Announcement was made this week by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) that women have officially and for the first time become the majority of enrollees in medical school at 50.5%. Osteopathic medical school enrollment achieved 50% female graduates for the first time in 1923, though this has since decreased and currently hovers around 46%. The founder of the Osteopathic Health Policy Fellowship (OHPF), Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, has been a trailblazer for women and minorities in medicine. Despite this relative equity in the early stages of medicine, there remains significant disparity on the other side where leadership roles are filled by women at a rate of 20% and often markedly less.
This was highlighted over the course of this weekend while meeting the physician leaders of various federal agencies – none were female. To be fair and transparent, while none were osteopathic physicians, there were four non-physician women as well as four non-white non-physician presenters who spoke over the course of the four days. There is much to be learned from any leader and it is certainly possible to be inspired by someone of different race, gender and socioeconomic background. The degree of inspiration increases exponentially, however, when you can see yourself reflected in the person standing in front of you.
The most notable resonation for me over the course of the weekend came from the physician leaders who have moved into various administrative roles in the federal government. Knowing we shared common experience of medical school, residency and clinical practice opened windows into realm of future possibility that did not so easily translate during sessions with those who had spent their entire professional careers in the political arena. Making the mental leap into a space that seemed previously unattainable becomes possible when someone from common background has taken a step in that direction before you.
There is power in being the leader – there is also much struggle, setback and frustration. The first time through does not clear the path – it takes multiple trips, footprints laid by many people to create an unmistakable trail to be followed with branches and underbrush firmly pushed back to allow uninterrupted passage. Once traveled enough times to a destination ultimately deemed familiar and safe, natural instinct and curiosity lead us to new and uncharted territory.
Meeting physicians who have successfully transitioned from clinical work into central government leadership highlights the path. Witnessing the lack of women physicians standing before me illustrates the need for more complete clearing of this trail. Participating in the OHPF grants me opportunity to serve as a window and a mirror for osteopathic and female physicians of all generations. As I take up this call to action, I acknowledge all who have gone before me and those who offer encouragement all along the way.
May we see ourselves in the leaders of our world and, when we do not, recognize and respond to the need for broader representation, braving the unknown, paving the path and reaching out, back and up so we can move forward together.