By Margaret Kell, OMS-II, New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University
Balance is something that all health professions students struggle to find. Between school, activities, commitments, and family, there are a lot of facets of life to juggle. It becomes commonplace to become stuck in an unbalanced routine that never deviates, even if breaking out of it could help you in the long term. I think that is why the 2019 International Women’s Day (IWD) slogan, “Balance for Better,” resonates so deeply with me. The slogan was developed to invigorate communities across the world for this past Friday’s IWD 2019. IWD’s slogan challenges us to take a step back from our busy schedules to celebrate achievements and investigate ways to equitably enhance the global impact women can make on society.
IWD and Women’s History Month this month of March are chances to celebrate and commemorate all the political, economic, and sociocultural efforts that women have contributed to across the world. For ED to MED advocates, it is also an opportunity to reflect on the advancements that leaders in our chosen professions have made to ensure the best possible patient care while recognizing the work we still need to do.
Thinking of IWD’s mission, I am struck by a deep gratitude for the osteopathic community. Within osteopathic medicine, we are fortunate to be training in professional programs built on the principle of educating patient-centered physicians. We are even more fortunate to be pursuing a field of medicine that, since its inception, recognized women and men as equals. In 1892, when Dr. Still opened the door to the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, he stated that women would be admitted on the same terms as men. Equal admittance, at the time, was a revolutionary decision in a climate where few women were provided the opportunity to become physicians.
While I have great pride in osteopathic medicine’s historic commitment to gender equality, it is balanced by a marked awareness that there is more for our profession to do to ensure that as we grow globally, we advocate for educational opportunities that will provide patients the greatest care. In academic year 2018-19, more women than men applied to osteopathic medical school, but in that same year, more men than women matriculated and graduated. To reach true balance, more work needs to be done within our chosen field. ED to MED sets an inspiring example by being a strong voice for both current students and their future patients. By advocating for critical federal higher education programs such as Grad PLUS loans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, ED to MED helps ensure that students, regardless of their financial background, race/ethnicity, or gender, can afford to attend medical school and go on to become the best physicians for their patients.
Our schools also do incredible work to help us become leaders and advocates for our patients. One way to grow in leadership is through the opportunities provided by student government associations and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s national Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents (COSGP).
It is within COSGP that I recognized that advocacy starts with each of us. As Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, founding Dean of NYITCOM at A-State, points out in the documentary The Feminine Touch, “There are historical stereotypes about women that we have had to overcome in the professions, and medicine is no different.”
COSGP’s Women in Leadership Committee has, over the last year, responded to lingering biases by advocating for women in medicine. This has been accomplished by keeping medical schools across the nation informed of opportunities for students to share their stories and voices. The committee’s most successful event this year was to partner with COSGP’s Public Relations committee to reach out to students for September’s Women in Medicine month. Through the effort, we were able to highlight a diverse group of women medical students who aspire to become leaders, advocates, and the best physicians they can be. In some instances, these women were minorities, mothers, or juggling the responsibilities of being student leaders. Time and again, when asked about their career goals, they answered that their biggest aspirations were patient-focused.
During Women’s History Month and beyond, I hope you will join me in celebrating a profession that has a history of being one of inclusion, and are inspired by incredible trail-blazing leaders like Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, who advocates both for women in medicine and her patients, as well as student leaders like the Student Osteopathic Medical Association’s 2018-2019 President Kate De Klerk, who served thousands of osteopathic medical students at the national level along with COSGP. I challenge each of us to learn more about them, and women like them, and to become champions for our own passions. When we ignite our passion like these leaders have, we can not only be great advocates but can challenge ourselves to be truly great health professionals.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.