From the founder of FemInEM, FIX 2017 gathered women and men to share ideas and support.
When Dara Kass, MD, decided to expand her popular FemInEM online community beyond the digital world, she drew on the best parts of all the conferences she has attended in her career. The result—FIX 2017—brought together 250 participants for three days of inspiring lectures, networking events, and workshops centered on the challenges women in emergency medicine face.
Recently, Dr. Kass, who is a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City, sat down with ACEP Now Medical Editor in Chief Kevin Klauer, DO, EJD, FACEP, to talk about the accomplishments of FIX 2017 and plans for this year’s encore conference. Here are some highlights from their conversation.
KK: I am excited to talk to you about FemInEM’s first national conference: FIX 2017. Tell us what’s happening with the organization and where this title of “FIX 2017” came from.
DK: FemInEM itself has grown exponentially but, more importantly, deliberately over the past two years. We have expanded our website and added our speakers bureau, job boards, and sponsor content. We’ve seen an increase in the submissions across the board from men and women, physicians of all stripes and all ages. We’ve seen a natural increase in the variety of content we have published, and the frequency of submission has been pretty amazing. Our Twitter and Facebook profiles have grown.
About a year ago, I was at a conference and thought, “If I could use these gifts of better presentation style and design, better speaking skills, better opportunities to understand how to interact with the media, and women in medicine, we could really make a huge difference.” So I took all of the best conferences I’d ever been to and tried to include pieces of those conference to create what I thought would be, what I hoped would be, a women’s development conference that was really a physician development conference geared around the topics of gender equity and inclusion in emergency medicine. We built a curriculum that we thought would reflect the needs of the population, and we asked others to just believe in us. We opened it up to 250 people and said, “Here’s a conference. It’s new. It’s in New York. It’s exciting.” We had one workshop day at the end; we tried to hammer home some of the tools we had inspired people to develop in the first couple days, and we sold out. It was amazing.
We really were thoroughly appreciative and impressed with how many people showed up, how many sponsors supported us, how many attendings sponsored a resident, and how many departments sent their residents and attendings to the conference. It was a huge success. We had a pretty big impact on the Twitter-sphere; we had over 18 million Twitter impressions in two and a half days from a conference of only 250 people. It was really a magical space; it was supportive and inclusive and just a very cool experience. I couldn’t be more proud of what we put together. We’ll do it again because there’s no way that we can leave this as a one-hit wonder.
KK: Can you talk more in detail about what you did? Were there didactic lectures and workshops? What were your goals?
DK: We were really just trying to have each person in the room reconnect with the thing that makes them passionate as a doctor and as a person. The first two days were entirely didactic-based; we had a lot of breaks for networking and talking to speakers and things like that. We wanted our different speakers to tell their story of what aspect of medicine and their human experience allows them to be who they are. For example, we had an EMS provider Kathy Staats talk about women in EMS crashing the party. We had a residency director talk about what inspired her as an educator. We had discussions on burnout and wellness, resilience, and so much more, like success and failure, imposter syndrome, patient safety, and inner-city violence. We had an entire session on institutional racism and how that affects women and others in medicine. We ended with Lynne Richardson talking about leadership development for physicians, including careers in research. The two days were infused with a lot of networking because one of the best skills we can give to women, but really anybody in medicine, is the chance to connect with others.
KK: Were your goals to advance diversity and inclusion in general or just for women in medicine?
DK: The conference was 100 percent inclusive. We had men, participants and speakers. We had women who were not in emergency medicine, even some who were not doctors. We included nurses, PAs, medical students, and EMTs. What was interesting to us was that the women in the room who were not emergency medicine doctors, who weren’t even doctors, felt as included in the conversation as those card-carrying emergency medicine providers. Some of the men said that this was the best development conference they’d ever been to. The journey of being a woman in medicine is actually more about being a person in medicine. When we’re talking about being a physician parent whose child is ill, that is not exclusive to women.
We had the speakers wear a feminist shirt—it’s literally a shirt that said “Feminist.” We didn’t only give that shirt to women; we gave it to every single speaker. So, Scott Weingart, Adam Rosh, Michael Gisondi, and Rob Gore all stood on the stage and wore a shirt that said “Feminist.” There is nothing exclusive or divisive about that because we should all be feminists, caring about the needs, concerns, and interests of each other.
KK: I think there can be a misconception that a conference like this is structured for the sole purpose of women supporting women, but what we can learn from you, your organization, and from our specialty is this is about making sure that we’re supporting each other and making sure that people aren’t excluded. Sometimes that overarching principle may be overlooked. We all benefit from diversity and inclusion because we all work together, and when we don’t recognize each other for the great value that we individually and collectively bring, we all lose, and we all fail.
DK: I agree, except that I honestly think we need to go beyond that. Studies have proven that women aren’t worse doctors and that there is a power discrepancy between women and men. It is time to accept that bias exists and that there are discrepancies between women and men in salary, promotion, tenure. The tradition of privilege is something I always talk about in my lectures. If you’re not on the receiving end of bias, then to even consider how it could affect those around you is a really difficult thing to do. Any group that is underrepresented, whether it’s in race, gender, or anything else, needs support. So, I don’t really just expect better from our community anymore, I demand better of our community right now. One of the best things that we had at the end of that conference was the fact that 100 percent of the people there, regardless of how they got there, felt that it gave them something. That was our biggest victory.
KK: What are the plans for next year?
DK: It’s going to be in New York again next year. It’s going to be shorter next year; it’ll be two days instead of three. The workshop day will either be a pre-day or at another time because we want to make it easier for people to travel. It’s going to be bigger, twice to three times the size. We’re going to open it up to the emergency medicine community first and foremost, but there’s been a lot of response from people outside of emergency medicine to come and experience it as well. Next year, it’ll be bigger, broader, shorter, and I think it’ll have a huge impact on whichever physicians decide to join us.