President’s Message

Inaugural Address

March 28, 2020
Nicole Sandhu, MD
AMWA President 2020 – 2021

Good afternoon.

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome all of you to the 105th annual meeting of the American Medical Women’s Association and the launch of our first leadership development program for women physicians, AMWA LEADS.

I would like to begin by thanking the Program Committee and all of the speakers for their contributions to what has so far been a fantastic meeting, and a huge thank you to Drs. Eliza Chin and Amanda Xi for their remarkable work converting from the in-person meeting that AMWA spent a year planning to a truly groundbreaking virtual meeting in less than 3 weeks.

Since we made that decision, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, and there have been over 640K documented COVID-19 infections and nearly 30K deaths worldwide. As I wrote these words, there were more than 101K cases in the US and over 1500 deaths. Less than 12 hours later there were nearly 102K cases and almost 1600 deaths. As I speak these words, there are over 115K cases and over 1800 deaths.  As we are all painfully aware, health care professionals are among those who are ill and have died of COVID-19. More tragically, we know that we have not yet seen the worst of this pandemic. The concerted and ongoing national and international efforts by health care professionals and others to sound the alarm about the woefully inadequate supply of personal protective equipment and ventilators at this time of medical crisis is a testament to the power of people coming together for a common good. Health care professionals around the world continue to care for patients in the face of significant personal risk because that is what we do. And women in medicine have been at the forefront of these tremendous collective efforts, as we have always been.

There has been nothing similar to what humankind is currently experiencing since the 1918 influenza pandemic and hopefully, none of us will ever witness anything like this again. In the midst of these frightening and uncertain times, we must not lose hope. We must continue to come together as colleagues and as friends. While we must be physically distanced, we must remain socially connected. AMWA’s virtual meeting gives us an opportunity to create and nurture connections, support and learn from one another, develop our leadership skills, and find some normalcy during times that are anything but normal.

AMWA, the oldest national multispecialty organization for women physicians, was started in 1915 under the insightful leadership of Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen. The collective efforts of the formidable women in medicine who comprised AMWA allowed them to persevere through and provide resources and support nationally and globally through the 1918 pandemic and two World Wars. For over a century, AMWA has remained committed to the advancement of women in medicine and through this commitment we have and will continue to achieve great things. As part of our strategic planning in 2018 and 2019, AMWA critically considered our vision, mission, and values. We envision a healthier world in which women physicians achieve equity in the medical profession and realize their full potential. We advocate for equity and excellence in health care for all people. Our core values of integrity, equity, diversity, inclusion, collaboration, and mentorship are the framework and touchstone for all of our initiatives.

AMWA continues to have a vibrant national membership at all levels of medical training and in all types of medical professional work, and we continue our work through many initiatives. These include public health-related work, most importantly right now the COVID-19 pandemic. Ongoing initiatives include raising awareness and offering training about human trafficking, work related to gender equity in the medical profession, collaborative work to foster a sex and gender approach to health education and practice, work in advocacy and mentoring, efforts to promote physician wellness and prevent burnout, celebration of the humanities in medicine, and a new initiative called AMWA Ignite, a program developed by women physicians for women medical students to explore issues encountered during training and throughout a medical career.

Despite our many accomplishments there is more work to be done. I would like to take this opportunity to announce that during my year as president, my focus will be on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I will be partnering with our Section of Diversity and Inclusion and specifically with Dr. Neelum Aggarwal, AMWA’s Chief Diversity Officer. I wish to thank AMWA for the wonderful support and enthusiasm I have received regarding this initiative and we will begin by looking inwards, making certain that every AMWA initiative, committee, and task force operates inclusively and carries out its work through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens. We are excited to contribute to changing the inequities that persist, including gender inequities in compensation and leadership positions, and the significant disparities and inequities faced by physicians of color and physicians with disabilities. While medical schools now boast classes with greater than 50% women and though more than 50% of young physicians in practice are women, you are all aware of the inequity that persists in the number of women holding leadership positions in academic medical centers, hospitals, and medical schools across the country. Profound disparities persist in the numbers of non-Caucasian physicians, most prominently African American, Latinx, and Native American and Alaskan Native physicians who account for only 5%, 5.8%, and 0.3% of US physicians respectively, as well as the number of physicians with disabilities who account for only 2% of US physicians. Physicians of color and those with disabilities face not only inequity in numbers, but also face significant disparities in opportunities and treatment. AMWA looks forward to collaborative efforts with other organizations and experts in the field to contribute to reducing these disparities and achieving a physician workforce that more accurately resembles the population of the United States.

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly exposed numerous profound inequities that leave a very large proportion of our population at great risk—food and financial insecurity, and inequitable access to medical care. This international medical crisis has also shown the world the remarkable resilience and tenacity of health care professionals. We are truly privileged to be among them. We have seen over and over the remarkable things that can be accomplished when women come together to work towards a common goal. At this time of great uncertainly and fear, we are privileged to have this wonderful group of women physicians and physicians in training from all over the US that is AMWA. It is my great honor to serve as your president during the coming year and I thank each one of you for your service to others during this unprecedented time.

Thank you and I wish you all safety and good health.