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The Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Blog About the Women's Health Education Program

By Kristen Ryczak, MD

As the successor of Hahnemann Medical College and the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Drexel University College of Medicine is rooted in the commitment to providing a medical education to people who were otherwise barred from obtaining one. The Medical College of Pennsylvania was established in 1850 as the first medical school in the United States for women. The belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to become a physician is tied to the belief that everyone deserves quality health care.

In 1993, the Women's Health Education Program was established and tasked with integrating women’s health fully into Drexel’s medical education. Women’s health, as defined by the National Academy on Women’s Health Medical Education (NAWHME), is devoted to the preservation of wellness and prevention of illness in women. It includes screening, diagnosis and management of conditions that are unique to women, more serious in women, more common in women, and/or have manifestations, risk factors or interventions that are different in women (Donoghue et al., 1996, NAWHME Medical Education’s Women’s Health in the Curriculum). It also recognizes the importance of the study of gender differences and acknowledges the diversity of women’s health needs over the life cycle and the intersection between race, class, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, educational level, and access to medical care with sex and gender identity.

Until relatively recently, women’s health was not considered, or at best, was added into curriculum as an afterthought. Drexel’s Women’s Health Education Program (WHEP) was created in response to advocate for women’s health and prepare future physicians for excellence by understanding the unique health issues that women face. The hope at the time of WHEP’s founding was for students to appreciate that women’s health is comprehensive and includes more than reproductive care. We continue to believe that every physician, regardless of specialty, should be proficient in delivering compassionate, culturally competent, inclusive health care to women.

WHEP followed in the College of Medicine’s long history of advocacy and inclusion and was founded as a response to the lack of women’s health in medical school education. There continues to be tremendous work to be done in this area, and our scope also needs to broaden to be fully inclusive of comprehensive sex and gender medicine. While maintaining our history, we have expanded to recognize and celebrate all gender diversity. We believe that medical education needs to include learning to care for LGBTQ+ people of all genders to ensure these patients receive the well-informed, high-quality care they deserve. We address women’s health in the curriculum in several targeted ways including specific women’s health electives and optional longitudinal scholar work in women’s health, sex and gender medicine, or health equity. More broadly, we pursue ensuring all students leave Drexel competent in understanding and hopefully addressing women’s health, LGBTQ+ health and health disparity issues. Physician understanding, attitudes and experiences all affect the way they practice medicine and how they care for patients.

While focusing on studying the unique health issues that face cisgender women and LGBTQ+ people, we recognize that no person has just one identity. Exploring the intersections of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and other social determinants of health with sex and gender identities is crucial to honoring all aspects of a person’s identity and caring for patients. Unfortunately, health equity issues are often tied to the intersectionality of these identities and external sociopolitical and economic circumstances. We encourage our students to study these as well, both informally as part of their daily medical experience and formally through our health equity scholar track.

WHEP is actively working to enhance Drexel’s educational experience for all students. We remain true to our roots with our focus on women’s health issues, but we’re also committed to promoting education surrounding unique LGBTQ+ health issues, comprehensive sex and gender medicine studies, and health equity issues. Please be in touch with us if you’d like to be involved in any way and if you have concerns or suggestions to help improve your learning experience.

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