At its Nov. 9, 2019 meeting, the MMA Board of Trustees adopted new policy on gender equity in medicine. This policy, based on recently adopted policy by the AMA, was brought forward as an Open Issue at our Annual Conference in September and recommended for action by our Policy Council.
Some might be tempted to argue that adoption of such a policy statement in 2019 is no longer needed or is out of touch with current realities given the presence of women in all medical specialties and various medical leadership positions. Unfortunately, such an argument would ignore the persistent and troubling gaps for women.
Consider the following:
- 70 percent of women physicians report perceived gender bias or discrimination, including disparaging or disrespectful treatment or comments, lack of career promotion, and disparities in resources, rewards, and reimbursement;
- The prevalence of sexual harassment in academic medicine is almost double that of other science and engineering specialties, with almost half of all trainees reporting harassment from faculty or staff;
- Male physicians earn 25 percent more (primary care) to 33 percent more (non-primary care specialties) than their female counterparts;
- The prevalence of burnout may be 20 to 60 percent higher among women physicians than among men physicians.
During testimony provided during consideration of the proposal at the Annual Conference, several attendees shared some of their own experiences – unwanted sexual advances, being passed over for advancements or leadership roles, a recent hospital remodeling project that labeled locker rooms in the operating suite with “surgeons” and “nurses.”
In my own experience at the MMA – although not a direct care environment – I’ve witnessed otherwise well-intentioned men interrupt their female colleagues, question women’s commitment to medicine if they take a leave to raise children, and refer to their administrative or office staff as “office girls.”
The AMA, in response to complaints from physicians, staff, and other female guests at AMA meetings, recently felt compelled to update its anti-harassment policy
to ensure AMA meetings are safe and welcoming to all attendees.
Coincidentally, the MMA board approved its new policy just two days after Esther Choo, MD, one of the founders of TIMES’UP Healthcare
, spoke before a sizable – but mostly female – crowd at the University of Minnesota at the invitation of the medical school’s Center for Women in Medicine & Science
. Choo described the value of a diverse workforce for high-quality health care. She also called for changes in laws, policies, culture, and practices to ensure a safe, equitable, and dignified workplace for everyone involved in providing health care.
I believe organized medicine has an important role to play – to challenge physicians and their practices to embrace policies and a culture supportive of gender equity, and to model the same for its members and staff.
So, what is the MMA’s track record to date? I’m pleased to report that the proportion of MMA members who are women (35 percent) closely reflects the proportion of licensed women physicians in the state (38 percent). In MMA leadership, women are more visible than ever before – including the chairs of the Policy Council and the Public Health Committee. Two-thirds of the voting members of the MMA Board of Trustees are women, and one-third of the elected members of MMA’s delegation to the AMA are women. Among MMA component medical societies, the president-elect of the Twin Cities Medical Society is female as is one of the co-presidents of the Zumbro Valley Medical Society. In addition, 75 percent of MMA staff are women, including the organization’s first female CEO (yours truly).
At the MMA president office level, however, the MMA’s experience is less than stellar. In its 166-year history, only four women have served as president. The MMA’s first woman president, M. Elizabeth (Peggy) Craig, MD, served from 1986-1987. Marilyn Peitso, MD, was elected this year as president-elect and will serve as MMA’s fifth female president in 2020-2021. Of national note, for the first time in its history, the AMA’s three president roles – president-elect, president, immediate past president – are all women.
Equity, of course, is about more than simple male/female definitions of gender. Minnesota’s racial and ethnic health disparities are among the nation’s worst; and, physicians of color and gender non-conforming physicians likely experience bias at even higher rates.
The demographics of the medical profession are changing in important ways – 54 percent of current U of M medical students are female – and those demographic changes hopefully will continue to evolve to reflect the diversity of our population. I hope you will join me in serving as a champion for gender equity – for current and future trainees and for your female colleagues, physician and non-physician, who work to support your organization’s success. Speak up, share your experience, challenge traditions, and seek transparency in organization policies and practices. Medicine – and the care you deliver – will be better as a result.