It was just 15 years ago that Margaret Pisani, MD, MPH, FCCP, hired as a new faculty member in pulmonary critical care at Yale University, was informed that she would be paid less than a male counterpart. The rationale: Pisani’s husband was employed and made good money, while her colleague’s spouse was a stay-at-home mom.
Things are only marginally better today in the male-dominated specialty. Women, who comprise 26% of critical care physicians in the United States, remain underrepresented in leadership positions, publish fewer research papers than their male peers, and are often paid less.
“I’ve heard over and over again the notion that ‘She has small kids at home, so we’re not going to think about her for this or that.’ In many cases, leaders are not even giving female critical care physicians the opportunity to consider advancement because of those preconceived notions,” said Dr. Pisani, an Associate Professor of Pulmonary Medicine at Yale who also serves as Vice Chief for Mentoring and Career Development.
To help address these issues, Dr. Pisani joined Andrea Braun, MD, FCCP, a Critical Care Specialist and Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, in organizing a panel discussion to explore the reasons for these gender disparities, strategies to eliminate them, and ways to fight overt discrimination, unconscious bias, and imposter syndrome; the panel will also cover mentorship and sponsorship. The session Advancing the Careers of Women in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine will take place on Wednesday at 9:15 am CT.
Joining Dr. Pisani and Dr. Braun on the panel are Carey Thomson, MD, MPH, FCCP; Jennifer McCallister, MD, FCCP; and Mangala Narasimhan, DO, FCCP.
Session moderator, Dr. Braun, the Associate Program Director for Baylor’s critical care medicine fellowship and a member of the institution’s Faculty Senate, conceived the idea when CHEST asked for session proposals related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Drawing on her own experiences facing gender discrimination, she considered the topic especially timely as she saw professional women disproportionately shouldering the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as increased childcare duties.
Those who attend the discussion will learn how to develop leadership skills and find mentors to guide their research trajectories and careers. They will also gain insights about how to select sponsors capable of helping them gain opportunities to publish and participate in international panels and committees. In addition to sharing strategies that physicians can use on their own to connect with senior colleagues, the panelists will discuss formal mentorship programs run by health care institutions and organizations.
Though the session is focused on women in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, men are encouraged to attend.
“Women can’t succeed in a vacuum; we need men to be our allies, mentors, and sponsors,” Dr. Pisani said. “There are data in the corporate world showing that, when men sponsor women, the women achieve more in their careers while men and the whole workplace also benefit.”
The panel’s messages about justice and fairness also need to be heard by the leaders of health care institutions, added Dr. Braun.
“There are studies showing that, when there’s more diverse leadership and not everyone looks the same, financial outcomes are better,” she said. “Another factor in medicine is that you want your workforce to look like your patient population, because often patients connect better with someone who looks like them.”
Ultimately, Dr. Braun hopes the panel will help female physicians learn how to identify and secure the support they need.
“Trainees will get the tools they need to find their career goals and work toward them,” she said. “And women who are stalled in the middle stages of their careers will learn how to get beyond that.”
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