Katherine Harris, MD, has been serving as Governor of the Iowa Chapter of the American College of Physicians (ACP) for a little more than a year. “Do you know how many other women have held this position?” she asked an audience earlier this month. “One. In about a hundred years.” (That woman was Janet Schlechte, MD, by the way.) The audience Harris was addressing was composed of women attending this year’s Progress 2023 conference, a mix of medical students, residents, faculty clinicians, and community providers.
The continuing medical education event has always served as an opportune time to also hold the Iowa ACP Chapter meeting, given the numbers of attendees from across the state. In addition to chapter business, the organization has also held clinical vignette competitions and Doctor’s Dilemma competitions for trainees and formally recognized outstanding service from long-term members.
As Governor, Harris has looked for ways to grow the membership of the Iowa chapter in innovative ways. This year, with the help of ACP member and Coralville physician Rachel Dirksen, MD, the chapter hosted a lunch on the second day of Progress for women attendees. More than just new members, though, the two hoped the lunch “would be a great way to start building a community.”
About two dozen women filled the small conference room, many of them meeting each other for the first time. “We were excited by the turnout,” Dirksen said. After a brief welcome from Harris and Dirksen setting the tone, the group was free to discuss a variety of issues among themselves over lunch. “We had women in all stages of their medical careers there to talk about life in medicine, career challenges, and things that we love about our work in internal medicine. It was a great success.”
Citing disparities in the number of women in leadership roles in medicine and in financial compensation, Harris and Dirksen believe that involvement in an organization like ACP offers women an opportunity to “share their voices” and have an impact on these issues and others. “ACP has always been a wonderful place for mentorship and also great motivation to think broadly about our profession,” Harris and Dirksen wrote in a joint statement. “By having our voices at all levels within the largest physician organization in the country, in leadership positions in academic and private practice, and in our community, hopefully we can change these statistics and support women in medicine.”
Though they plan to host another lunch at next year’s Progress, the two also want to be “deliberate” about future programming for the Women in Medicine group. Citing busy schedules and demands from other obligations, Harris and Dirksen hope that ideas for what is useful to the community will come from the members themselves. “We hope that we hear from women across Iowa about what they want from this community so that we can plan accordingly.”
What was your hope for the lunch and was that fulfilled?
For our new Iowa ACP Chapter Women In Medicine group, We were excited and impressed by the great turn out. We had women in all stages of their medical careers there to talk about life in medicine, career challenges, and things that we love about our work in internal medicine. It was a great success.
Will you do this again next year?
Absolutely. We wouldn’t miss an opportunity to meet up with this group of women and sincerely hope we get to have even more women next year.
Do you have other ACP programming in mind aimed at women physicians?
Yes-we think that we need to be very deliberate about our programming and plan events that are of use to women in ACP. We realize the busy schedules, both inside and outside of work, and want to be respectful of that while we build a community. We hope that we hear from women across Iowa about what they want from this community so that we can plan accordingly. We hope to hear stories, gain insight, and learn from women at all stages of life and career.
What is the benefit of adding more women to the organization’s ranks?
ACP has always been a wonderful place for mentorship and also great motivation to think broadly about our profession and the role we can play in our community and national health care. We hope being part of this network of women physicians gives encouragement and support to those who may not always have the confidence to share their voices when decisions are being made that affect our roles as physicians, our patients, and our communities.
While over 50% of medical school students are women, only 46% of physicians-in-training are female, 34% of active physicians are female, and only 21% of full professors in medicine are female. Women are still paid 16% less than their male counterparts in primary care and 37% less in subspecialties. By having our voices at all levels within the largest physician organization in the country, in leadership positions in academic and private practice, and in our community, hopefully we can change these statistics and support women in medicine.