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The ELAM Blog Women's Wellness Through Equity and Leadership (WEL) Project

"Creating a culture of burnout is the opposite of creating a culture of sustainability. This is something that needs to be taught in schools. This needs to be introduced as a leadership and performance-enhancing tool."  – Arianna Huffington

ELAM blog author Susan Thompson Hingle, MD

Susan Thompson Hingle, MD, MACP, FAMWA, FRCP

August 29, 2019

As more women physicians enter the workforce, they face persistent challenges that can lead to burnout, including pay inequity, microaggressions, discrimination and imbalance between responsibilities at home and work. To tackle these issues, six major medical organizations have formed a partnership that brings together early- to mid-career women physicians for networking, mentorship and leadership training. The Women's Wellness Through Equity and Leadership (WEL) project includes the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Physicians (ACP), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA). Each organization is sponsoring three women members' participation in the 18-month-long program. Along with Nancy Spector, I have had the opportunity and privilege of serving on the steering committee for WEL.

Participants are already benefitting from the curricular content as well as the networking of women across multiple disciplines. The program began with an inspirational and aspirational session led by an organization called Lumeri. Lumeri, like ELAM, is committed to helping women advance in their careers. Their Indelible Mark Program is designed for women leaders who are successful and ready to explore their enduring legacy. During this session, the individual WEL participants made a commitment to an "Indelible Mark" project of their own choosing. Some impressive examples include:

  • "I will launch a company that creates collaborative QI initiatives for just and fair culture change."
  • "I am an innovative people-connector who will create a sustainable model to increase the number of doctors in rural areas to improve the health and wellness of people in rural communities."
  • "I am an insightful change-maker. I empower and transform underserved adolescent students so they can reach their highest potential in a medical career."
  • "I am an influencer and role model in medicine. I will use my energy and passion to deliver Women Leaders in Medicine programming to the nation for current and future women physicians."

Participants also committed to identifying and addressing any barriers that might hold them back in fulfilling their dreams. As the program continues, the relationships they have developed are inspiring them and helping them to hold each other accountable.

The initial face-to-face session has been followed by monthly webinars, a virtual discussion board, and an additional two-day face-to-face session. Content being delivered covers the three core areas of wellness, leadership and gender equity. WEL is addressing leadership disparities, leadership styles and skills, organizational strategies to address bias and equity, the importance of and how to get involved in advocacy, burnout, wellness, thriving at both individual and organizational levels, and finally the intersection between leadership, equity and wellness. Some of the presenters are some of our amazing ELUMs!

Discussions with the participants demonstrate significant value, especially from the relationships that are being built. The group has incredible energy, enthusiasm and pride in their work. One participant said, "We are all near the same level in our career and ready for this! The spirit of collaboration is as strong as the diversity of experiences. I've not detected any sense of judgment or competitiveness from anyone. In sisterhood, there is trust. These fundamental strengths significantly enrich the experience."

The group hears brief updates from a few participants at the beginning of each virtual session, which is inspiring and an important opportunity to celebrate wins, no matter how large or small. It is also a wonderful opportunity to get feedback and to share personal experiences and lessons, and a powerful way to expand the reach and impact of the individual projects.

We live in a data-driven world. There is real power in data to incentivize change. WEL provides an incredible opportunity. Together the organizations represent more than 434,000 physicians and physicians in training. Wow! The steering committee is looking into common metrics we can all measure that will help to identify trends and issues that impact gender equity and wellness. The data will help to strengthen the imperative to effect change as well as the opportunity to collaborate on policy development for all of our organizations. We look forward to figuring this piece out and moving the needle in a big way!

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this program is that we were able to get six major medical organizations to work together! Michael Jordan was quoted as saying, "Talent wins games but teamwork wins championships." We are excited to have both talent and teamwork in WEL. We are one year into the two-year project and are already looking toward the future and WEL 2.0. In addition to common metrics, we are looking at ways to significantly expand the reach of the program so that we can positively impact many more of our members. The application process for the 18 initial spots was highly successful and competitive. Each organization handled the application and selection process differently, but it was clear that our women members want this training and collaboration. For example, the AAP had over 200 applications for the three spots, and the ACP had over 50. We are exploring free-standing joint organizational meetings that will focus on wellness, networking and training. We are also looking at engaging additional organizations in this important work.

As our colleague Liz Travis has often stated, we are progressing at glacial speed to move the needle. We need to innovate and work collaboratively to advance at a faster pace. The collaboration of the six organizations of the WEL initiative is the perfect opportunity to work together to achieve common goals

"It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively prevailed." – Charles Darwin

Susan Thompson Hingle, MD, MACP, FAMWA, FRCP
SIU School of Medicine

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ELAM is a core program of the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pa. The Institute continues the legacy of advancing women in medicine that began in 1850 with the founding of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the nation's first women's medical school and a predecessor of today's Drexel University College of Medicine.