Women in Healthcare - PA StudentsMarch is dedicated as Women’s History Month, which also hosts International Women’s Day, March 8, to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – all while also making a call to action for accelerating gender balance.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) - women make up over 80 percent of healthcare workers.

“Being a physician assistant (PA) is a great career choice as it offers variety and flexibility in the practice of medicine,” says Rachel Ditoro, MSPAS, PA-C, director of Educational Competency and Strategic Innovation and associate professor in the University’s Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program. “Caring for your patients is an awesome responsibility and you should never forget that it is an honor to be in the service of others.” Prior to joining Salus, Ditoro practiced in women’s healthcare.

She offers this advice to women, both studying to become a PA, and in general: “Women often feel pressure to be all things to everyone - an attentive wife/partner, the mom who is on top of every activity at their child’s school, and aim to be the best at what they do at work. Don’t be too critical of yourself - do the best you can and ask for help when you need it.”

Lindsay Bondurant, PhD, CCC-A, director of the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI) and assistant professor in the University’s Osborne College of Audiology, agrees. She has over 15 years of experience working within the woman-dominated Audiology profession – currently at a high of nearly 80 percent, according to the American Academy of Audiology (AAA).

She feels fortunate to be in a profession that is challenging and rewarding and “surrounded by smart women all the time.” Yet, Dr. Bondurant speaks on the difficulties working mothers continue to face as they are torn between their career and obligations to their family. “There is a disproportionate expectation that women will be the ones to take care of sick children and take time off for kids’ activities, and this does have an impact on our careers. As a single parent, I am super grateful to be in a supportive workplace at Salus, but nevertheless, I can still feel guilty.” The guilt can stem from staying home with a sick child, or from working and missing a school event.

Dr. Bondurant points out that while the profession is highly dominated by women, senior positions are still held by more men, leaving a large room for growth in the profession.

It isn’t just Audiology, though. Women in executive roles in healthcare has been a hot topic in recent years. In 2014, while 80 percent of women made up the healthcare profession, only 40 percent held executive roles - according to Advisory Board. And, in a recent survey from Rock Health, women healthcare professionals are pessimistic about industry equality and don't expect parity for 25 years.

grad-pic.jpgAlso according to the same survey, 71 percent of women reported underselling their skills. This matches what Dr. Bondurant observes. From her own experiences, she sees young women starting their careers who are hesitant to ask for what they are worth when negotiating compensation. “Women are much more likely to accept a lower salary than their male peers, and that is problematic,” she said. “There is almost no time more important to negotiate your salary than the first job. If you start your career with a lower salary, over time, the salary gap is going to get wider.

But with a challenge such as industry equality, comes people who will fight for it. “You can do it all,” says Lauren Sponseller, OTD, PhD, chair of the Occupational Therapy (OT) Department at Salus and director of the OT program. “No goal should feel out of reach. Find a mentor to help guide and support you. We all need support, and there is no shame in having a strong support system.”
The United States Department of Labor states that 86.4 percent of occupational therapists are female. “I feel that I have become more efficient and goal-oriented since becoming a mother,” Dr. Sponseller says. “The time management skills I have learned since being an OT have become even more important.  Being a mother should not hinder any woman from achieving her career goals, it should only motivate her to reach the goals she has set.”

Jill Grogg MS,CCC~SLP, CDP, clinical educator at the Speech-Language Institute (SLI) of Salus, suggests to “allow the nurture vs. the nature part of our womanhood to facilitate our skills as professionals. We are dealing with people, not widgets or numbers or business transactions.”

Jill GroggAs the number of women in healthcare continues to rise, so will the need to remedy gender inequality within the professions. Grogg may say it best, “Just because we are women, does not mean that we are weak.  You can be strong and intelligent as well as compassionate and warm, and yet still be a force to be reckoned with.”