Although the saying goes, “Inspiration often strikes when you’re least expecting it,” I tend to find inspiration in lots of places. I’m inspired by the strength of my patients, tolerating procedures that are no doubt painful and unfamiliar. My children inspire me with their insightful questions on the ways of a world they’re just figuring out, and I was inspired after reading the recent ACEP Now article “Emergency Medicine Workforce Needs More Women Physicians” by Kathleen Clem, MD, FACEP.
In the article, Dr. Clem, professor and chair of the department of emergency medicine at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California, spelled out a call to action surrounding the careers of women in emergency medicine. She reminded everyone that supporting women in emergency medicine isn’t just a “gender equity” issue but a patient care and physician workforce issue. For much of the article, she described recommendations that could improve the recruitment, retention, and support of women in emergency medicine.
Many of her recommendations were derived from our recently published paper “The Development of Best Practice Recommendations to Support the Hiring, Recruitment and Advancement of Women Physicians in Emergency Medicine.” A lot of these suggestions are, in fact, gender neutral, with broad impact across the physician workforce, including:
- Experiment with changes in practices that are out of step with the realities of modern life and work to create environments that foster success for all the physicians in your group.
- Include positives about emergency medicine opportunities for work-life balance in recruitment.
- Ensure that maternity/paternity leave policies are in place.
An article like Dr. Clem’s is meant to be inspiring, but as an active member of the Academy for Women in Academic Emergency Medicine (AWAEM) and the American Association of Women Emergency Physicians (AAWEP) and a vociferous advocate for gender equity in emergency medicine, I figured I was unlikely to derive new inspiration from the piece. And then I read the online comments.
Dr. Clem’s article elicited some colorful responses; here are just a few:
- “I don’t support the subsidizing of co-workers’ life choices.”
- “If you are asserting that medicine is at risk for not surviving because women now make up 60 percent of medical students, perhaps we should seek out more men to enter the field.”
- “If you CHOOSE to have kids, try to be super-mom, expect your colleagues to work around you and your personal life, you have made yourself less marketable.”
These comments were neither surprising nor enlightening to me, but they were viscerally inspiring. They served as an immediate and obvious reminder that many of my colleagues still believe “every man for himself” policies are the acceptable and that gender equity is a burden without benefit. And that feeling, the energy I derive from trying do something about this issue, is why I work so tirelessly as the editor in chief of FemInEM.
Launched in 2015, FemInEM (www.feminem.org) is an open-access resource for women working in emergency medicine, where we discuss, discover, and affect common experiences. Through deliberate and engaging dialogue, we explore a variety of issues that support the development and advancement of our colleagues and ourselves. FemInEM aims to address gender disparities in a positive way, empowering both male and female physicians. It also celebrates and promotes workplace flexibility policies for everyone practicing emergency medicine.
FemInEM, and its associated social media affiliations (@feminemtweets, Facebook), have been using positivity and peer support to address and overcome the traditional biases facing women in emergency medicine.
FemInEM consists of three main sections: blog posts, an honors section, and the speakers bureau.
The blog posts are informative, well-researched, and frequently personal. They cover content that highlights the unique but inspiring journeys of many women practicing emergency medicine. Topics range from the perception of women as resuscitation leaders, difficult work-family integration issues, and the gender gap in salary for women physicians. It’s a forum to proactively and productively discuss the difficult issues many face as we “CHOOSE to have kids, try to be super-mom, expect [our] colleagues to work around [us] and [have a] personal life.”
The Honors and Speakers Bureau sections are unique to FemInEM. Through these sections, and positive but unapologetic peer support, FemInEM subtly addresses many of the biases that women have faced for years.
Self-promotion is a quality that has come to be expected and often revered in men but generally resented in women. An early post on FemInEM discussed this topic in detail. In this piece, titled “On Self-Promotion: Wisdom from Paul the Maintenance Man,” the hospital maintenance man is quoted as saying, “All the men around here hang up their plaques. None of the women do.”
Self-promotion, when accurate and genuine, is beneficial and helps others understand your value. Unfortunately, self-promotion can also decrease likability, a bias proven to prevent women from advancing in the workplace. Striking the right balance between likability, competence, and confidence is frequently mentioned as the enormous obstacle for women leaders. So FemInEM decided to make it easier for women to share their accomplishments.
FemInEM Honors is the place to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of women in this field. Any time a woman physician receives an award or honor, a page dedicated to that achievement is created and promoted.That post is then disseminated through all of our social media channels. The response has been overwhelming. We used to have to seek out awardees, searching Twitter or Facebook for notifications. Now there are unsolicited emails from chairs, program directors, and the women themselves, reminding that it actually isn’t about self-promotion at all—it’s about having a neutral space for peer and mentor support.
The Speakers Bureau grew out of a debate on the lack of women speakers at emergency medicine conferences. The bureau is the first searchable database of women speakers in emergency medicine. Each profile page has a short bio of the speaker and her topics of interest. In addition, when available, we’ve embedded a video or podcast of the speaker in action.
This rapidly growing database has more than 100 international speakers, all of whom submitted themselves as ready, willing, and able to handle speaking assignments. This database is open-access and available to all emergency medicine conference organizers, hopefully increasing the proportion of women speaking in the near future.
FemInEM is approaching the cause for gender equity and workplace flexibility exactly opposite to those commenting on Dr. Clem’s article. For that, I’m inspired. The commenters on her piece are never going to feel good about “paying for someone’s disability [maternity leave],” but maybe once they get to know these extraordinarily talented and dedicated physicians, they’ll stop seeing them as “disabled.”
FemInEM will never be about quotas, modification of clinical standards, or special consideration. Instead, it’s about a common journey to be the best physicians, wives, mothers, daughters, employees, and people we can be. Because being true to all aspects of each of us isn’t a choice—it’s just honest.
Dr. Kass completed her residency training at SUNY Downstate/Kings County Hospital and is currently the director of undergraduate medical education at New York University/ Bellevue Hospital. She is active in the Academy for Women in Academic Emergency Medicine and is the editor-in-chief of www.feminem.org, an open-access resource meant to discuss, discover, and affect the journey of women working in emergency medicine.