Elizabeth Garner, MD, MPH—a member of the AMWA board of directors, (2020-2022) and the organization’s treasurer—she is Chief Medical Officer at ObsEva, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on women’s reproductive health.
Tell Us About Your Work as a Women in Medicine
I am a passionate advocate for the development of new treatments for unmet medical needs in women’s health. I began my career as an obstetrician/gynecologist and gynecologic oncologist in academic clinical practice, research, and teaching at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Then, I transitioned to the industry side of healthcare 14 years ago. I am a clinician at heart, and loved clinical practice, and still and will always miss my wonderful patients.
My entry into the pharmaceutical industry was serendipitous in many ways. Although my mind was open to making a change, I wasn’t actively looking for a change. A recruiter approached me at just the right time, and following an interview at Merck, I was so impressed with the people I met and the work they were doing that I was convinced it was worth a try, and my hunch was right.
In my current role—as Chief Medical Officer for ObsEva (a women’s health company based in Geneva, Switzerland)— I lead our clinical development programs as well as serve on the executive committee of the company. We are focused on treatments in several important areas of women’s health, including preterm labor, infertility, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis. What industry brings for me is the opportunity to use my clinical knowledge every single day while having the potential to have a wider impact on women’s health than I felt I could have by taking care of one patient at a time.
I certainly did not arrive at this place on my own. My husband and parents have always been amazing supporters and have encouraged me every step of the way.
What Interests Do You Pursue Beyond Your Medicine Career?
I enjoy helping companies and organizations achieve their strategic goals and objectives. To this end, I am on three corporate boards, and I also serve on three non-profit boards, including the American Medical Women’s Association. I also advise and consult with companies on specific, short-term projects.
All three of the companies for which I am a board member are healthcare companies that focus on a range of therapeutic areas, including oncology, autoimmune and rare diseases, and others. My non-profit boards are CorStone, an international organization focused on resilience in young people and the Drug Information Association which fosters worldwide collaboration across pharma, regulatory bodies, advocates, and patients to result in better policy, regulations, science, research, and development, all aimed at improving patient outcomes. Much of my board work and all my consulting efforts overlap with my medical career, so that has been very gratifying.
I’m also a musician, having majored in music as an undergraduate; so for most of my professional years, I have been a member of a choral group and practice piano whenever I can squeeze it in.
What Has Contributed to Your Promotions and Career Advancement?
My biggest challenges have had to do with being underestimated. I suppose I should consider myself lucky, but people generally assume I am at least 10-15 years younger than my actual age, and they treat me as if I have 10-15 years less experience. Combined with being female, mixed race, and being small in stature (one advantage of working remotely is that no-one can assess height via Zoom!), I am constantly faced with having to prove myself when meeting new people. This requires a lot of extra energy and effort beyond simply getting the work done.
As with any career, there are choices to be made regarding hours spent on work-related activities. I have worked extremely hard in every position I have held, and that includes working weekends, nights, and vacations; and yes, I’ve pulled many all-nighters while working in industry. I insist on the very highest quality in everything I do, and I know that has set me apart from my peers. I was fortunate while working at Merck to participate in leadership training courses, and without a doubt, those experiences helped me realize that I had the potential to be a leader and how to be the navigator of my own career.
Do You Have Any Advice to Offer to Other Women in Medicine?
As women, I believe that we bring something special and unique to the table. Far too often, our voices are not heard so I encourage all women in medicine to believe in themselves, to speak up, and speak out. Most importantly, I see the value that comes when we support one another in our efforts to change the world of medicine. This is why I am committed to seeing AMWA grow and flourish as an organization that provides women in medicine and students considering medical careers a forum for personal and professional growth.
About Dr. Garner
Currently, Elizabeth Garner, MD, MPH, serves as Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for ObsEva, a women’s health company based in Geneva, Switzerland. From 2014 to 2019, she was Chief Medical Officer for Agile Therapeutics. Prior to 2014, she held senior leadership roles as Vice President of Medical Affairs for Women’s Health and Preventive Care at Myriad Genetics Laboratories (2012 to 2014) and as Senior Medical Director for Women’s Health at Abbott Laboratories (2011 to 2012). Her first industry positions were Associate Director and then Director of vaccines clinical research at Merck Research Laboratories, where she worked on the Gardasil® and Gardasil®9 Human Papillomavirus vaccines.
Dr. Garner received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and a Master’s in Public Health from Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. She completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals with a subspecialty fellowship in gynecologic oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She is board certified in both general obstetrics and gynecology and gynecologic oncology.