It has been an incredible experience to attend 71st American Academy of Neurology (AAN) conference in Philadelphia last week. In my six years of attending this conference, the most unique feature for this year’s conference was AAN’s emphasis on celebrating equity, diversity and inclusion in its various forms. From our perspective as co-administrators of a secret Facebook group — Women Neurologists Group (WNG) with more than 2575 members, we participated in sessions, courses and experiential offerings emphasizing women in neurology.
The highlight of this conference for me was a session that. Dr Lafaver and I co-led on “Women in Neurology: Thriving Through Challenges” — an interactive session wherein we shared our personal and professional challenges, effective strategies to thrive through them, and key lessons learned in the process. We shared the value of failures and how we often learn more from them than even our successes and how to learn to embrace change as well as accept our imperfections. During these conversations, the energy and support in the room was palpable. Our intent of positive upliftment and supporting women neurologists and trainees through their personal and professional lives was very well received. When strategies for succeeding and thriving in a multifaceted environment of raising a family, being a physician, and more were discussed, a medical student shared how rewarding it was for her to be a part of this conversation as a young mother and how appreciative she was of AAN truly supporting and embracing diversity of its neurologists in all its forms.
Another highlight of this talk was celebrating the incredible journey and career trajectory of women physicians in the last 170 years, since the first women physician Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from medical school in 1848. As we spoke about learning ways to prioritize self-care, become more comfortable with effective “yes” and strategic “nos” & the importance of building a support system, the resounding support, enthusiasm and valuable feedback we received was heartwarming. The venue, an advocacy experiential area, was packed with conference attendees to standing room only. The best part of the talk was attendees sharing their success stories and ideas with the audience!
Continuing the theme of collaboration and synergy, at their section meeting, on behalf of Women in Neurology (WIN) section, Dr. Jennifer Graves and I presented updates on a national pilot mentoring program done in collaboration with the Women Neurologists Group (co-led by Dr. Regina Troxell). The mentoring pairs were matched carefully, considering each individual’s personal and professional background and mutual goals for this mentoring partnership. A unique aspect of this pilot program includes mentoring webinars and periodic surveys for constructive feedback and course correction as needed. During the conference, several participants shared with us on an individual level, how valuable this mentoring experience has been to them since its inception a few months ago. This collaboration highlighted value of sponsorship and mentoring along with resources to combine efforts through various pertinent sections and lift each other up.
At the WIN section meeting, a presentation from Dr. Jeff McClean, the Chair of AAN’s new joint coordinating council on equity, diversity, inclusion, and health care disparities emphasized the importance of collaboration from our section and building on existing strengths to scale new horizons. We had the privilege to continue these conversations with our professional organizations’ leadership during a dinner organized by Dr. Amy Hessler and Dr. Jill Farmer on behalf of the Women Neurologists Group (WNG). It has been an incredible journey for this annual WNG dinner spearheaded by Dr Hessler that has blossomed from 6 attendees at the inaugural dinner in 2016 to 106 attendees this time. Learning about the history of our organization, the great strides made in the last few decades and how we are adapting to a dynamic environment was an exceptional part of this evening.
During our week at the AAN conference, it was very rewarding to see AAN leadership supporting and promoting women’s initiatives along with many other exciting endeavors throughout the organization. The next AAN board of directors (2019–2021) with more than 50 percent women members was approved during the meeting. With our enthusiasm renewed, as we returned to our respective institutions from the AAN conference, we have already begun brainstorming of additional ways for positive upliftment and harnessing the momentum for equity, diversity, and inclusion.
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