Last Updated: Dec 19, 2022
Over 150 years after the founding of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the group elected its first woman president, Carol E. Rose, MD. After spending several years heavily involved with the Allegheny County Medical Society, Dr. Rose began her tenure with PAMED, first as a trustee, then as vice president, before serving as president in 2001. “I didn’t run because I am a woman,” she said. “I didn’t want them to vote for me because I am a woman. I didn’t want them to not vote for me because I am a woman. I wanted them to vote for me.”
Several years later, in 2006, Lila S. Kroser, MD of Philadelphia County, served in the role before another long pause brought Marilyn Heine, MD, to lead the organization in 2012.
“I am honored to have served as the 162nd president of PAMED,” says Dr. Heine. “Women leaders demonstrate that there is opportunity for other women physicians who are interested in leadership. We can serve as role models and help mentor and sponsor younger women physicians. Diversity at the top encourages broader membership and makes our organization stronger, flexible, and more resilient.”
Board of Trustees member Sherry Blumenthal, MD, who first became involved with PAMED several decades ago, describes walking into her first meeting as, “being surrounded by a sea of men.” She continues, “At that time there was a total lack of attention and awareness for women's health. I felt as though I had to represent women, but also that there weren’t enough of us to have a voice.” She sought to remedy that by establishing the women’s physician caucus in 2017, which then became an official section in 2018. “I realized the only way women were going to have a voice was if we had our own section in the medical society.”
Karen Rizzo, MD, knew PAMED offered a unique opportunity when she first joined as a member in 1990. “Going to meetings provided the opportunity to represent my specialty and talk to other leaders in other specialties about the issues that impacted us all. Health care, running practices, dealing with regulations, all the challenges that we as physicians have to deal with.” Dr. Rizzo became more and more invested with the society, serving on the board of trustees for over eight years before being named vice chair of the board, and then PAMED president in 2015.
For Danae Powers, MD, who served as PAMED president in 2019, she had no female mentors in the early start of her career which makes her happy to see the progress of women in leadership positions. “I was the first woman in my residency program, first woman on faculty…and so on. I did my part to push the envelope because I had to,” she said. “But when I think about the struggles of women in medicine, I have a sense of how far we’ve come, not how oppressed we’ve been, and there’s still progress to be made.”
Incoming president-elect Kristen Sandel, MD, first joined PAMED as a medical student, eventually spending four years as the young physician trustee of the society before serving as chair of the Employed Physician Task Force. She notes that despite only a handful of women being elected as presidents of the society historically, the tide seems to be changing and representation is beginning to balance out. “I think women bring a different and important perspective to organized medicine,” she shares. “I think that they bring excellent leadership skills and that they have vast experience not only medically, but also personally and professionally, in terms of work-life balance and how we treat patients and families.”
Lynn Lucas-Fehm, MD, has been a member of the society for over 30 years, holding many different positions including Alternate Delegate to the American Medical Association and 1st district trustee for Philadelphia County. In 2024, she and Dr. Sandel will make PAMED history, when they serve as the first two women to hold the president and president-elect positions concurrently. In the near future, says Dr. Lucas-Fehm, it will no longer be unusual or unique for women to be setting policy. “It will become very normal because as time goes on, we will just automatically be accepted as part of the decision-making process because we are there in such huge numbers. More and more we are taking leadership positions. I think it will become easier, more accepted, and finally, one day, it won’t even be seen as unusual. It will be part of the status quo.”
Denise Johnson, MD, FACOG, FACHE, serves as Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General, and has been an active member of the society for 25 years. “I am very encouraged to see the increased diversity in medical school and in leadership in medicine as well. And I think that any increase in diversity really benefits us all,” says Dr. Johnson. “There is diversity in gender, but there’s also diversity in race, in age, in socioeconomic background, in geography... I think when we have diverse perspectives that come to the table it makes our problem solving much more robust and effective, and we’re certainly seeing that. It’s wonderful to see us expanding our scope by expanding our diversity, and thereby improving our decision making. And having more of all different perspectives, especially women, is really making us better.”
The future of the society will not only continue to be shaped by women leaders, but also adapt to the inevitable changes, as it always has. “As you look at membership societies, we wonder what the relevance is. Is this society something that is still going to be relevant 10, 20, 50, 100 years down the road?” asks Dr. Sandel. “One of the most important things PAMED does, and that we must continue to do, is to focus on representing all physicians from all backgrounds. We must also make sure that we are representing and doing the right things to protect the physician-patient relationship because the patients are at the center of everything we do.”
Dr. Rizzo believes there is strength in numbers, and that women working together, talking openly about their circumstances, and offering each other support will help lift each other up.
“Women now are not afraid to take opportunities and run with them and help develop and promote their own careers. We do have to advocate for ourselves and I think our experiences are unique compared to men,” she says. “The medical society has always served as a focus of support, for me personally, as well as all women in medicine. They advocate for equality.”
Dr. Lucas-Fehm concludes, “The changes that are happening are the growing of the numbers, the increase in the voting potential, and being able to get women into those leadership positions. I think the society has evolved for the better. We need to welcome change if we want the society to remain relevant. PAMED is special because it is an organization where physicians from all specialties come together to collaborate and learn. I think the medical profession as a whole does better when we all unite together.”