Janice Werbinski, MD
AMWA President 2021 – 2022
Dear AMWA Colleagues:
As your President for 2021, I am honored and delighted to welcome all of you to the 2021 Virtual AMWA LEADS meeting. Though the Covid Pandemic again dictates that we meet virtually, sometimes technology shows us a new way, and permits many more of us to participate and share the benefits of a meeting. Our Program Committee and dedicated staff have again crafted an awesome agenda. Congratulations and thanks to all who dedicated long hours and expertise to fashion this 106th meeting of AMWA.
AMWA has been around for 106 years, and it never ceases to amaze me that it is so relevant. Our newest initiatives involve personal wellness programs such as fertility issues, prevention of suicide, burnout, and imposter syndrome. a big focus on leadership and promotions; and personalized medicine – especially noting that women’s health issues can still be invisible because researchers are not required to disaggregate data by sex. I have been an AMWA member since my residency years, and through AMWA, I have forged many memorable friendships, gained professional direction, education, inspiration, and courage to act on my ideas and convictions. In no other organization have I found the personal touch that membership in AMWA offers.
My history is probably not like many of my female colleagues. Born into a second-generation immigrant Polish family and with parents who had no opportunity to even finish high school, it was a somewhat foreign idea to my parents that I wanted to be a doctor. At a very young age, I was intrigued and fascinated by anatomy and medicine, and I feel that this led to my calling to be a surgeon. I used to fish with my father during summer months at our one-room cottage, and I was absolutely fascinated with the inner workings of the fish as my father let me help clean them for dinner.
Until medical school, I really didn’t even recognize sexual harassment, nor did I know that a woman has to prove herself to be worthy of promotions that come naturally for men. In spite of the limitations for women in medicine during the 70’s, I continued to progress, and even excel in my aspirations.
One constant throughout my career was the friendships, colleagues, and training that I found in AMWA. I could always count on finding mentors and supportive colleagues here.
As I progressed in clinical practice, and was hired to direct the new idea of a Women’s Center, through AMWA, I made some lifelong connections with like-minded women physicians who were interested in Women’s Health throughout all specialties. It was then that I realized that Women’s Health is not just study of how women’s reproductive systems are different than men’s, but that all aspects of study of women’s health and disease differ from that of mens. Dr. Marianne Legato had edited the first textbook in SGBM, and Janine Clayton, of the OWRH at NIH advocated for research using Sex as a Biologic Variable, showing so many differences from the 70kg male basics which had been used for many years as the standard. In fact, the more research is disaggregated by sex, the more differences are discovered. In one study in mice, a drug which lowers BP in males actually raised BP in females!
So, the movement morphed into the Sex and Gender Health Collaborative Committee of AMWA, and the work continues. We now have over 25 years of research that has required that women be included, but only more recently has NIH required that results of that research in animals must be disaggregated by sex. And, though it is strongly recommended that human research results be disaggregated, it is not required as of yet.
Our quest is that differences in evaluation, treatment, pharmacologics, and reporting is woven throughout all specialties, because we feel that “every cell has a sex” and every condition and organ system has differences to be found. Our plea to the 4000 medical students in AMWA is to become advocates at their institutions for this education. Two simple things everyone can do to advocate for this is to ask the simple questions: “How would this look in the other sex?” and “Has this medication been studied and found to be safe in women?” Your professors may not know the answers right now, but just asking the question can stimulate a search for the answers.
So, as I look back on my years at AMWA, I find that AMWA has better prepared me for my career and my passions than any school, healthcare institution, or operating room. For my platform this year, I have chosen sex and gender specific medical education and practice. I will be working hard to increase its visibility and understanding as a Sina Qua Non (Indispensable Ingredient) for those who care for women – and men, and those along the spectrum between.
The other issue I am passionate about was brought to light at last year’s Annual Meeting. I listened to several speakers bemoaning the fact that, though women now compose at least ½ of physicians in training, the rate and percent of women being promoted to more distinguished and higher paid positions is far below that 50% line. Hence, women are told that we have “Imposter Syndrome” or need to develop better negotiating skills. I particularly remember last year’s presentation by Dr. Darilyn Moyer, CEO of ACP, who said that we need to change the system to make it more representative of women’s work and management styles. Or, as Dr. Shika Jain puts it: “We need a Gender Moon Shot!” Salaries and benefits must be more transparent, so we can even know what a position is worth. We need to provide protected time, administrative assistance, and workplace childcare to assist women to find the time to perform the required research and production for promotion. And we need to make work re-entry less arduous after illness or childbearing and rearing. And as far as the condition known as Imposter Syndrome, Tulshyan and Burey write:
- “The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals, but to create an environment that fosters a variety of leadership styles and in which diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities are seen as just as professional as the current model, which Tina Opie describes as Eurocentric, masculine, and heteronormative.”
So, please join me, and ask your colleagues and friends to join us. By friends and colleagues, I mean women, men, and those in the spectrum between, as this year:
- we have welcomed a man to our board of directors,
- the male leader of the “He for She” movement has joined our membership committee,
- and last year, Dr. Nicole Sandhu, our outgoing president, placed her focus on diversity and inclusion.
We are committed to making AMWA inviting for all in the healthcare field, especially those who have felt marginalized in medicine. Welcome to all who are working toward our Vision:
A healthier world where women physicians achieve equity in the medical profession and realize their full potential.