SheMD is a virtual community of female physicians who discuss issues related to women in medicine and medical training. In addition to their website, they have active communities on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. In this interview, we speak with the Editors-in-Chief of SheMD, Melissa Parsons, MD and Alexandra Mannix, MD.
Tell us about your medical background, and how and when SheMD came about.
Parsons: Dr. Mannix and I trained together in our Emergency Medicine Residency at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville. We developed an organization for the female residents at our institution during that time. As our careers grew, we both began independently blogging about our experiences as #WomenInMedicine. We also both took a faculty development course online, in which one of our mentors recommended we blog together with a bigger goal — the outcome was SheMD, a virtual community of practice aimed at premed, med students, and residents discussing gender in medicine issues.
Mannix: We each came to SheMD with different perspectives and priorities. I had spent much of my undergraduate time studying gender through my degree in sociology. Dr. Parsons was beginning her struggle with infertility, and wanted to share it with the medical community. We both hoped to raise awareness about gender and medical education.
How has the community evolved?
Parsons: Our individual websites came first, and we launched the actual website and our social media sites collectively on August 1st, 2018. We have been growing ever since! We have used our social media platforms to grow our following, but we have also been speaking at different medical schools and undergraduate programs to continue growing our community and sharing our message.
Mannix: We both understood the importance of being on multiple forms of social media. We wanted to make our launch as smooth as possible, so we spent a few months planning our platforms, goals, and aesthetic prior to the launch. I believe the nearly four months of prep time greatly helped us develop a cohesive brand prior to launch date.
What are your goals for SheMD?
Parsons: Our goal at SheMD is to educate a younger generation of female physicians about some of the gender disparities that continue to exist in medicine. These are disparities that we learned about — unfortunately, often too late — while embarking on our attending careers. We hope that by educating women at an earlier stage in their career, we may be able to see an improvement in gender disparities.
Mannix: We also wanted to provide this education using literature and data. We practice evidence-based medicine in the clinical environment, and hope to carry this practice into SheMD.
What challenges persist for women in medicine? Describe some of the gender disparities that exist.
Parsons: As women in medicine, we face a gender pay gap of 14-20% depending on specialty as well as a significant leadership gap. We face sexual harassment more than any other women in the sciences, and in fact, over 50% of female medical students have reported an episode of sexual harassment. We also face a disproportionate burden of household work and childcare, making work-life “balance” a challenge.
Mannix: The leadership gap is significant, because this translates into less women in leadership positions. We are at an increased risk for infertility compared to the general population and women of similar age with advanced degrees.
Why does gender equality in science, medicine, and global health matter? What strategies are needed to promote change and ensure gender equality in medicine?
Parsons: Gender equality in all fields matters. In business, gender equity has been shown to be BETTER for companies, making them more profitable when they have a more gender-diverse leadership. One of the best examples of the importance of gender equality in medicine is female patients with chest pain. The textbooks teach us what “chest pain” should look like. Unfortunately, that description of typical chest pain is “typical” for a man, but the symptoms that women experience when having cardiac ischemia are often labeled “atypical” even though they are common in women. Why? The studies were done in males. A recent study on heart attacks in the Emergency Department found that women were more likely to die when treated by male physicians. The most interesting part of the study? Male doctors who worked with more female physicians were BETTER at treating women with heart attacks. This study cannot determine why. What it does tell us is this: in medicine, we need gender equality in how we care for patients and how we study disease processes, medications, and treatments. We also need gender equality in our healthcare providers.
What are some of the personal challenges you have faced as women in medicine?
Parsons: There are many challenges I could share, but the one I have been most vocal about has been my infertility journey. As a resident on my first day of training, I was informed by my chief residents that as the only married woman in my class, I was not allowed to get pregnant and that they would provide me with birth control. I am now almost 5 years out of training and still am not a mother. I am not alone. In the United States, 1 in 8 women suffer with infertility. For female physicians, 24.1% of us will struggle with infertility. That is 1 in 4 of us.
Mannix: During residency, I was in a class of 3 women and 12 men. I am generally the only female physician on shift in the Emergency Department. While interviewing for faculty jobs, I met very few female physicians. In many institutions, the only women I met during my interview were support staff. I am often confused by patients, family members, and consults as either the nurse or the resident — no matter how I introduce myself. I recently wrote a blog post about an email that was sent to me and two male physicians — it began with “Dr. Javed, Dr. Barr, and Lexie.” Women in medicine are frequently undermined in this manner — it has been shown in other environments and specialties. Microaggressions similar to this are commonplace for women in medicine.
Is work-life balance possible?
Parsons: We both agree that the term “balance” is impossible. There is never a perfect balance that can be reached. Plus, the term balance implies work is bad and life is good, which isn’t always the case. We prefer to use the term “work-life integration.” We believe work and life can be well integrated for us as #WomenInMedicine, but it often requires us to adjust our expectations and accept more imperfections. We can have all the things we want in life — a career, a spouse, children, and hobbies. However, we may not be able to do EVERYTHING and do it perfectly. For mostly Type A women accustomed to success, perfection seems to be the biggest hindrance to work-life balance.
Mannix: Work-life integration is possible, but it comes with acknowledging that there are “seasons” of your life. During some seasons, work may be more time and labor intensive. In other seasons, family may be your priority, or your own personal health. I am learning to make more time for my priorities.
Tell us about how the SheMD community varies with each platform (such as Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and the website). Who is your audience, and what feedback do you receive?
Parsons: The content we are sharing is consistent across Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. We share new blog posts on all of our social media. Those subscribed to the website also get a biweekly “SheMD Shout Out” with updates about what is going on with the company and what blog posts have been recently shared. About our readers: We are geared towards female pre-medical students, medical students, and residents. With that said, our content is great for faculty as well as women in training, and much of our content is also appropriate for any gender. We have multiple different series that we are providing for different audiences, including our “Why Specialty” series that explores why women chose all different specialties and is applicable to male and female medical students; our Women in Healthcare series that explores different fields of healthcare that premed students may be interested in (such as paramedic, PA, nurses, and more); our series on interview tips for medical students of any gender; and our Moms in Medicine series that discusses family planning, maternity leave, physician infertility, and more on managing family and career as women in medicine.
Mannix: What I love most about our broad social media presence is our ability to reach a wide range of individuals. People prefer different platforms, so it has been great to simultaneously reach the Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest communities.
How are all the sites managed? How often is new content posted? Tell us about putting together the diverse list of authors for the site.
Parsons: We create our content calendar based on the topics we have coming in from our authors. We post new blog posts on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. On social media, we also have additional content coming out on other days: motivational quotes for #MotivationMonday, factoids from great books that all women should read, and information from our SheMD Journal Club section on the blog, which is where we highlight a research article on gender. Regarding our authors, we have established a diverse group of physicians from every specialty to share their stories about being women in medicine. We also have medical students and residents working with faculty member mentors on writing evidence-based contributions, such as our series on mentorship and sponsorship. There is also one coming out soon on wellness in female physicians.
Mannix: We love tying our weekly blog content with our social media content. Often, we will share specialty stats associated with that week’s “Why Specialty” series. We also share as much evidence-based literature as possible. We want to arm our community with as much knowledge as possible. We hope to achieve this goal with our Journal Club and SheMD reads posts. In addition, the diversity of our authors is incredibly important to us. We want to show young women (and men) in medicine what a physician looks like, which is why we include authors of all races, ethnicities, religions, economic backgrounds, specialties in medicine, degrees (MD, DO, paramedics, PAs, etc.), and stage in their careers. We also have some male authors, which we believe is vital because we need male allies.
How are hashtags such as #sheMD, #WomenInMedicine, and #GirlMedTwitter also transforming social media?
Parsons: These hashtags allow women to come together to share their stories, thoughts, and struggles. On Twitter, there is a #WomenInMedicine Twitter chat every Sunday night that brings together women across all specialties to discuss a topic for the evening. These hashtags allow conversations to get started and moving!
Mannix: The hashtags don’t end there, but include movements such as #AsAWoman, #BlackMenInMedicine, #MinoritiesInMedicine, #ThisIsMyLane, and #TimesUpHC. These hashtags help bring communities together!
What are your future plans for SheMD?
Parsons: We hope to keep growing SheMD both virtually and in person by speaking at medical schools and American Medical Women’s Association groups across the country. We also have launched the SheMD shop, and have plans to launch an educational podcast by the end of the year.
Mannix: We hope to continue to be a platform for women to share their stories, and help lift each other up.
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