Advocating for women in medicine: Insight from a member of the AMWA

By Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published November 2, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) has been advocating for the advancement of women in medicine for over a century, and is the oldest multispecialty organization dedicated specifically to this mission.

  • The AMWA ELEVATE program grants a leadership certificate for female physicians.

  • AMWA provides women in medicine many opportunities for connecting with their colleagues across medical specialties—for leadership development, career growth, and for advocating for their female patients.

The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) was founded in 1915 by Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, a female surgeon and scientist, and today it continues to work for the advancement of women in medicine, as well as to serve as a voice for women’s health.[]

AMWA’s mission statement is “to advance women in medicine, advocate for equity, and ensure excellence in health care,” and it has the distinction of being the oldest multispecialty organization dedicated to advancing women in medicine and improving women’s health.[]

Its membership consists of physicians, residents, medical students, pre-medical students, other HCPs, and supporters.

Fostering female leadership in medicine

Upon graduating from medical school (many years ago), I had the honor of receiving AMWA’s Janet M. Glasgow Memorial Achievement Citation.

"I remember being impressed with AMWA’s advocacy efforts and initiatives to foster achievement among women in medicine."

Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP

Recently, I reached out to two of AMWA’s top physician leaders to discuss AMWA’s current benefits to women in medicine: AMWA President Beth Garner, MD, MPH; and Teresa Malcolm, MD, MBA, who is co-director of AMWA ELEVATE, the Certificate in Leadership program for female physicians. 

"I was at once delighted, honored, and humbled to learn about their own reasons for joining AMWA and how they are working tirelessly to help other women in medicine."

Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP

As Dr. Malcolm shared with me, one of the AMWA initiatives that excites her most is AMWA’s commitment to female physician leadership. “I strongly believe in leadership development at every level and am proud to say that AMWA does, too,” she shared with me. “Leadership development is nothing short of common sense. AMWA offers women in medicine opportunities to grow personally and become leaders in their clinical teams and organizations.”

Regarding the ELEVATE program, Dr. Malcolm says the ELEVATE program is a leadership development coaching program for physicians at any stage of their career. “It supports women in finding their ‘why’ professionally, tapping into their strengths, and garnering sponsorship opportunities that grant visibility,” she says.

Connecting women across the field of medicine

Dr. Beth Garner says that she initially joined AMWA for “the opportunity to interact with and learn from women physicians outside of my specialty.”

She was especially interested in the organization’s history as an advocacy group for women’s reproductive rights and for women and for minorities to participate in clinical trials.

Given that Dr. Garner has been “in the drug development side of medicine for 16 years now,” the AMWA has helped her stay connected to her physician colleagues. “It also gives me the opportunity to help build collaborations across the various stakeholders in healthcare.”

Advocating for female physicians—and their patients

“AMWA has a long history of advocating for gender equity for women physicians,” says Dr. Garner, “in particular as it relates to such areas as pay and leadership, where significant gaps continue to exist.”

Like Dr. Malcolm, Dr. Garner also highlights AMWA’s many programs, such as EVOLVE (for residents), and IGNITE (for medical students), which offer support for career growth and leadership development.

"We also focus on health and wellness and are working hard to address burnout and microaggressions, both of which are major current issues for women doctors."

Beth Garner, MD, MPH, AMWA president

“One of our more recent areas of advocacy is fertility, including raising awareness and advocating for better benefits coverage for fertility treatment,” Dr. Garner continues. “This is important because women physicians often delay childbearing, which leads to rates of infertility that are substantially higher than in the general population.”

Related: Female physicians are at an increased risk of fertility complications

AMWA’s advocacy efforts don’t focus only on women in medicine, however—they also address issues faced by their female patients. As Dr. Malcolm points out, “As an AMWA member, you will be encouraged to take action and stand up for women’s rights. There is an advocacy committee where members can advise legislators at the state and federal levels and write statements supporting issues that will enhance women’s lives. Members can make their voices heard in the arenas of reproductive health, gender equity, [and] research.”

"We know there is power in one voice, but AMWA brings together thousands of voices united in solidarity."

Teresa Malcolm, MD, MBA, AMWA ELEVATE co-director

Dr. Garner agrees: “As a women’s health physician by training, I am most excited by the work AMWA is doing in advocating for women’s reproductive health as well as the work we are doing to advocate for more investment in women’s health overall. It’s important to recognize that [the area of] women’s health is very broad. [This] means that virtually every physician who is an AMWA member has the opportunity to help improve women’s lives by advocating for their patients.”

What this means for you

AMWA is the oldest multispecialty organization dedicated to advocating for the advancement of women in medicine, and provides multiple initiatives that benefit female physicians while improving healthcare for women overall.

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