By Barbara Ford Olson, MD, Teresa Vrabel, MD, and Deborah Thorp, MD In 1847, Elizabeth Blackwell was accepted by the medical school at Geneva, N.Y.—over the objections of the faculty, and after being rejected by 12 other medical schools. Two years later, she became the first woman graduate of a medical school. She went on to become a pioneer in medical education and medical practice for women. A one-woman play highlighting Blackwell’s life and career will be featured in the program of events to be offered in conjunction with the traveling exhibition, “Changing the Face of Medicine,” which will be hosted this fall by the University of Minnesota Health Sciences Libraries (see sidebar).
Medical schools and the medical profession have changed significantly over the more than 150 years since Blackwell’s medical school graduation, but the need for educational and clinical support remains. In 1901 women medical students at the University of Minnesota opened the fifth national chapter of the Alpha Epsilon Iota women's medical fraternity. AEI acted as a support organization by providing housing, social activities, and fundraising. In 1982 AEI split into two organizations: the AEI Foundation, which administers scholarships (see below) and Minnesota Women Physicians (MWP), which concentrates on educational and social issues.
Since then, MWP has provided education and support to the women physicians and students of the state by offering its members:
Programs supportive of women in medical school
Programs on innovative working conditions suited to women’s lifestyles
Education on current scientific trends of interest to women physicians
Role models for students and women physicians
In the early years, there were very few women physicians in Minnesota. Over the years, that has changed. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, only 28 percent of all physicians are women, but women account for more than 40 percent of physicians under age 45, and 35 percent of primary care physicians are women. The number of women physicians is growing, and MWP is well situated to serve their needs. MWP members practice throughout Minnesota, and activities and educational opportunities are open to all female physicians in the state.
Supporting women medical students
Scholarships and awards. Every year Alpha Epsilon Iota Scholarships are awarded to women medical students. The scholarship was established by Alpha Epsilon Iota, which since 1901 has been a support organization for women medical students and alumni. MWP, Alpha Epsilon Iota’s sister organization, works to support student scholarships and awards, demonstrating the organization’s commitment to its future members. MWP board members sit on the AEI board and help select scholarship winners. In addition, MWP volunteers assist with scholarship fund solicitation efforts and serve on the AEI board throughout the year.
Women in Medicine—a partnership to build the future. MWP supports female medical students through its partnership with Women in Medicine (WIM), a student organization at the University of Minnesota. Each year the two organizations co-sponsor a late summer picnic for the incoming class of women medical students. At this event, MWP members from the community are present to answer the students’ questions and help mentor them as they begin their careers in medicine. The casual atmosphere offers new medical students ample opportunity to interact with MWP members and ask them questions about how they balance their personal and professional lives, how they chose their medical specialty and practice setting, and more.
Continuing medical education
Fall retreat. Each year, the MWP sponsors a fall retreat open to all female physicians and medical students (members and non-members). The retreat provides education centered on emerging issues in the science and practice of medicine and other non-medical issues important to women. To accommodate busy schedules, MWP offers the fall retreat on a Saturday so that participants can earn continuing medical education credits for attending afternoon sessions and still have time to explore the beautiful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. This year, the fall retreat on Oct. 2 will include an optional walking tour. Last year’s participants came back from their tour energized, renewed, and ready for an afternoon of learning.
Among the topics for the 2010 fall retreat are:
• Special needs of children and families in humanitarian emergencies
• Dermatology—what plastic surgeons really do
• Developing an art program in an outpatient clinic
• ADHD diagnosis and treatment
• Improving communications with patient referrals
Topics for previous retreats have included sleep medicine, eating disorders, menopause management, geriatric medicine, holistic health care, lesbian health care, and medical malpractice. Previous participants have evaluated the program as excellent and the depth and breadth of topics as outstanding and timely. The fall retreat is an excellent opportunity for the female physician community to come together for education and collegiality in a relaxed atmosphere.
Timely topics and speakers. As interesting topics arise and speakers become available, the Minnesota Women Physicians hosts educational dinner events for its members. In the recent past, Michael Osterholm, PhD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the U of M, has discussed the medical community’s preparedness for an influenza pandemic; and Laura Mueller, MD, has shared her experiences practicing medicine in New Zealand’s public system. In addition, MWP has a history of partnering with the Minnesota Women Trial Lawyers and the Minnesota Women’s Consortium on educational opportunities for their combined memberships.
Social and lifestyle support
Because MWP members, like other professional women, are juggling multiple roles, MWP events often take place in non-traditional settings and offer an array of opportunities for interaction and networking. The events typically include presentations on lifestyle issues (e.g., reducing stress, avoiding burnout). This year’s social activities have included a day at a spa, a holiday tea, a cooking demonstration, and quarterly book club meetings. At the next book club meeting, slated for October, the group will discuss John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.”
A resource for meeting multiple needs
Minnesota Women Physicians is dedicated to serving women physicians in Minnesota by supporting its members’ educational needs and their unique viewpoint as women in the medical field. Membership is open to all women physicians in Minnesota.
MWP is proud to strengthen women physicians working for a healthy Minnesota. Visit www.mwphysicians.org/ for more information.
Barbara Ford Olson, MD, is co-president; Teresa Vrabel, MD, is treasurer; and Deborah Thorp, MD, is a board member of Minnesota Women Physicians.