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AMWA Offers a Place for Women Leaders to Grow

by Theresa M. Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD
Professor of Medicine at Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership and President Emeritus of AMWA

Sometimes being naïve about barriers is a blessing! As a first-generation college student, funding my own way, I only applied to one college as it needed to meet my criteria, which was to be able to pay for it by working at McDonald’s, had a dorm, and offered majors I was interested in including nursing, law, and theater. Soon after entering California State University at Long Beach, I knew that I liked the sciences and set my sights on nursing. Unable to volunteer for clinical experience, I got a job in a hospital as an entry level clerk, which allowed me to get a better understanding of the possible options. Dr. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgaber is President Emeritus of AMWAWith much prodding and encouragement from the staff there, I switched to considering a career as a physician. Not realizing the many barriers in my way, but sincere about this pursuit, I joined Chicanos for Community Medicine, a group of first-generation students helping each other in pursuit of careers in health. The adage “No one does this on their own” was fitting. We worked together, supported each other and were successful.

At Weill College of Medicine at Cornell, with the support of the Dean of Minority Affairs and Students for Equal Opportunity in Medicine, the adage was again supported. Success during training, and at each step in my career, has always been, in part, to those who paved the way and offered support.

As a midcareer clinician educator, interested in promotion to full professor, a “national reputation” was required. Being elected to the Board of Directors of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) was the needed link. By participating in AMWA nationally, I obtained the needed credentials for promotion while supporting other women physicians, future physicians and advocating for women’s health. There were few women of Mexican American heritage who had achieved the rank of Professor of Medicine in US medical schools, and I added to that small but growing list. This meant obtaining funding support for attendees and providing opportunities for physicians to present their work.

I encourage others to avoid the naysayers…focus on what makes you happy, who you are, what you want and support others. As a young student, hearing “you can do this” was just the encouragement I needed to start on the physician journey. Surround yourself with those who believe in you, even when you don’t!

Not all leaders are born; most learn and are created. My advice is to utilize national leadership programs, understand your abilities and perspectives, and how those can differentiate you as a leader. Seek out support both in and out of your institution and other disciplines. Reach out and make connections, believe in sponsorship, speak for and nudge others along their way, and look for new avenues to distinguish yourself.

I remember a former dean once told me, ‘Don’t become involved in women-only groups.’ I don’t agree. Each organization has unique offerings, and you need to find your niche. AMWA has become not only my community but my launching pad for a career that has expanded in ways I never could have imagined. As a woman physician and leader, I’ve learned to aim higher and do a lot of different things, always remembering to ask, why not me? Ya, you!

Jodi Godfrey

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