As a woman and a physician, I'm thankful for the many opportunities I've had to grow and take leadership positions with CEP America. I have many women colleagues who feel the same.
But I also know from experience that women in medicine face unique challenges
when it comes balancing their personal and professional lives.
Statistics bear this out. Women currently represent almost one-third of practicing physicians, 70 percent of physician assistants (PAs) and 91 percent of nurse practitioners (NPs). Most of us serve a patient population that is 50 percent female. And yet women make up less than 20 percent of physician executives
, 16 percent of medical school deans
and 4 percent of healthcare CEOs
. This is especially concerning given that holding a leadership position is correlated with higher career satisfaction
About a year ago, a group of CEP America providers began talking about creating a leadership event especially for women. Women from across the enterprise championed the idea, including those in talent management, medical recruiting and the leadership development program.
Finally, over dinner, we floated the idea past our chief operations officer.
"That's really a great idea," he said. "You really have to take it somewhere."
A few months later, CEP America held its first Women in Medicine (CWIM) Forum at its 2015 Partnership meeting. Here's what we learned and how we're using those lessons to build a supportive infrastructure for women across our organization.
The Planning Phase
Several CEP leaders provided our group of champions with valuable support and encouragement in planning the forum. We started by identifying these goals for the CWIM initiative:
- Promote and support the advancement of women within CEP through both personal and professional growth
- Provide leadership development, mentorship and expertise to women interested in leadership
- Create a community where we can learn and share best practices for personal growth, maintaining work-life balance and other challenges
Our next step was to identify our target audience for the forum. We felt that providers at all stages of their careers could benefit and extended an invitation to all women physicians, PAs and NPs (whether or not they currently held a leadership position).
After some discussion, we also decided to open the forum to men. We were a little worried their presence might stifle the dialogue. However, we knew that many of our male colleagues genuinely wanted to support women and promote their leadership.
Next, we sent an email survey to all CEP America providers to identify pain points, topics of interest and potential subject-matter facilitators. The top concerns that emerged were:
- The juggling act: acting as "CEO" of the household while working clinical shifts and performing administrative tasks.
- Effects of a demanding career on marriage and relationships
- Pregnancy/post-partum needs (e.g., finances, maternity leave, breastfeeding, maintaining contact with your pediatrician).
- Clinical vs. administrative time balance
These issues aren't necessarily unique to women, though we may experience them differently or in disproportionate numbers. We used these responses to fine-tune the forum to participants needs.
And finally the day was upon us! We were a little nervous because it was scheduled on the second afternoon of our annual Partnership meeting when a lot of people might be heading home or socializing. We gathered in the hotel ballroom and held our breath to see what would happen.
We needn't have worried. About 120 participants attended the forum — 10 percent of whom were men! The excitement in the room was electric. I can't remember another event where people were so excited about the possibilities.
We kicked off the program with a panel discussion featuring women leaders from around the organization, including a vice president, two medical directors and a PA/NP site lead. Each panelist shared a little about her career path, work-life balance and strategies for avoiding burnout before taking questions from the audience.
We then moved on to tabletop discussions led by female leaders from around the organization. Participants could pick from a number of topics, including:
What We Learned
The program elicited several common themes and best practices that may be helpful to women as they develop their careers:
- We're all works in progress. When it comes to your professional and personal lives, there's no such thing as a state of perfection. A better goal is to regularly re-evaluate your progress and adjust course as needed.
- Learn to say no while keeping the door open.
- Be open to new opportunities.
- Know what's really important to you and make time for it. For one of our medical directors, that means having one sit-down meal a day with family and attending her children's Scouting trips. One of our PA/NP leads spends every Wednesday with family while maintaining email and phone contact with work.
- Consider delegating or letting go of tasks that don't support your goals. If helping the kids with homework leads to conflict, hand the task off to a partner, tutor or nanny. If finances permit, hire someone to reduce the load of cooking and housework.
A lesson we learned from the participants is the importance of inclusiveness. While women share many life experiences, we're also incredibly diverse in our circumstances. Populations we hope to address in future programming include empty nesters and those nearing retirement, women without children and single-earner households.
Feedback about the forum was overwhelmingly positive. ("Where has this been?" asked several participants.) There is definitely a strong demand within the organization to continue and build upon this work.
We plan to carry CWIM's work forward through a number of channels. One will be an informal mentorship and resource network, currently in the form of an email LISTSERV. (Eventually, we hope to establish a CWIM community of practice on our internal portal.) We also formed a workgroup to plan future events and programming. And we're already planning more live events that will help us to rest, recharge and strengthen the community we've started.
The CWIM forum really seemed to fill a need within our CEP America community. I found myself wishing I could give more to the attendees, because there was such a high degree of expectation. On a positive note, I think the event created momentum that will keep the conversations we started at the forum going.