Since the fall of 2017, there has been a change in New York City. If you are a New Yorker, you may have felt an influx of power surging every fall. More likely is that you noticed nothing unless you are a woman in medicine.
FemInEM is a New York-based organization, or should I say movement? The movement was started by the visionary Dara Kass M.D., a Columbia University-based emergency medicine physician. While it is impressive to start a national organization, as a woman Dr. Kass needs to be 20% more impressive than her male colleagues to get your attention. So, she also donated an organ to her child and wrote a children’s book on feminism. She’s The Man. And that statement reminds us why we need her.
FemInEM started with the purpose of supporting equality in medicine — “We are FemInEM — an open-access resource where we discuss, discover, and affect the journey of women working in emergency medicine.” It is an organization that first catered to physicians in emergency medicine, but due to its message of equality, it quickly expanded to all medical specialties and other health professionals. The FemInEM annual conference, the FemInEM Idea Exchange (FIX), has encompassed other minority issues, hosting speakers on transgender and racial equality in medicine.
September 2019 marked the third annual FIX Conference in New York City. Since last year’s conference attendees grew 30%. This year’s conference hosted speakers on such “orphan issues” as global warming, alcoholism in health care workers, and reproductive challenges, including miscarriage among medical professionals. These are issues that are not likely to appear at major academic conferences, by speakers who would not have an opportunity to share their insights. Dr. Kass built them a stage and gave them a voice.
FemInEM seems to have been a much-needed spark, setting ablaze the next feminist movement in medicine. Other organizations are now gaining momentum. For instance, Dr. Kass is also a founding member of TIME’S UP Healthcare. TIME’S Up Healthcare was founded by 53 inspirational women, fighting to end workplace discrimination, harassment, and abuse in medicine.
Women in medicine are banding together and seem to agree, this is not your grandmother’s feminist movement. Although eternally grateful and indebted to the women who fought to build the foundation of feminism, this time women are going all the way to equal.
What are these continued inequalities?
You can become a doctor, but if you want to be a leader, the support is lacking. According to the American Academy of Medical Colleges (AAMC), just 14% of department chairs and senior leaders are women. This is not surprising, as the face of American wealth and power — the dollar bill, still only depicts only white men. Speaking of money, women are going to need the rest of our paycheck, all 100% of it. Finally, the weight of a woman’s word must be equal to men. For example, our society has sided with accused serial sexual abusers, until groups of hundreds of women come forward against a single man. Beyond being criminal, this issue should be considered a public health issue. It should only take one woman’s word.
Some individuals demean the struggle for equality. Even some women who feel that feminism is a dirty word. It seems easily forgotten that in the United States women started as property. We haven’t even had the right to vote for 100 years! (Note that the 2020 election marks 100 years of women voting rights. Make your vote count). Women have not been given anything and the struggle for the rights we hold is called feminism.
Women should proudly celebrate the struggle against oppression that has brought us forward. We should commend ourselves, just as other oppressed people band together to praise and protect what they have achieved. It may not be lady-like, but it is feminist.
Women must fight harder. The feminist movement is not over, and in medicine women need organizations like FemInEM and TIME’S UP Healthcare to band us together to continue to fight for equality, to celebrate our triumphs and our history. Leaders in health care have a responsibility to set a positive example for society by supporting and amplifying this movement for equality.
Lastly, women need each other for strength. We need the women’s club for support. The day when the old boys’ club is interested in reciprocal membership, we will know we are equal.
Ashely Alker, M.D., M.Sc., is an Emergency Medicine Physician and writer focused on public health education in media. Dr. Alker works with writers on major Television shows on such networks as Fox, Netflix, Disney, USA, major motion pictures and as a contributing author to several media outlets. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @aalkerMD.
Illustration by April Brust