American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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President's Column

A look at the College's success in promoting gender diversity

From the September 2000 ACP-ASIM Observer, copyright © 2000 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

  • Women: Get Involved! Just as internists check their patients' vital signs at each visit, the College periodically checks its own vital signs. For membership organizations, there is no more essential vital sign than membership statistics. Demographic information helps us determine where we have been, where we are and where we are going as an organization.

The good news is that as we begin the new millennium, our vital signs are strong and reflect a diversity that mirrors the future of medicine. In recent years, women have increased their numbers both in the College's ranks and in leadership positions. In this month's column, I would like to focus on the College's progress in attracting and promoting female members.

Women now account for 21% of overall College membership and 35% of Associates. As medicine in general and internal medicine in particular continue to grow as a career choice for women, we can expect the number of female College members to continue to rise.

Family-friendly events

Recognizing this trend, the College has tried to develop ways to encourage its female members to get involved. For one, the College has made its events more family-friendly to attract more physicians who double as mothers. Child care is now offered at Annual Session, which has helped increase the percentage of female attendees from 18.6% in 1994 to 27.8% in 2000.

The College's chapter events have also worked to include families and children in their social events. College leaders realize that female internists should not be required to sacrifice even more time away from their families to learn, renew skills and exchange ideas with colleagues.

My own experiences visiting chapter meetings have borne this out. My husband and twins joined me at the Maine Chapter meeting. I learned volumes at the CME sessions, and all four of us had a great time at the social gatherings.

It is important to note that these efforts do not solely benefit female internists. Male internists with families are also more likely to enjoy meetings where their families can be included.

Leadership

It is not enough simply to have female internists attend educational meetings. The real indicator of progress for women members is how well the College has involved female internists in leadership.

Internal medicine needs the input, ideas, energy and commitment of all internists, male and female. In bygone years, the "O" in organized medicine meant "obstacles" to female physicians. But in the last decade, the College has transformed that "O" into "opportunities."

Now more than ever, the playing field is level for women in the College. A look at the ACP-ASIM leadership roster for this year proves that the women of the College have, as sports fans would say, "picked up the ball and run with it."

At no other time in the College's history have women had such a strong stake in leadership. Not until 1996 did the College have a female President, Christine K. Cassel, MACP. I am honored to be serving as the College's second female President.

It would not be too far off the mark to label this year in College history as "The Year of the Woman." Donna E. Sweet, FACP, chairs the Board of Governors; Lynne M. Kirk, FACP, is Chair-elect of the Board of Governors; and Holly Mattix, ACP-ASIM Associate, is Chair-elect of the Council of Associates.

In addition, the Chairs of four of the College's committees are also women. Membership is led by Sara E. Walker, MACP; Health and Public Policy is chaired by Mary T. Herald, FACP; Ethics and Human Rights is led by Risa J. Lavizzo-Mourey, FACP; and Awards is chaired by Barbara L. Schuster, MACP.

Further, the number of women in other leadership positions has doubled between 1999 and 2000 from seven to 13 Governors, and from four to eight Regents. Women now account for 15% of the Governors and 22% of the Regents.

This representation and inclusion of women in College leadership is real and not mere tokenism or lip service to gender diversity. With these kinds of numbers, it is clear that ACP-ASIM recognizes and respects women for their contributions.

We must never forget, however, that none of these advances would have occurred without the foresight of past leaders who strove to correct the inequities of the past. Our male colleagues and leaders over the last decade remade the leadership of the College to more clearly reflect the gender diversity of the membership and to reward competence regardless of gender. They nominated women to leadership posts. They elected female Regents. They elevated the goals of diversity even though in the process they reduced their own numbers in the College. We owe them all a great debt of honor.

Was this action altruistic and far-sighted? Of course. Was it surprising? Maybe to some, but not to me. After all, these physicians were born male by genetic happenstance. They became internists, however, by choice. And from internists, I would expect nothing less.

Sandra Adamson Fryhofer

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