Physician’s by essence of their positions are leaders, but are they equipped for this role? Most physicians spend a minimum of seven years in training after college. When they enter the workforce they assume roles as the heads of teams, divisions, and departments. Leadership training is not offered or required to obtain these prestigious titles; rather, graduation with specialty training is the only prerequisite. Does this appropriately equip physicians to be leaders, or do alternatives exist? If physicians were trained, would they lead in ways that created a more fair and equitable workplace?
In contrast, students obtaining master level training in business administration are taught leadership skills during entry level courses and throughout their degree endeavors. In the realms of diversity, equity, and inclusion they are leading the way with initiatives like the Bloomberg Gender Equity Index where standardized disclosures of gender related data “enables employees and communities to hold companies accountable for progress” in regards to gender and ethnic equity. Organizations like the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) have recognized the value of these leadership and business skills and offer MBA scholarships to qualified applicants in order to better equip women for leadership roles in medicine.
Roberta Gebhard, DO is the Immediate Past President of AMWA; in addition, she is a Family Practice physician, mother of four adult children, founder of AMWA Gender Equity Task Force, and member of the American Medical Association (AMA) Women Physicians Section (WPS) Governing Council representing 80,000 women physician’s in the US. During her three year AMWA presidential term, she gained hands on experiences with her preferred approach of servant leadership, respecting those she was leading. She covered for the medical director of her office for three months and cultivated these skills as she led alongside her team with transparency honoring each team member. This enhanced their productivity beyond their usual capacity. Surprisingly, when the director returned, he commented that more had been accomplished in three months than in the previous eight years. Dr. Gebhard effectively exemplified Brené Brown’s definition of a leader as one “who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”
When formalized leadership training is lacking, direct learning from other’s examples can be very powerful. This, along with leadership books and personal study, is how most doctors are trained for leadership, including Dr. Gebhard. Fortunately, she had worthy examples in prior AMWA leaders who modeled respect for others and collaboration. However, many physician’s follow the unhealthy trends of prior leaders who propagate inequity and unsafe work environments. Better education and training can help redirect this trajectory.
Dr. Gebhard effectively led AMWA to accomplish many noteworthy goals during her tenure. AMWA is 105 years old and the oldest women’s medical association in the world. Its partner organizations, the Medical Women’s International Association, is 102 years old and celebrated it’s Centennial in New York during Dr. Gebhard’s tenure. One of her greatest presidential accomplishments was honoring women physicians on an international platform with 1200 members present from over 40 countries. In tandem she doubled AMWA’s membership in order to increase their overall influence in healthcare.
AMWA and AMA’s equity endeavors have exposed valuable partnerships with men who have risen to the challenge of redeveloping ideas of leadership by advocating for equity in the workplace through solidarity movements like #HeForShe. This United Nations initiative empowers men to seek advancement of gender equity for all by taking action against negative gender stereotypes and workplace behavior. In further recognizing the importance of fair treatment of women in medicine, men have partnered and promoted Revolution by Resolution, a state by state equity initiative lead by Dr. Michael Sinha, Dr. Julie Silver, Dr. Gebhard and others that advances gender equity in medical societies with commitments regarding equal pay for equal work, transparent promotion processes, and diverse leadership panels. The power of this movement is in the example that individual societies display as they reevaluate their inner workings to ensure fair and equitable treatment across gender and race, which will spread to other organizations. Additionally, this may lead to legislative change and more equitable medical school classes resulting in a stronger workforce of physicians. These efforts have faced many challenges with COVID restrictions and decreased manpower as well as slow acclimation from middle states, but despite these hurdles, the movement has been fueled by immediate adoption and application by the AMA. Shortly after being signed into action, the AMA equalized women’s pay ensuring men and women are paid equal for equal work.
Dr. Gebhard also serves on the Advisory Board for Time’s Up Healthcare, an organization committed to fight for a safe, equitable, and dignified workforce by improving collective intelligence through team members that are diverse, respectful, inclusive, and equitable. In alignment with their mission, they fight for women to have equal opportunity to do what they want to do and live their lives to the fullest. She also recently joined the advisory board of Physician Just Equity, a consultation service that advocates, educates, and empowers women and minorities to take action that honors their goals and rights.
These organizations share Dr. Gebhard’s vision of achieving an equitable workforce, and even though advancements have been made, more work needs to be done. The three most pressing issues that will impact the next phase of change are leadership engagement through pay transparency, legislative advocacy, and teaching negotiating skills to women. Through dedicated focus and shared initiatives we can realize Brené Brown’s vision when she stated that “only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world.”
Leave a Reply