Asma Khapra, MD, Physician Champion of Gastro Health's Women in GI NetworkSeptember is Women in Medicine Month, a recognition month created by the American Medical Association (AMA) to recognize gender inequity in medicine by promoting diversity in the workplace and working towards closing the gender pay gap in medicine. Gastro Health has begun to take major strides to ensure that support for women in the workplace is top of mind by continuously seeking out opportunities to empower its female physicians and create further opportunities in the workplace.


Women in Gastroenterology

Gastroenterology has historically been a male-dominated specialty. As of 2020, out of the 15,000 active gastroenterologists in the United States, only 18.9% are women. Despite an equal number of women entering medicine, the percentage of women physicians entering GI fellowship is at 30%, which remains disproportionately lower than other medicine subspecialties, according to a 2021 article in Digestive Diseases and Sciences.

Several reasons have been documented that lead to the underrepresentation of women in medicine as a whole including lack of role models, balancing the demands between work and home life, bias, unequal wages, and less time to complete research. Around 40 percent of female physicians wind up reducing their commitment to part-time medicine within six years of completing their training due to many of these roadblocks.

Various organizations have since followed the lead of the AMA to advocate for career equity and professional satisfaction for women in medicine. The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) created the #GiveHerAReasonToStay movement to include fair pay, objective promotion criteria, a work environment free from harassment, flexible work schedules, childcare, and mentorship opportunities.


Gastro Health Lays Out Commitment to Support, Attract, and Empower Female Physicians

Gastro Health continues to expand its reach throughout the country, which means more and more GI providers are joining the organization, many of whom are women. As such, Gastro Health made a commitment in 2021 to lay the groundwork to follow the AMA’s lead to provide support and platforms for meaningful discourse for its female physicians.

That same year, Gastro Health launched the Women in GI Network led by Dr. Asma Khapra as part of its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. This internal network of women gastroenterologists allows participants to connect with one another to exchange ideas, discuss work struggles, ask questions, and hold forums to talk about changes they would like to see brought forth.

“As a female GI in private practice for 16 years, I had to navigate many of the waters on my own without a real roadmap of dedicated support, mentorship, and guidance for my overall career trajectory,” says Dr. Khapra. “With the national growth being experienced at Gastro Health, I knew there would be a number of women GIs entering private practice for the first time and I wanted to be sure we could offer them the support I wish I had earlier in my career.”

Christina Sullivan, Gastro Health's VP of Human ResourcesWith Gastro Health now spanning across seven states with more to come, having a solid national support system to reach their female GIs nationwide is imperative. With the support of Gastro Health's Human Resources, the Women in GI Network members are able to network with other female physicians at national conferences and events such as Scrubs & Heels, an organization whose mission it is to provide leadership skills and advancement tools for women in the field of gastroenterology. In addition, Gastro Health's Women in GI Network hosts virtual roundtable discussions throughout the year with female physicians to discuss topics such as private equity, advocacy, the power of negotiation, financial wellness, stress, and burnout, and how to set yourself up for success in today’s healthcare sector.

“Identifying opportunities to foster an inclusive and engaging environment starts by listening,” says Christina Sullivan, Vice President of Human Resources for Gastro Health. “But listening is only part of it. We are constantly looking for ways to incorporate the feedback into actions that make a difference.”

Additional initiatives include connecting female physicians with their 401K partners to provide topics of interest to women, developing clear paths to partnership and leadership opportunities, and company-wide education such as unconscious bias training.

In only a short amount of time, Gastro Health is already beginning to see these efforts to support women in medicine come to fruition.

“Since January 1, 2021, we have seen a 35 percent increase in female physician hires. We see this change in demographics not only as a shift in the market, but also a direct result of outreach efforts and the opportunities offered by Gastro Health,” says Sullivan.


Women in GI Leadership

With an emphasis on recruiting female physicians, Gastro Health is also ensuring that they have adequate representation at the proverbial table. Recruiting women into the GI specialty not only means that Gastro Health is committed to diverse representation, but also setting up the next generation of GI leaders and Gastro Health partners to include women.

According to Dr. Khapra, the Women in GI Network is helping identify and connect members with various gastroenterology society positions, awards, and programs. For example, the Network identified an opportunity, nominated Dr. Joanna Lopez, and she was selected for the 2022 ASGE Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Program.

For the first time ever, female gastroenterologists will hold the presidency position of the top three gastroenterology associations in the country. Dr. Jennifer Christie, a Black female gastroenterologist from Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia will be the 2023 president for the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE). In 2024, Dr. Maria Abreu, director of the Crohn’s & Colitis Center at the University of Miami Health System, will be the fifth woman and first Latina to hold the role of president of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), and Dr. Amy Oxentenko, gastroenterologist with Mayo Clinic, will become the president of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG).

It is programs like the Women in GI Network at Gastro Health that help provide the much-needed support that female physicians need and deserve in order to advance their careers. Only by identifying and addressing issues affecting women physicians and medical students can we encourage more women to enter the field of medicine.

“It’s been wonderful to get to know other female GIs who are struggling with the same issues: work-life balance, raising families, pregnancies, etc. while in a male-dominated environment,” concludes Dr. Khapra. “It is my hope that these measures we are taking really support and uplift other women in our practice. I am looking forward to exciting new avenues for growth in the future!”