Women in Medicine conference sheds light on overcoming barriers to achieve gender equity

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Enthusiastic attendees gathered in the Feinberg Conference Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital for the fourth annual Women in Medicine conference on Friday, April 22, which was held in-person for the first time in three years.

The theme of this year’s all-day conference, which was also live-streamed, was “Celebrating Our Voices,” and featured presentations and discussion panels that shed light on the gender disparities that exist within medicine and offered opportunities for attendees to network and share experiences and tools to overcome these barriers.

I do want to acknowledge that it’s been a very tough two years for many of us in healthcare, especially women in healthcare, for a variety of reasons. This has caused a huge emotional toll on our communities and ourselves. I look around the room and see many people that are part of my community, so thank you for being here and for being a part of this community today.”

Cybele Ghossein, MD, vice chair for Academic and Faculty Affairs in the Department of Medicine and co-organizer of the conference

Sarah Friedewald, MD, chief of Breast Imaging in the Department of Radiology, and Angira Patel, MD, MPH, ’10, ’11 GME, associate professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Cardiology and of Medical Education, were also co-organizers.

Kathleen Hagerty, MBA, provost of Northwestern University, delivered opening remarks on the topic of her own professional journey as a woman in business and higher education, the importance of mentorship for women and what society must do to help more women fill leadership roles.

“These kinds of cultural shifts require commitment and true investment in equity. Gender equity in medicine, or in any field for that matter, is not a woman’s issue; it’s a societal issue. To create women leaders, you need the buy in from everyone who wants to understand the barriers that women face,” Hagerty said.

Presentations and Q&A discussions centered on overcoming barriers to leadership, recognizing and mitigating gender bias in medicine, and promoting one’s voice and scientific research in the media.

Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, professor of Pediatrics, of Medicine and of Preventive Medicine, and director of the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma, spoke about how scientific research can be used a tool for advocacy and creating policy change and how conducting scientific research is an attainable and fulfilling career path.

“Figuring out what brings you joy, what your skillsets are, and where can you have the most impact and where can you make the biggest change happen, let them percolate in your mind and you’ll find your direction,” Gupta said.

A panel discussion was moderated by Friedewald, in which panelists talked about recruiting, developing and retaining strong and engaged faculty. Panelists included Howard Chrisman, MD, MBA, professor of Radiology in the Division of Vascular Interventional Radiology and of Surgery; Peggy Kirk, RN, president and chief executive officer of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab; and Thomas Shanley, MD, president and chief executive officer of Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.

In one presentation, Sandi Lam, ’98 MD, PhD, vice chair for Pediatric Neurological Surgery in the Department of Neurological Surgery, discussed the barriers and biases she faced as a woman in neurosurgery, the lessons she learned and why it’s important that healthcare professionals and institutions work to achieve gender equity in leadership.

“It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, it’s because it’s the right thing to do for our patients and it’s the right thing to do for society,” Lam said.

Another panel discussion was about navigating and leading in medicine, and was moderated by Manjot Gill, MD, professor of Ophthalmology and Medical Education.

Panelists included Lam, Amy Krambeck, MD, professor of Urology; Erin Rowell, MD, associate professor of Surgery in the Division of Pediatric General Surgery; and Linda Suleiman, MD, assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Medical Education, assistant dean of Medical Education, and director of Diversity and Inclusion at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University.

Marianne Green, MD, the Raymond H. Curry, MD, Professor of Medical Education and vice dean for Education, delivered closing remarks to this year’s attendees. Green discussed the importance of meaning and growth for women in medicine and how community is essential to achieve both.

“This conference highlights the power of women supporting each other, and I challenge us to take the lessons we’ve learned from this conference and the community that is here and all around us and insist on systems that ensure equal opportunity for all women. We must promote not only mentorship, but more importantly sponsorship for each other. We must build a culture that recognizes not one definition of success, but many, and provides the path that allows for individual priorities and growth to be supported,” Green said.

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