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News & Press: Women in Medicine

Politics and Medicine: Women Physicians Target House Seats

Friday, December 29, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Diane Berg
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On July 27, 2016, the day Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination from the Democratic Party to run for president, a group of female physicians came together online.

"Think Pantsuit Nation, physician-style," said Ramsey Ellis, MD, MPH, a Chicago-area hand surgeon in private practice and a grassroots organizer.

By the November 2016 election, the secret Facebook community had grown to more than 5,000 members. Today, 8,900 female doctors belong and the group launched a public site called Physician Women for Democratic Principles.

Gaining Steam

Stemming in part from that network, women doctors are opting to run for office in record numbers. At least 12 female physicians -- most Democrats -- are seeking U.S. Congressional seats in 2018, according to Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Doctors are dramatically underrepresented in Washington, especially considering the role healthcare plays in our economy, Ellis said. Just 15 current members of Congress are physicians and all are men. To date, only two women doctors -- Nan Hayworth, MD, from New York, and Donna Christian-Christensen, MD, a non-voting delegate from the Virgin Islands -- ever served in Congress.

"If you think about what physicians do, it translates nicely to a model of public service," Ellis observed.

"Being a doctor is listening to a patient, gathering data from a variety of sources -- a lab test, a family report -- then working with other professionals to design a way to solve the problem," she explained. "To be an elected public servant, you need to listen to your constituents, gather good data from many sources, and collaborate with other lawmakers and experts to craft a thoughtful solution."

Women doctors especially are a natural fit for public office, added Kelli Ward, DO, an Arizona primary care physician and Republican candidate for Senate.

"We take complex, sometimes life-threatening, issues, and break them down into manageable pieces to help patients get the best results possible," she said.

The Affordable Care Act spurred Ward into political action, first in state government and now as a federal candidate. "I wanted to be a voice for both physicians and patients," she said. "I felt they needed somebody who understood the importance of access to high-quality, cost-effective health care and had a perspective that government wasn't the be-all, end-all way to make that happen."

Access As a Driver

 Health care access was a pivoting point for other candidates, too.

"One of the first patients I saw the day after the 2016 presidential election was a child with a brain tumor. Her family had health insurance only because of the Affordable Care Act," recalled Mai-Khanh Tran, MD, a pediatrician and Democratic candidate in California. "I looked at her mom and broke down in tears, because if things were going to change as we expected, this family was going to have a very difficult time."

"I realized quickly I needed to move beyond the tears," she said. "I needed to fight on behalf of children like her, so public policies can be voted on with their lives in mind."

Tran's campaign, which is endorsed by the nonprofit group 314 Action, is part of a larger movement. Named after the mathematical ratio pi, 314 Action is considered "the EMILY's List for scientists and STEM professionals, including physicians," said communications director Ted Bordelon, and offers access to a network of 400,000 online supporters and pro-science advocates.

"It's a big deal that doctors are stepping up to say they're not going to stand for the dismantling of the health care system," said Christine Eady Mann, DO, a Democratic candidate and family practice physician in Texas.

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