AMWA addresses physicians' issues

February 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

The American Medical Womens' Association met to discuss current and emerging issues that affect women physicians and issues in women's health.

For the 83rd time since 1915, the American Medical Womens' Association met to discuss current and emerging issues that affect women physicians and issues in women's health. The annual meeting, held in New Orleans in November, attracted approximately 650 women physicians, medical students and other health care professionals.

Topics addressed at this year's meeting ranged from business issues, such as "Quality Management Skills for Physicians," to clinical issues, such as "Coronary Heart Disease in Women." And for the first time, AMWA offered courses in what it calls its Career Development Institute.

"These are difficult times for medicine in general, and in particular, for women in medicine," said AMWA president Sharyn Lenhart, M.D., a psychiatrist practicing in Boston. "The creation of the Career Development Institute, the first of its kind, allows AMWA to provide much needed career development services for women."

The Career Development Institute is a collection of customized "courses" offered during the annual meeting. The courses address women physicians' professional and personal development objectives. Simmons College Graduate School of Business Management partners with AMWA to offer the courses.

AMWA had several reasons for developing the Career Development Institute. One, Lenhart explained, was to better serve the needs of its membership, which, like those of many other professional medical associations, had been declining in numbers in recent years. A second reason was to help women physicians recognize that male-female biases within the field of medicine occur. And a third reason was to help women physicians identify ways they could deal with or overcome those biases.

For example, although women have been trained in the field of medicine in proportionate numbers to men since the mid-1970s, very few women have risen to positions of leadership within their practices or their profession.

According to Lenhart, fewer than 5% of deans at medical schools are women, and fewer than 10% of department chairs are women. Also, few senior partners in physician practices or heads of hospital committees are women.

"Men have a linear [career] curve," explained Lenhart. "They train and then produce consistently into their 50s, when they plateau. Women, on the other hand, have the same training but their careers may plateau in their 30s - during childbearing years - and then rebound again in their 40s. However, most standards of productivity for tenure and for what you would expect to make partner in a practice are set on the male model. They don't apply equally to men and to women." As a result, AMWA contends, women physicians are not progressing at a pace comparable to that of their male counterparts.

"We wanted to help women get more leadership skills so they can move into policy-making positions and address these issues," said Lenhart.

AMWA also used its Career Development Institute to present courses on business issues that all physicians need to understand in today's managed care environment.

"Physicians have not been trained to think in business terms," Lenhart said. "But if you're going to interact effectively with managed care organizations, you have to learn to think from a business perspective."

Several pharmaceutical companies have taken an interest in supporting both the association and its Career Development Institute. Abbott, Eli Lilly, Glaxo Wellcome, Ortho-McNeil, Pfizer, Pharmacia & Upjohn, Searle, Procter & Gamble and Wyeth-Ayerst were the AMWA Foundation's corporate partners in 1998; SmithKline Beecham was an organizational member. Other companies, such as Knoll and Zeneca, supported the association with educational grants.

In addition, pharmaceutical reps are very welcome to attend the annual meeting, said Lenhart.

"If they have products that are related to women's health, we are a very efficient way to get projects underway because we can bring a multispecialty group of physicians together very quickly," said Lenhart. "We evaluate what their goals are and what our goals are and see how we can develop together." PR