PHM 2021: Achieving gender equity in medicine


PHM 2021 session

Accelerating Patient Care and Healthcare Workforce Diversity and Inclusion


Julie Silver, MD

Session summary

Gender inequity in medicine has been well documented and further highlighted by the tremendous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in medicine. While more women than men are entering medical schools across the U.S., women still struggle to reach the highest levels of academic rank, achieve leadership positions of power and influence, receive fair equitable pay, attain leadership roles in national societies, and receive funding from national agencies. They also continue to face discrimination and implicit and explicit biases. Women of color or from other minority backgrounds face even greater barriers and biases. Despite being a specialty in which women represent almost 70% of the workforce, pediatrics is not immune to these disparities.

Dr. Carlos Casillas

In her PHM21 plenary on Aug. 3, 2021, Dr. Julie Silver, a national expert in gender equity disparities, detailed the landscape for women in medicine and proposed some solutions to accelerate systemic change for gender equity. In order to understand and mitigate gender inequity, Dr. Silver encouraged the PHM community to identify influential “gatekeepers” of promotion, advancement, and salary compensation. In academic medicine medical schools, funding agencies, professional societies, and journals are the gatekeepers to advancement and compensation for women. Women are traditionally underrepresented as members and influential leaders of these gatekeeping organizations and in their recognition structures, therefore their advancement, compensation, and wellbeing are hindered.

Dr. Jennifer O'Toole

Key takeaways

  • Critical mass theory will not help alleviate gender inequity in medicine, as women make up a critical mass in pediatrics and are still experiencing stark inequities. Critical actor leaders are needed to highlight disparities and drive change even once a critical mass is reached.
  • Our current diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are ineffective and are creating an “illusion of fairness that causes majority group members to become less sensitive to recognizing discrimination against minorities.” Many of the activities that are considered citizenship, including committees focused on DEI efforts, should be counted as scholarship, and appropriately compensated to ensure promotion of our women and minority colleagues.
  • Male allies are critical to documenting, disseminating, and addressing gender inequality. Without the support of men in the field, we will see little progress.
  • While there are numerous advocacy angles we can take when advocating for gender equity, the most effective will be the financial angle. Gender pay gaps at the start of a career can lead to roughly 2 million dollars of salary loss for a woman over the course of her career. In order to alleviate those salary pay gaps our institutions must not expect women to negotiate for fair pay, make salary benchmarks transparent, continue to monitor and conduct research on compensation disparities, and attempt to alleviate the weight of educational debt.
  • COVID-19 is causing immense stress on women in medicine, and the impact could be disastrous. We must recognize and reward the “4th shift” women are working for COVID-19–related activities at home and at work, and put measures in place to #GiveHerAReasonToStay in health care.
  • Men and other women leaders have a responsibility to sponsor the many and well-qualified women in medicine for awards, committees, and speaking engagements. These opportunities are key markers of success in academic medicine and are critical to advancement and salary compensation.

Dr. Casillas is the internal medicine-pediatric chief resident for the University of Cincinnati/Cincinnati Children’s Internal Medicine-Pediatric program. His career goal is to serve as a hospitalist for children and adults, and he is interested in health equity and Latinx health. Dr. O’Toole is a pediatric and adult hospitalist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and University of Cincinnati Medical Center, and a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She serves as program director of Cincinnati’s Combined Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Residency Program.

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