Sneak Peek: The Hospital Leader blog – Dec. 2017

It’s time to bring women leaders to the forefront


Cultivating women leaders in health care #WIMmonth #ThisIsWhatADoctorLooksLike

On my flight home from Scotland, I had a moment to watch a movie while my daughter was caught up in the encore adventures of Moana. I stumbled upon “Hidden Figures,” the story of the African American women at NASA who helped launch John Glenn into space, reviving the nation’s space program.

Dr. Vineet Arora

Dr. Vineet Arora

These women were true heroes and patriots – they lived in a man’s world and a white world, and they still managed to overcome and lead when needed. Yet, their story was “hidden” from the public until years later when popularized into this screenplay. On the plane, I realized I needed a fresh take to start my women in medicine webinar for this month’s American Medical Association Women in Medicine webinar. Instead of exploring the “leaky pipeline” that resulted in only one in five professors who are female, I wondered whether there were hidden figures – women leaders among us who we don’t see.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who stumbled upon this. Harvard researcher Julie Silver, MD, raised the question about invisible women leaders when reviewing quotes in magazines like Modern Healthcare or Forbes. Moreover, her research demonstrates that, for many professional society awards, 0% are given to women! This is happening in specialties that had nearly even proportions of women and men in practice, such as dermatology and rehab medicine. Last month, I was dumbfounded when I saw a full-page New York Times ad of Top Surgeons by Castle Connolly featuring 16 surgeons, all male.

While Castle Connolly does name female top doctors and market ad opportunities to women and men, I learned that only men sign up for the ads. While this raises more questions, the optics remain problematic – women doctors are hidden. Regardless of the venue, we must do a better job profiling our female leaders. In addition, it is important to recognize that female leaders face well-documented and somewhat controversial challenges that require careful thought:

  • Stereotype threat: Some of the original research on stereotype threat done in college students showed that, if women who are about to take a math test are told that the test will expose gender differences, such as men do better at math, women will perform worse AND men will do better. The threat of stereotypes is that women can internalize them and this may hamper their progress. The good news is that education on stereotype threat apparently helps.
  • Impostor syndrome: Even highly successful people apparently suffer from impostor syndrome, the fear that they do not deserve their success, but it is much worse in women than in men. You are always trying to conquer the little voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough.

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