How I Became a Physician Activist
Since 1983 I have been a practicing pediatric otolaryngologist — otherwise known as an ear, nose and throat surgeon for kids. And until 2008, I also held two other positions: full, tenured professor of Otolaryngology and Pediatrics at the University at Buffalo and Director of Otolaryngology at the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. My story is about surviving and thriving after a difficult and devastating ten-year legal battle against what I believed (and still believe) to be gender discrimination at these two institutions.
I came to Buffalo with the dreams of being an academic surgeon. I planned my work and family life carefully, so I could fulfill the requirements of a busy clinical practice, internationally-recognized research, being a highly regarded educator, while providing service to the university and hospital, and being a mother and a wife. I worked hard and climbed to the top, becoming the first full professor in a surgical department at the University at Buffalo. It was 1996, and I was one of only 12 women in my field who had reached that highest achievement in academic medicine. I felt good. I was ready for the next challenge. I wanted to lead an academic department.
I was asked to look at the position of chair at my alma mater, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center. I was offered the position, and though tempting, I declined because the timing for my family and the opportunities for my husband were not ideal. I knew there would be other opportunities.
When the positions for chair in my department and Director of Otolaryngology of the now merged hospital system became available in 1997, I was not chosen to fill the interim positions while formal searches were being conducted. Dismayed, but determined, I decided to work harder to show my commitment.
The man who was chosen as interim chair and director had little academic experience. My guidance was needed to prepare for a review of the residency training. Faculty compensation was part of this review. This is when I then learned that a male colleague was being compensated at twice my salary at the university. At the hospital, surgeons with less seniority and fewer responsibilities were being compensated as much as five times my salary, although I had been administrative head of one of the busiest clinical services for more than a decade.
I spent the next few years trying to resolve these issues internally, all to no avail. So, in 2000, I filed two complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): one against the State University of New York and one against Kaleida Health, the parent corporation of Children’s Hospital. In September 2001, I filed my claims in federal court.
Even though we had just begun, I had already been branded a troublemaker. My national reputation suffered. This was only the beginning of the intense isolation I would experience while fighting this 10-year battle.
Although retaliation is reputedly unlawful, over the next seven years I could claim more than 50 separate incidents of retaliation, including being fired as head of pediatric ENT at the Children’s Hospital after 20 years of service.
In 2007, I settled with the University — this is a public document. In 2007 and 2008 the hospital and she resolved [their] differences to the satisfaction of all parties on both federal claims. The parties have chosen to keep the terms of these resolutions confidential.
When it was over I thought the world of academic medicine would be transformed because I had stood up for what I believed. I now know that was a foolish belief.
It was my life that had been transformed by these years of fighting for justice. I tried to write my memoirs but the end did not fit. It just wasn’t right. I knew my journey wasn’t over.
So, here I am, off on a new crusade as a physician activist and entrepreneur. I realized that legal solutions did not solve anything — not for the litigant, anyway; even one who “wins” in court. And certainly not for the others for whom I thought I was fighting.
Determined to transform my career, I decided to start Expediting the Inevitable (you are here!), an organization dedicated to ensuring the healthcare industry is tapping into the workforce of women in medicine, and expediting their full, fair, and flexible participation in the healthcare workplace.
Together we can work to change the outdated practices that are still prevalent in healthcare organizations and institutions. We can motivate women physicians to transform their careers and their workplaces. And we can create an enlightened and engaged community of individuals who depend upon these women and these institutions and these organizations to provide them with the best doctors in their service.
Yes, “justice, justice thou shall pursue.” This is a biblical commandment which I took, and continue to take, so literally. And as a result, I have become a physician activist and, now, an entrepreneur. As founder and president of Expediting the Inevitable, I welcome you to what I hope is my (and our) new world!