The clock has run out

The Time’s Up movement has hit health care. Meet two DOs helping lead the charge.

Time’s Up Healthcare wants to take on the gender imbalance of leadership in the industry and hold existing leadership accountable.

In response to the #MeToo movement, advocates started Time’s Up Now last year with a goal to correct systemic inequalities in the workplace. Earlier this year, Time’s Up Healthcare launched as a group effort aiming to raise awareness of gender inequalities and sexual harassment in health care settings to ensure a safe and respectful workplace. The organization’s 12-person advisory board leading the strategy includes two influential osteopathic physicians, Roberta Gebhard, DO, and Barbara Ross-Lee, DO.

The roots of women in osteopathic medicine go back to the profession’s founding and the percentage of female DOs has doubled in the past 25 years. But recent headlines and studies indicate that there’s still work to be done to achieve gender equality in the health care professions.

In April, the University of Southern California’s cardiovascular disease fellowship was notified that it would lose its accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The fellowship’s accreditation was revoked a year after the Los Angeles Times published an article in which a fellow in the program alleged that another physician sexually assaulted her at L.A. County-USC Medical Center.

A recent survey about sexual harassment and discrimination among academic medical faculty published in JAMA found that nearly 70% of women respondents perceived gender-specific bias in the academic environment. Thirty percent of women respondents reported they had experienced harassment.

Awareness of the issues

“You can’t intervene in a problem if you don’t know it exists,” says Barbara Ross-Lee, DO. “We want to influence current leadership to engage the gender resource that is being ignored.”

Dr. Ross-Lee created a legacy for women and minorities as the first African-American woman to be named dean of a U.S. medical school and first DO to become a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy fellow. She recalls a time when there were few opportunities for women in the medical profession and opportunities were nonexistent for minority women.

In 2019, women make up 33% of senior leadership positions in health care.

“It has been my goal to facilitate more women in leadership positions,” Dr. Ross-Lee says. “Excellence is only achieved through every type of diversity and it’s good for the industry to have women involved in all levels of care.”

One way Time’s Up Healthcare plans on improving the numbers of women in leadership roles is by helping organizations commit to diversification. Institutions can pledge their commitment to the organization’s key tenets, which include:

  • Preventing sexual harassment
  • Fighting against gender inequities
  • Protecting and aiding those who are targets

Tackling pay discrimination

The mission of Time’s Up Healthcare aligns with the advocacy Dr. Gebhard, the first DO elected president of the American Medical Women’s Association, has led since founding AMWA’s Gender Equity Taskforce in 2005, which published a study on workplace bullying among family physicians in the Journal of Women’s Health.

In the 2019 Medscape Physician Compensation Report, full-time salaried primary care male physicians reported earning 25% more than their female counterparts. The gap among specialists is even wider, with male physicians earning 33% more.

Dr. Gebhard experienced it first hand; she has left jobs over gender pay discrepancies.

A male physician one year out of residency was earning $10,000 more, she says, despite her 18 years of experience. They had started their jobs within weeks of each other and Dr. Gebhard was told there was no wiggle room during negotiations because everyone was paid the same salary in the government position.

“You shouldn’t have to fight or negotiate to have an equal salary,” Dr. Gebhard says. “It should be based on your education, experience and skills. Your gender is not associated with that at all.”

Calling on allies

A key part of Time’s Up Healthcare is calling on male bystanders to speak up when they witness women in health care being mistreated.

“The fact that men are stepping up saying “this isn’t fair” is helping the system change,” Dr. Gebhard says.

The osteopathic medical profession has accepted women as equal members since A.T. Still’s first class of medical students, and today, 41 percent of DOs are women, noted AOA President William S. Mayo, DO. AOA policy supports appropriate legislation to eliminate sexual harassment and the association’s guidelines for professional conduct explicitly direct members to address violations they observe.

“I’m disheartened that female physicians and medical students continue to suffer harassment and discrimination,” Dr. Mayo said. “It is incumbent on us as physicians to hold perpetrators accountable.”

Students begin learning about professionalism in medical school, including the importance of reporting bias and harassment, Dr. Ross-Lee says. “Physicians should not and can not watch someone be harassed or be a victim and not report it,” Dr. Ross-Lee says. “We all need to stand up or it never changes.”

How to get involved

Donations are being used to build out the infrastructure of the organization and fund the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which has received over 4,000 requests for legal assistance and raised over $24 million. The second highest number of requests for assistance came from the health care industry.

“There’s a culture of sexual harassment that exists throughout the industry and Time’s Up is looking into building a structure that would provide legal support for people who want to take on these occurrences,” Dr. Ross-Lee says.

You can sign up to receive updates here and learn about becoming a signatory organization here.

Further reading

#MeToo in medicine: Docs who are sexually harassed struggle to report behavior, survey suggests

Beyond National Women Physicians Day: Women in medicine rising

Giving birth during medical school

Finding a way forward after the Larry Nassar case

New dean at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine

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