA Network Open, 321(9). https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.21944
Paturel, A. (2019, April 16). Closing the gender pay gap in medicine. Association of American Medical Colleges. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/closing-gender-pay-gap-medicine
Rho, J.H., et al. (2020, April 07). A Basic Demographic Profile of Workers in Frontline Industries. CEPR. https://www.cepr.net/a-basic-demographic-profile-of-workers-in-frontline-industries/
Scharff, X. and Ryley, S. (2020, April 08). Breaking: Some States Show Alarming Spike in Women’s Share of Unemployment Claims. The Fuller Project. https://fullerproject.org/story/some-states-shows-alarming-spike-in-womens-share-of-unemployment-claims/
Silver, J.K., et al. (2018). Assessment of Women Physicians Among Authors of Perspective-Type Articles Published in High-Impact Pediatric Journals. JAMA Network Open, 1(3). https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0802
Silver, J.K., et al. (2018) Women physicians underrepresented in American Academy of Neurology recognition awards. Neurology, 91(7). https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000006004
Villarreal, A. (2020, April 11). Coronavirus pandemic exacerbates inequalities for women, UN warns. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/11/un-coronavirus-pandemic-gender-inequalities-women
United Nations. (2020, April 09). Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women. https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/policy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_women_9_april_2020.pdf
White, T. (2020, May 12). Women leaders shine during COVID-19 pandemic. Scope. https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2020/05/12/women-leaders-shine-during-covid-19-pandemic/