Here's the story and physician behind the first annual National Women Physicians Day

This Friday marks the first official National Women Physicians Day, 170 years after the first woman was accepted into medical school in the United States.

The day, which aims to recognize the accomplishments and struggles of women in medicine, will be held annually on Feb. 3. It marks the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, the first woman accepted into medical school in 1847.

"We are all a little bit of her," says Hala Sabry, DO, who petitioned to establish the day of recognition. "While we have come a long way, we still have other barriers to break."

Female physicians account for only 34 percent of all physicians in the U.S., according to the latest data from Kaiser Family Foundation, and they still earn significantly less than their male counterparts. Female primary care physicians made an annual salary of $192,000 in 2016, compared to their male counterparts' $225,000. Female specialists made $242,000 compared to male specialists who made $324,000 in 2016, according to Medscape's Female Physician Compensation Report.

"Everyone deserves to know their male counterparts are getting paid the same for the same work. If you break that trust and make physicians feel unhappy or burnt out, they will not be able to treat patients to the best of their ability," Dr. Sabry says. "At the end of the day, this isn't about money."

For Dr. Sabry, National Women Physicians Day is about recognizing that gender disparities still exist in medicine and providing support for women in healthcare so they can focus on the patient, not politics.  

Dr. Sabry first began advocating for women in medicine when she created a Facebook group two years ago called Physician Moms Group, which has grown into a network of roughly 65,000 physician mothers. "They are energized now that they have found their tribe," she tells Becker's. Dr. Sabry says the women in the group noticed they faced similar issues with gender inequality and the patient perspective of female physicians.

She hopes the day of recognition will also bring more awareness to patients about the issues female physicians face. "Many times you finish a patient interaction…and sometimes [the patient's] next question is, 'OK, but when is the doctor going to come see me?'" Dr. Sabry says. "The woman in the room just might be the doctor."

To recognize the holiday, Dr. Sabry took the day off and plans to attend several events to represent women physicians. "I hope every woman physician will have the opportunity to broadcast her story to show how much love we have for the community," she says.

To share your story on National Women Physicians Day, use the following hashtags on social media: #IAmBlackwell #WomensDocsInspire #NWPD.

 

Editor's note: An early version of this story misstated that Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was African American and the first African American woman accepted into a U.S. medical school. Dr. Blackwell was caucasian. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African American woman to become a physician after attending U.S. medical school in 1860-64. Becker's regrets this error.

 

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