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Women Rheumatologists Leading in the Private Sector

There are many opportunities outside of academic medicine to flex your leadership muscle. 

Women physician leaders have made significant contributions in various fields, such as business leaders as CEOs and board members, public health through national and international advocacy efforts, and the non-profit sector.

"To Lead or Not To Lead" - that is the question.

My daughter, who is reading Shakespeare for the first time (As You Like It, for those curious), directly influenced that opening line. When I told her about the blog, she asked me: "Why would someone want to be a leader?"

My leadership proclivities started in childhood and culminated when in middle school, I was voted President of all three of the school's significant clubs: Student Government, Honor Society, and Mu Alpha Theta. You'd be correct if you called me President of the Nerds... That was another title I earned in middle school in the 80s. I continued on this path quietly because my parents did not encourage these roles that took time away from study and chores.

However, these positions and leadership recharged, energized, and became part of my identity.

How about you? Do you want to lead? Do you want people to perceive you as a leader? Why? Or why not? Also, is it the right time? Am I ready?

I continued to explore these leadership opportunities through high school, but once I started my medical career, I pursued these opportunities only as time and other obligations allowed. A chief resident year and another as associate program director taught me invaluable skills such as managing professionals, scheduling effectively, and understanding how to create and implement policies. Simultaneously, life was happening. Getting married and having kids were prioritized. 

Those were memorable, valuable, and challenging years. Professionally, I focused on learning how to start and build a practice. While doing that, I learned how to organize a team, delegate tasks, create workflows, and optimize efficiency. Leading a clinical team like this is what many of us do daily in our clinics. 

As the practice grew, I realized that there was someone else in the exam room with me and my patients - the payer! I found myself telling the patient, "Well, this is our plan; now, let's see if the insurance company or pharmacy benefit manager will let us get what we want. At my state society meetings, I learned that local and federal advocacy efforts were a way to make our patients' voices heard by lawmakers. Policy changes and legal regulations were needed to correct and assist our patients in these processes. I engaged with their board members and participated in advocacy efforts which led to an offer to be on the executive board of the Florida Society of Rheumatology. I know several colleagues who have formed relationships with their local congressmen and women and who meet with them regularly to educate them about healthcare-related policies.

My practice soon became a care center for a national coalition of rheumatology practices nationwide. Our offices shared workflows, tough clinical cases, and even office design ideas. We improved each other’s professional lives through collaboration while learning about the business side of the healthcare industry. I became an active participant in several committees- one of my favorites (NOT) was the MIPS/MACRA committee -and I accepted an offer to serve on their Board of Directors. There are similar ways to engage with committees within your single or multi-specialty practice groups, or hospitals. 

Don’t forget to follow your passion and professional values. I felt so inspired and charged when collaborating with and connecting with other women physicians. I joined a global women's rheumatology association - the Association of Women in Rheumatology - because I felt the electrical charge of its mission in my bones. Hearing the experiences and stories of the trailblazing women before me was humbling. I felt honored and privileged to mentor the future women in the field. 

As women, we make executive decisions daily in our workplace and homes. Being the CEO of a family is no small feat. Our communication style, collaborative emphasis, and empathic nature have changed the leadership landscape in all industries.

As more of our sister colleagues join our subspecialty workplaces, organizations, and movements in healthcare, the more critical it is for us to lead. 

Join The Discussion

Gwenesta B Melton

| Apr 18, 2023 7:45 pm

Leadership is imperative for Women. Realize that our gender leadership styles are different but are important. You are the CEO of your family as you have noted. Bring the head of the family makes you a leader.

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