Changing Perceptions and Behavior in the Boys’ Club of Retina

Both men and women need to change in order to achieve balance in the field.

By Audina M. Berrocal, MD; and Marisa Franco-Steeves, PhD
 

True change has occurred in an organization or a community when what was once considered extraordinary has become the norm. That has not happened yet in the retina community regarding the acceptance and integration of female vitreoretinal subspecialists.

When we attend conferences today, we are not at all surprised to see an all-male physician panel on the dais. In fact, if anything, this is the norm. What is striking is that, when a woman is either a panelist or a moderator, it is a notable feature. We attendees clearly perceive that something is unbalanced: a gender difference is revealed in plain sight.

AT A GLANCE

• Despite advances, the acceptance and integration of female vitreoretinal subspecialists into the field is still lacking.

• Women physicians need to lead by example and seize opportunities as they present themselves.

• Both men and women leaders need to learn to listen to foster communication.

To normalize the presence of women at every level in the medical profession, we need to promote awareness of gender imbalance in this male-dominated field. We have to challenge existing working practices so that people who make decisions in health care institutions and in academia understand the value of changing the gender imbalance.

As we practice medicine to heal the ailments of our patients, we also have the responsibility to update and start healing the ailments of our medical practices. How do we do this? We hope the following observations will move the conversation forward.

CHAMPION GENDER EQUALITY

Many times, in our experience, a man’s perception of a vitreoretinal subspecialist colleague differs significantly from a woman’s perspective. Although these differences in perspective are beginning to shift, it still remains the exception to see strong female physician leaders, which in turn perpetuates the image that women are less fit for leadership.

Women physicians need to lead by example and seize opportunities that further both their own presence and the presence of their female colleagues in the field. Those opportunities, whether to participate in or lead the retina community, are key to instilling change. Women physicians need to engage at every level to change the perceptions not only of their male colleagues, but also of all women in the existing workplace.

Incorporating female physicians into traditionally male-dominated activities, including positions in both private and academic practices, is a necessary step in changing attitudes and perceptions. Notwithstanding, all physicians, female or male, should be judged on the merits of their intellect, commitment, and actions.

TRAINING EFFORTS ESSENTIAL

At the center of this effort, innovative leadership is required. New programs within medical school training curricula are now acknowledging the positive effect that female physicians can bring to the field of medicine. Programs developed to foster the integration of men and women into a unified team will ultimately benefit our patients and our subspecialty: The more diverse the population of doctors, the better we will treat diverse patients and integrate inclusive medical approaches.

Our medical schools must educate medical practitioners to develop more efficient communication experiences between men and women physicians. Not only men, but also women leaders need to learn to listen. On the professional level, seminars and workshops designed by our subspecialty societies and the AAO must be expanded to educate vitreoretinal specialists to strengthen their communication skills and foster inclusiveness.

As women physicians, we need to speak strongly and positively to present our professional opinions with confidence. Our male colleagues need to open their ears to the voices of their female colleagues in such a way as to level the playing field for success.

A UNIQUE COMMUNITY

A community excels when all its members have equal resources to achieve their personal and professional goals. Physicians are a unique community that is under duress from forces in the health policy arena. Functioning as an integrative specialty will bring us opportunities to enhance clinical care by utilizing physician resources, whether male or female, to their best ability.

As a subspecialty, we must strengthen our community to support our female colleagues. When asked, women vitreoretinal subspecialists must step up and lean in, whether the request is to give a presentation, chair a service committee, mentor a colleague, or help a young vitreoretinal surgeon develop enhanced communication skills. It is essential that we mentor our junior colleagues, irrespective of gender. Focusing on these core values will be a driving force in leading change throughout our vitreoretinal subspecialty.

Guest Editor Audina M. Berrocal, MD
• Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology; Medical Director of Pediatric Retina and Retinopathy of Prematurity; and Vitreoretinal Fellowship Codirector, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Miami
• Editorial Advisory Board Member, Retina Today
ABerrocal@med.miami.edu
• Financial disclosure: None

Marisa Franco-Steeves, PhD
• Professor of Human Rights and Literature, College of General Studies, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico
marisa.franco@upr.edu
• Financial disclosure: None

 

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About Retina Today

Retina Today is a publication that delivers the latest research and clinical developments from areas such as medical retina, retinal surgery, vitreous, diabetes, retinal imaging, posterior segment oncology and ocular trauma. Each issue provides insight from well-respected specialists on cutting-edge therapies and surgical techniques that are currently in use and on the horizon.