MAY 11, 2005 | Former United States Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, M.D., recently challenged more than 130 women in health care to seek leadership roles in their field – something not only critical for professional women, she said, but also for a health care industry on the verge of crisis.
The second Southern Regional Professional Development Conference for Women in Academic Medicine and Research, “Inspiring Leadership for Women,” hosted by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), drew clinicians, scientists and educators from 11 states to Little Rock on April 15-17.
Presentations ranged from grant-winning strategies to mentoring to leadership strategies. Elders, also a professor emeritus of pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine and a distinguished professor in the UAMS College of Public Health, spoke April 15 and gave a rousing keynote address that provoked laughter as well as applause.
Debra H. Fiser, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Nancy Hardt, M.D., Methodist Endowed Chair for Women’s Health and director of the Institute for Women’s Health at the Memphis Health Sciences Center in Tennessee, are credited with the idea for the first conference. The first conference was held in Memphis in 2003.
Fiser said women in academic medicine share many common issues, so getting together for discussion and to learn from one another offers an important opportunity for growth and development.
“Many of the topics covered in a conference of this sort are leadership development in nature, and opportunities for faculty to participate in such events are infrequent,” Fiser said. “Having such a conference locally provides an opportunity for many more women to be involved. There is also value to having young women get to know role models who have been down the road they are traveling and have done so successfully.
“When the challenges seem daunting, they know others have overcome them and have people they can call on,” she said.
Elders called on the professional women to use their strengths – their intuition, their compassion and their instinctive sense of nurturing – and assert themselves as leaders in the health care field. She noted that in the United States, women make up more than half the population, most of the health care providers and about half of medical school admissions – but only about 15 percent of the health care leadership.
“We’ve done a good job getting out and getting involved, but we’re not there yet,” Elders said. “We’ve got to do more and we can’t afford to fail. The very future of our nation is dependent on what you do.”
Elders renewed her call for universal access to “high-quality, affordable health care.” She used a refrain she coined during her term as surgeon general, that the United States doesn’t have a health care system, it has “an excellent sick care system.”
“We have the best doctors, nurses and hospitals and cutting-edge research, but we do not have the best health care,” she said. “Every criminal has a constitutional right to a lawyer here but not every baby has a constitutional right to a doctor.”
She said the nation needs to develop a system that is comprehensive, cost effective, offers choice of health care provider, is equitable to patients regardless of income or insurance and offers universal access. The need is becoming more critical, she warned, because of the growing aging population as well as the systemic problems.
Women in the health care field have an important role to play in achieving that goal of universal health care, Elders said. It will require an ability to balance the pressures that women in academic medicine must handle at work and at home, she said, as well as showing courage and conviction.
“You can’t be afraid to ask for help and you can’t be afraid to fail,” she said.
Elders placed an emphasis on the need for increased focus on health education as well as culturally competent health care providers who understand the varying needs of different segments of the population.
Again, Elders said, women can help address these needs but need to rely on their strengths, assert themselves and stand up for their beliefs.
The conference concluded Sunday afternoon with a discussion by a panel of distinguished women in medicine, who answered focused questions about their success.
The panel included Fiser; Hardt; Deborah German, M.D., former president and chief executive officer of Saint Thomas Hospital and senior vice president and chief academic officer of Saint Thomas Health Services in Nashville, Tenn.; Claudia Morrissey, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of the University of Illinois Center for Research on Women and Gender and National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health in Chicago; PonJola Coney, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs and dean of the school of medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.; and Gwen Childs, professor and chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Biological Sciences in the UAMS College of Medicine.
This conference was planned by the Inspiring Leadership for Women Consortium; UAMS College of Medicine (Women’s Faculty Development Caucus); Meharry Medical College; Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas System; Washington University School of Medicine; St. Louis University School of Medicine; University of Tennessee; Memphis Health Sciences Center; and University of South Florida College of Medicine.
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UAMS Women’s Faculty Development Caucus: http://uams.edu/cmefa/Faculty_Affairs/wfdc.asp
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