Women Physicians Section Encourages, Empowers Women in Medicine

Last Updated: Dec 12, 2022

For 175 years, the Pennsylvania Medical Society has sought to support physicians and medical students throughout the Commonwealth, encompassing every specialty. But for many of those decades, women had a very small voice in the male-dominated organization. From the hard-fought wins of being permitted to attend medical school, receiving residency assignments, finding mentors, and being hired, women achieving equal footing in medicine has been a long, uphill battle.

Sherry Blumenthal, MD, saw this disparity and sought to remedy the issue when she formed a women physicians caucus in 2017 with around 260 initial members.

“More and more women were going to medical school,” says Dr. Blumenthal. “We were becoming more empowered, and I wanted that to reflect in the medical society. The purpose of the caucus was to give women a voice in the medical society, and also  to try and take action on things like the income gap, discrimination, sexual harassment.”

The caucus was amended by the House of Delegates in 2018 to become the Women Physicians Section (WPS), granting the group a seat on the Board of Trustees and the ability to organize their own Governing Council.  The council meets quarterly and is made up of a chair, vice chair, district representatives, and the section’s trustee.

WPS membership is open to all female active, associate, and retired members of PAMED, as well as any other active, associate, or retired members of PAMED who express an interest in women’s issues. The section seeks to encourage women physicians to participate in leadership, policymaking, advocacy, and other activities of PAMED through five overarching goals:

●      Learn about effective networking

●      Voice concerns and share common experiences

●      Educate and encourage paths to leadership roles in organized and academic medicine

●      Establish a network of women physician leaders

●      Advocate to advance PAMED policy on issues affecting women as well as advise the PAMED Board on such issues

Karen Rizzo, MD, who serves as the Chair of the WPS, shares that the group is, “really making progress on impacting issues that affect women, in particular, in medicine. Networking strategies, helping women learn how to connect with other women who have similar experiences, providing opportunities because of those common experiences, finding common goals. For me, this section has really been a great experience because I really feel like I’m making a difference and it’s made up of really dynamic, intelligent, energetic women in Pennsylvania medicine.”

The WPS made headlines, along with some waves, in 2021 when they brought the topic of abortion to the floor. With a policy dating back to 1982, PAMED had chosen to take a neutral stance when it came to women’s reproductive rights in terms of the physician-patient relationship. With the country divided and the eventual overturning of Roe vs. Wade, however, the WPS realized that action needed to be taken. “Our section made a concerted effort to change from no policy to one of supporting the fact that these kinds of decisions should be made between a physician and a patient,” says Dr. Rizzo. “The government should have nothing to do with it; the government should not interfere, and there should be no criminalization of any physician who performs that service or of a patient who seeks that service.”

Today, PAMED has 6,095 women members who are eligible to be in the WPS. The section meets several times each year to discuss issues and concerns, educate one another, network, and address topics related to women’s rights.

“My belief is that women must support each other,'' says Dr. Blumenthal. “I think women in general will be setting their own model for practice. We will be demanding our rights more comfortably, and I think this will change the way medicine is practiced in a very good way.”

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