Project aims to support female physicians in wellness, equity, leadership
TrishaKorioth, Staff Writer
If you are a female pediatrician, you are part of a diverse and growing workforce
that makes up more than half of the profession. But the unequal representation of
women in leadership may affect children’s health, according to a trio of female pediatricians
selected to represent the AAP in a new multiorganizational collaborative.
The AAP and five other major health care organizations are working together on the
Women’s Wellness through Equity and Leadership project to support the next wave of
female physician leaders. Their goals are to nurture a cohort of early- to mid-career
female physicians in wellness, leadership and equity initiatives; develop principles
for equitable and productive work environments; and develop a sustainable cross-society
data collection plan.
The project supports the Health and Wellness plank of the AAP Strategic Priorities.
The AAP received grant funding for the project from the Physicians Foundation. Other
participating organizations include the American Academy of Family Physicians, the
American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,
the American Psychiatric Association and the American Hospital Association.
Each organization selected three female physicians for the cohort. The 18 women are
working through an 18-month curriculum to cultivate their leadership skills. They
will receive mentoring through in-person and virtual meetings.
AAP representatives are Kajal Khanna, M.D., J.D., FAAP, of Palo Alto, Calif.; Bridgette
Jones, M.D., FAAP, of Kansas City, Mo.; and Sarah M. Webber, M.D., FAAP, of Madison,
In selecting the three women, the AAP adopted a broad definition of diversity, which
included personal characteristics (e.g., age, cultural and ethnic diversity, parenting
status, military status) and workplace characteristics (e.g., primary care/subspecialist,
practitioner/academic, work in urban/rural settings).
“This is a dynamic, passionate, exciting group of women,” said Fan Tait, M.D., FAAP,
AAP chief medical officer. “We are bringing leaders together to further their capabilities
in the arenas of wellness, equity and leadership and to inform us about the needs
in those areas for the rest of our membership.”
Female physicians face salary inequities, work-life imbalance and discrimination,
prompting the six major medical associations to seek change in the culture of medicine
For Dr. Jones, career inequality gradually has become apparent over the past five
years. After realizing that her hospital did not have initiatives to increase racial
and gender diversity among faculty, she started a committee to address the void. She
has learned that the culture can change only when the highest level of leadership
becomes more diverse.
“When you think about women leaders being in environments or having the ability to
affect environments for corporate America that are friendly to mothers, that allow
adequate maternal leave … and to breastfeeding, those have direct relationships to
child health,” she said.
Hearing other cohort members’ stories, Dr. Jones noticed that female physicians from
all types of career settings struggled with equity and wellness despite their success.
“For many of us, it appears on the surface we’re doing really well. But we’re still
struggling day-to-day with barriers that frankly men and those who are not of an under-represented
racial/ethnic group aren’t having to deal with,” she said.
According to an AAP Pediatrician Life and Career Experience Study, female pediatricians
are more likely than male pediatricians to report struggles with work-life balance
and less likely to report career satisfaction (http://bit.ly/AAPplaces2016). Another survey found that more women physicians (48%) report burnout than men (38%)
across all medical fields.
Career burnout among women stretches beyond the medical field, which Dr. Webber said
is exacerbated by their perceived societal role as caregivers. Through personal experience
with burnout, Dr. Webber realized she was not alone, but nobody was talking about
“In realizing how pervasive an issue this is and how real the experience is for many
women, I felt motivated to use my voice to share my own experience and try to make
a difference,” she said.
As the cohort moves through the curriculum, working with mentors and one another,
the organizations will gather and share data to inform change and develop programs
and tools for the broader medical community.
Dr. Khanna hopes the positive mentoring environment will assist cohort members as
they build a better future for female leaders.
“Women who advance don’t often reach down and bring those below them ahead and tend
to be more antagonistic than supportive,” she said. “With this group we have the chance
to change the face of women who are advancing leadership ideas and advancing equity