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Women in Healthcare

With Women Flooding Medical Schools, Will More Leadership Positions Be Granted to Them?

Dianne McKay, MD

President, American Society of Transplantation

My introduction to medicine came during my teenage years when I accompanied my father on rounds at LA County Hospital in Los Angeles. I learned a lot about different diseases, heard discussions about various cases, and saw a compassionate side of medicine that I wanted to emulate. 

My interest in immunology and organ transplantation developed when I was in college, where I found myself reading the original works of the ”fathers of immunology.” I became amazed that one could manipulate the immune system to improve the lives of patients with end-stage organ disease by simply transplanting another organ.

Career and work-life balance

I am a nephrologist and physician scientist and have a research laboratory that focuses on immunology and the kidney. Our research is directed to find ways to prevent injury to the donor kidney when its blood supply is removed during transplantation. Our lab is pursuing key targets to prevent kidney injury and hopes to find pharmaceuticals that will improve the preservation of donor organs.

My biggest achievements without question are my children. Raising children is an extremely important job and one that we cannot lose track of in discussions of women’s and men’s career paths. I am very proud of my children and have kept them at the center of all my work-life decisions. 

Becoming the president of the American Society of Transplantation is one of my greatest professional achievements. This allowed me to work with some of the most talented and motivated people I have ever encountered in my career.

Medicine is a wonderful field. It is a privilege to help people get better. It is incredible how replacing an organ can dramatically alter a person’s fate and provide them a new opportunity for a productive life. 

Overcoming obstacles

My biggest challenges were the ones I did not see — the opportunities I missed because I wasn’t made aware of them and had no voice at the table. This is a common problem for women in medicine and in many other fields. Many women are not represented, and therefore lack a voice. My style was to plow through and just keep going, no matter who said ”no.”Fortunately, there are more women than men matriculating in medical school in the United States today.

This will hopefully lead to an increase of women in leadership positions. Leaders in academic medical schools and industry and private practice groups are predominantly male. To level the playing field, more women must attain leadership positions, and systems need to be put in place to address critical issues like pay inequity, unequal leadership opportunities, and drop-out rates of women in leadership.

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