In 1995, the American College of Physician Executives (now renamed the American Association for Physician Leadership) published the first monograph dealing with women physician executives titled Women in Medicine and Management: A Mentoring Guide. At that time, most of the 17 contributors were primary care physicians in middle management or just beginning to transition from clinical medicine to leadership.
Seventeen years later, in 2013, 24 women physicians, most of whom had reached more senior positions, shared their stories in Lessons Learned: Stories from Women in Medical Management: how they chose medicine, why and how they moved into leadership, the value of formal management degrees, and how they balanced work and personal life. The hope was that their experiences could serve as guides for younger women physicians aspiring to executive roles within medicine.
This latest version, Lessons Learned: Stories from Women Physician Leaders, updates the stories of these women and adds nine more, including two young residents who share their hopes for future roles as leaders within medicine. The group is diverse demographically, geographically, and specialty-wise. The women represent virtual every area of healthcare: government, academia, hospitals, provider groups, managed care, professional organizations, the pharmaceutical industry, research, and consulting. A few are entrepreneurs, having started and run their own companies.
The contributors in this update not only share the usual barriers they face as they strive for leadership roles in medicine, but the unique challenges the COVID-19 pandemic created.
In the Foreword of the 2013 publication, the question was asked “Are we there yet?” The Overview of this book explores some of the reasons the answer unfortunately is “not yet.” Almost three decades since the first monograph, woman physicians continue to represent a relatively small group of senior physician leaders.
Since 1915, when the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) became the first national women physicians’ organization, AMWA has recognized the unique abilities that women physicians contribute to medicine. Committed to the advancement of women in medicine, AMWA has consistently advocated for policy reform that would create equitable opportunities for women physicians. Though the number of women in medicine has grown significantly since 1915, there has not been a concomitant increase in senior leadership positions.
Not only is there not one single path to leadership, but there are often hidden roadblocks along the way. The early founders of the AMWA recognized the unique perspective women bring to the healthcare field. From the beginning of the organization, they wanted to empower women physicians, to advocate for collective health practices, and to conduct research directed at the impact of sex and gender in health and disease.
Over the years, the AMWA has created new opportunities for those passionate about medicine. As president-elect of AMWA, I plan to continue this mission, feeling strongly that talented women physicians should occupy as many positions of power as possible within the healthcare system.
The stories collected here by Dr. Deborah Shlian can serve as wonderful guides for younger women physicians. They include those who have attained leadership positions in a more traditional manner as well as those who attained their positions after much trial and error. In their stories, we travel with them as defeat becomes success and a few steps back leads to a different direction.
From these women, we can all learn that that if there is not a path, we can create one. If the path is not well trodden, we must walk it and make it passable for the next generation. If the path is narrow, we must walk with others as we widen it. None of us is on this journey alone. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, beside those who are with us, and for those who come after us.
In deep appreciation for those who have agreed to share their wisdom and their journey.
Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, FACP, FAMWA President, AMWA 2015-2016, 2022-2023
Professor of Medicine, Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership
Foreword from Lessons Learned: Stories from Women Physician Leaders