Skip to main content

Why there is still a need for women physicians organizations like AMWA

Theresa M. Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD

Theresa M. Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD

Yesterday was very interesting day. I spent an hour on the phone with a young woman physician from another state who had reached out for support. In practice for just 6 years, she was working full time, teaching, seeing patients, writing papers, and was frustrated by her lack of upward mobility and the dearth of mentorship. As we spoke and shared stories and insight, she was surprised that what she had been experiencing was not new and not specific to her location.

Later that evening, I met with women in medicine at IU Ball in Muncie, IN. Fascinating stories were told, of being the first woman chair of pathology, radiology. Choices made and how they impacted on careers and families. One woman physician described how her group held a meeting when she was pregnant with her first child. The agenda included whether she should be fired due to the pregnancy.

Times, we think they have changed and while they have, there is still so much to do.

In 1915, the American Medical Women’s Association, AMWA, “The Voice and Vision of Women in Medicine” was started. At the time it was founded, women made up less than 6% of physicians. The organization served to connect these women to one another, mentor and help new physician graduates find work (by publishing lists of institutions that would actually consider hiring a woman). At that time, it was to give women physicians a voice and to help find positions in which to learn and practice. The medical system was one of apprenticeship and referrals and your ability to practice medicine was very dependent on your acceptance by other physicians.

Women bring a different voice and a different perspective to health care. In 1921, AMWA spearheaded the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act to instate federal funding for maternity and childcare, which established over 3,000 healthcare centers across the country. Then as now, the women physicians of AMWA recognized that basic prenatal rights and access to health care was essential for a healthy nation.

Women in leadership remains low in the health care arena.

The number of women in C-suite positions and other high-level posts—chief medical officer, chief financial officer, department chair, and dean, for example—remains shockingly low. Women bring a different voice and a different perspective to the discussion that can help solve many of the problems facing medicine today.

We need women in leadership roles. We need you.

Professionally active physicians by gender in IN:
4979 women
11641 men
4 unspecified
Total 16,444 ~ 42% of the practicing physicians in IN are women

Medical students admitted to IUSM
Male: 209 (58%)
Female: 154 (42%)
Total 363

1176 residents
529 women—-44% women housestaff

4 women chairs

2017-2018 AAMC Dean of Medical School- 16%

When I graduated in 1988, women made up 30% of most medical school students. We are not 30% of full professors, deans, or other leadership positions. It is not just the pipeline that is leaking….

Gender Pay Inequity:
Doximity (an online social networking service for U.S. clinicians) released findings after studying the salaries of approximately 65,000 U.S. physicians.
Female doctors on average made 27.7 percent less than male doctors in 2017.
This means the average female physician earned $105,000 less than the average male physician.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed the salaries of 10,241 academic physicians and found that women made roughly $51,000 less per year than their male counterparts, even after adjusting for metrics that determine compensation, such as clinical and research productivity.

You are the answer!

One medical specialty, radiology, seems to have finally transcended the pay gap. As recently as 2013, female radiologists made nearly 20 percent less than their male counterparts, but since 2016, these salary differences have evened out.

How did institutions do it? By systematically studying the reasons why women were not entering the field and then recruiting them in a targeted manner. It is also perhaps no accident that radiology has more female professors and more women in leadership positions than most other medical fields.

We succeed by:

Supporting each other
Sponsoring each other
Listening to the history of success and emulating it
Learning from those that have done before us

You are a part of the solution and play an essential role in the development of health care and health education for the years to come.

Being around the women physicians and students yesterday at IU Ball, reminded me that not only is there strength in numbers, there is support in hearing from others and the ability to network.

So thank you to the those that came out and took time to share the life and stories with us. You made an impact!

My thanks to Fatima Fahs, MD who wrote the original article on Kevin MD about why women’s physicians groups are still relevant.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber