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The Role of the Women Physicians Caucus: Women Empowering Women

By Sherry L. Blumenthal, MD, MSEd., FACOG

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The Women Physicians Caucus is open to all PAMED women members. Click here to join

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It is time for some feedback! I thought I would begin by giving my reasons for establishing and facilitating the WPC for PAMED. Please join me and submit your reasons for becoming part of the WPC!

Everyone has a story. I do not plan to share all of mine but do wish to bring up many of the barriers to equality and self-fulfillment that many older women physicians experienced. My hope is that younger women physicians and our women patients do not have to "go through it because I had to". I remember telling a male colleague that I was sorry his surgical residency was tough because he was on-call every other night. He replied that he was sorry that he missed half of the cases! No woman ever shared that sentiment with me.

Many of you know how I felt the first time I walked into the session at the House of Delegates (HOD), seeing a sea of older men in dark suits. I was tempted to leave, feeling I did not belong, but instead decided to stay and try to make a difference. I believe that we are making a difference now and will continue to.

In the past there were many obstacles for us. Certainly, besides gender discrimination in higher education and medical school, there was racial and ethnic bias. The costs of medical school made it extremely difficult for many to get a medical education. The workload in residency, with numerous sleepless nights, was damaging to our health, our attitudes toward patients, our judgment, and our family needs and relationships. The recent changes only occurred because of a lawsuit by a wealthy New Yorker whose daughter died due to an inappropriate medication order by an exhausted resident, not because there was concern for the health and welfare of future doctors!

Certainly, as a woman in medicine in the late 70's, sexual harassment, bias, and the unique position of being a mother and wife (not having a wife to handle everything at home so I was free to concentrate on work), and lack of access to quality childcare, made it all much more daunting. If a woman resident became pregnant, it was a crisis for every other resident who had to assume her work and call schedule.

Now I am at the other end of a career that has been difficult but rewarding.  Things have improved for women as physicians, but many of the same challenges persist. We have difficult choices that many of our male colleagues do not have. Our reproductive years interfere with our trajectories and our desires for leadership. We feel unwelcome and are under-represented in leadership circles. Our family responsibilities and desires contrast with the full-time demands of medical practice.  We choose specialties that can accommodate those demands and are more welcoming to our needs.

We earn less because those who hire us can get away with it. And we do not ask for what we are worth. Many women are less willing to listen to a female than a male boss. We actually have to fight the lack of cooperation from other women!

I have lined up many women leaders, both physicians and CEOs, to discuss their paths, challenges, and inspirations. These will be posted on our private Facebook page. We are organizing in-person events for networking at the county level and at the HOD in Harrisburg in October.

Please let us know what your priorities and challenges are, and what we can do to empower you. AND PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD!

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