Private Practice Perspectives

Supporting career development for women in gastroenterology


When I was in fellowship in the late 1990s, it was rare to see women at many of the big gastroenterology conferences. And in terms of presentations, there was maybe one session led by or for women at lunchtime. These conferences were the only events I had ever been to where the line for the men’s room was longer than the line for the women’s room.

Over the years, the lines for the women’s room have gotten longer, and the sessions led by female gastroenterologists have grown exponentially. However, women are still underrepresented in our field. Two out of five GI fellows are women, but women constitute less than 18% of practicing gastroenterologists. And the number of women in leadership positions is even lower.

Women in medicine face many challenges

According to a report in JAMA Network Open, women have lower starting salaries more than 90% of the time, which can create income disparities in earning potential throughout our entire careers.

Dr. Tonya Adams, a gastroenterologist and partner at Gastro Health Fairfax in Virginia who serves on the Digestive Health Physicians Association's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

Dr. Tonya Adams

Other studies suggest that female physicians also spend more time with patients and answering messages from patients and colleagues as well. This extra time, although it is done in small increments, adds up quickly and could suggest the pay gap between women and men is wider than we think.

Of course, female physicians still spend more time parenting children and doing household labor. A study found that female physicians spent 8.5 hours more per week on activities that support the family and household.

We’ve been discussing equity for women in medicine, and in the workplace, for decades. But events over the past several years – such as the killing of George Floyd and the formation of the #MeToo movement in response to workplace sexual harassment – have accelerated a paradigm shift in how organizations are focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and creating cultures that support leadership development for women.

The Gastro Health Women’s Network

In 2020, the leadership of Gastro Health reiterated its commitment to fight discrimination and support equity by sending out a company-wide correspondence that encouraged us to be good stewards within our communities during these turbulent times.

This led to the development of the Gastro Health DEI Council and the Gastro Health Women’s Network, led by Dr. Asma Khapra and based on the framework developed by Dr. Dawn Sears. The programs developed by Dr. Sears are focused on facilitating authentic and supportive relationships, and they helped us create a network for women focused on recruitment, mentorship and retention, networking and social events, and leadership development.

Our network started with a meet & greet, inviting all women in Gastro Health to join a virtual call and get to know each other in an informal setting. This was a great way to introduce people to each other in our natural elements. It was wonderful to see how people are when they are at home and not working.


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Progress of the AGA Equity Project