Women in healthcare need healthcare, too: How 1 CEO plans to improve access

Forty-five percent of women forgo preventive healthcare, according to a recent poll conducted by the Alliance for Women's Health and Prevention and Ipsos. Millicent Gorham hopes to see those numbers fall. 

Ms. Gorham is the Alliance's flagship CEO. She has an extensive background in healthcare and advocacy, previously serving more than 27 years as executive director of the National Black Nurses Association. 

"The Alliance for Women's Health and Prevention wants to make sure women and girls can get the best possible access to preventive healthcare services," Ms. Gorham told Becker's. "And when I think about women — particularly the women I've worked with for the last 27 and a half years — make sure nurses are getting healthcare as well." 

It can be difficult for women to prioritize their health amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Healthcare workers are also prone to those pressures, according to Ms. Gorham

"It's a function of time," Ms. Gorham said. "Think about a nurse that's working 12 hours a day, and think about them leaving from there and being just like the rest of us. We've got to take care of home, take care of children, some of them take care of husbands and other family members that might be living with them. And they're taking care of everybody else but themselves." 

COVID-19 restricted many women from receiving preventive care, Ms. Gorham said. Health systems were overcrowded, and many women worried they would get sick if they came in for screenings. 

"The Alliance is really hoping that all women will take care of themselves and get the preventive screenings they need to have," Ms. Gorham said. "[Healthcare workers] are well-educated women — they know what they're supposed to do — but they're human like everybody else."

Employers can play a role in ensuring their women's workforce is healthy, Ms. Gorham said. For example, they can ensure workers have sufficient healthcare coverage and can cover time off for preventive healthcare screenings. 

"I think that they need to take that next step to really say, 'We want to have a great workforce, and we will only have a great workforce when the workforce's healthcare is taken care of," Ms. Gorham said.

The Alliance is currently focused on cervical cancer screenings. The United States Preventive Services Task Force is expected to release updated guidelines surrounding cervical cancer testing later this year, and there is some concern that they will reccomend primary HPV testing since most cervical cancers are caused by HPV. 

The Alliance wants to ensure women can maintain access to affordable, equitable co-testing, as this method detects almost 95 percent of cervical cancers and over 99 percent of precancers with a single screen. 

As preventive care guidelines are reevaluated, the Alliance aims to keep women up to date and advocate for their best interests, from the workplace to Capitol Hill. Ms. Gorham and her team are connecting with physicians, nurse practitioners, the American Medical Association and other healthcare stakeholders who can help the cause. 

"We need to be able to align with different groups, and take those issues to the members of Congress," Ms. Gorham said, "and let them know, 'This is very personal. And if you don't take care of us, how are we going to take care of you?'" 

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