Women Igniting Change in Medicine

The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), established in 1915 by Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, stands as the oldest multi-specialty women’s medical organization. AMWA recently held its 103rd Annual Meeting in conjunction with the Medical Women’s International Association North America Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with more than 500 attendees from all over the country and world comprising of medical students, residents, attending physicians and clinical instructors.

The theme of the meeting was “Women Igniting Change” and featured powerful keynotes from Dr. Marjorie Jenkins, director of medical initiatives and scientific engagement at the FDA Office of Women’s Health; Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, seventh president of Oakland University; and Dr. Vivian Pinn, the first full-time director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH. Conference topics included sex and gender based medicine, physician wellness and burnout, global health, HPV, Alzheimer’s disease in women, precision medicine, breast cancer screening, gun violence prevention, social media, contract negotiation and many more relevant topics to women in medicine.

Prominent women in medicine were awarded and celebrated for their contributions to science, medicine and mentorship. Conference attendees had opportunities to network, engage in thoughtful discussion and share their own research through poster and oral presentations. The medical student division participated in a service project, making reusable menstruation kits for adolescents with the organization, Days for Girls, giving back 72,000 school days.

One prominent highlight from the meeting was a presentation by the AMWA Gun Violence Task Force leader and trauma surgeon, Dr. Stephanie Bonne. Throughout the meeting, AMWA members contributed their support of gun violence prevention through fundraising for the task force and participation in the March for Our Lives protest. Attendees showed their support on the day of the protest by wearing orange t-shirts stating, “Gun Violence is a Public Health Issue.”

Although medical schools today have equal gender representation, when AMWA was founded in 1915, women made up less than 6 percent of US physicians. The organization served to connect these women to one another and help them find work in institutions willing to hire them. Today, while women in medicine have made many strides — there is still much work to be done. AMWA continues to propel women in their medical careers both personally and professionally.

The Hard Truths On Women in Medicine:

  1. Female physician compensation lags that of male physicians and the gap is widening. In 2017, women physicians made, on average 27.7% less (or $105,000 less) than their male colleagues. (source: Doximity)
  2. At the current rate of change, women surgeons will not reach pay equity until they year 2152. (source: Association of Women Surgeons)
  3. Despite the above, Harvard research has shown that patients treated by women physicians were less likely to die as a result of the treated cause and less likely to be readmitted to the hospital. (JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(2):206–213. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7875)

AMWA continues to address the challenges and celebrate the triumphs of women in medicine. The meeting concluded with attendees feeling renewed and reinvigorated to work towards their goals.

“Every time I leave an AMWA meeting, my faith in the future of medicine is restored and my passions and aspirations feel validated and more achievable.” -AMWA 2018 annual meeting attendee

Fatima Fahs, MD is a dermatology resident at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. She is the Resident Chair on the Studio AMWA Committee.

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