February 3 was National Women Physicians Day. Obviously, this is an important day – the pioneering female physicians that paved the way for so many. This date was selected because Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States on February 3, 1849.
Unfortunately, females in the medical industry aren’t on level footing with our male counterparts, even 170 years later. While the number of women doctors gradually increased in the last two decades, 2016 statistics show 35% of physicians are women. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine recently revealed that women doctors earn on average 8% less than their male counterparts. That discrepancy along with nearly a third of women physicians reporting sexual harassment in the workplace and large majority experiencing gender bias. Clearly, there is still work to be done.
This fact is daunting, but we can’t let it distract us from the incredible accomplishments of women in healthcare. This exceptional video from the American College of Surgeons details the career of Dr. Kathryn Anderson, who was the first female director of the American College of Surgeons. She also has also served as president of the American Pediatric Surgery Association in the past. “I wanted to be a surgeon from being about 8 years old,” she has said, “I don’t know why because I had no role models, as a child, in medicine.” That last phrase is striking.
Diana Farmer is another excellent surgeon. She is Chair of Surgery at UC Davis, and a Reagent of the American College of Surgeons. Her outstanding research on myelomeningocele, which is a form of spina bifida, is revolutionizing the way we treat this disease. Farmer has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed research articles, including studies of neuroblastoma, Chiari II malformation, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, fetal trauma and necrotizing enterocolitis. “Dr. Farmer is a worldwide innovator in treating complex birth defects and diseases in very young children,” said Claire Pomeroy, vice chancellor for human health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at UC Davis. “Her technical insights, expert leadership and dedication to patients will assure that our surgical team continues to offer compassionate care together with the latest technologies.”
Locally, Gail Berstein is an incredible role model for young women interested in medicine. She has had a huge impact on the reduction of opioid deaths in Erie County via harm reduction interventions. She currently serves as the Erie County Commissioner of Health – a position she’d held since 2012. She is passionate about public health, and has spoken on a number of issues, including the importance of childhood immunizations; eliminating healthcare treatment inequities; educating adolescents about sexual health and prevention of STDs; and making family planning services available and affordable for all.
Just as Dr. Bernstein speaks on inequity in medical treatment, we must continue to focus on equality in the physician population. The incredible physicians named here are a glowing example of the importance of women in medicine, and I strive every day to do work that is as inspiring as the women who have come before me.