Increase equitable options for women in health care

The less-than-desirable statistics on American women entering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are well documented. According to the American Association of University Women, many girls and young women are often systematically sidetracked from science and mathematics during their educational journeys, creating problems of access and opportunities later on. As a result, women make up only 28% of the STEM workforce, with men vastly outnumbering women majoring in most STEM fields in college. However, when it comes to medical and healthcare professions, the opposite is true.

according to 2021 Statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.4 million women were employed in the health care and social assistance industry, representing more than 77% of the total 21.2 million workers. Based on the statistics, it would appear that women primarily dominate the US healthcare system.

However, a closer examination of the statistics available reveals a slightly different story in leadership career choices. While many women are in the healthcare space, a large percentage are concentrated in pediatrics (58%) and OB/GYN (57%). Additionally, the participation rate for women falls significantly further down the list of professions, averaging just 16% for the Plastic Surgery category. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons places the male-female relationship of plastic surgeons in 5:1.

According to those trained in the Ivy League Dr. Jennifer Levine, Facial Plastic Surgeon in New York, the statistics are particularly concerning. In her words, “92% of all cosmetic procedures in 2020 were performed on women, which means that male doctors are primarily responsible for setting the standard of beauty in our society. I am pushing to change this through the defense and practice.

Dr. Levine is the vice chair of the Innovation and Emerging Technology Committee of the AAFPRS and recently presented on the subject, A woman’s perspective on the aging face: facelift without the male gaze, at the 2022 AAFPRS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC She is dual board certified as a Facial Plastic Surgeon and recently opened her fully accredited practice in Manhattan. She is also an active educator and speaker who strongly desires to instill the knowledge necessary to attract other women to the profession.

To get a firsthand look at the unequal division within the profession, this reporter sat down with Dr. Levine to learn more about her advocacy for women studying and specializing in broader areas of science.

Rod Berger: He has a highly decorated background with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University and an MD from Cornell Medical School.. Outside of your study and accreditation, could you tell me about yourself and your motivation in practice?

Dr Jennifer Levine: I am a single mother of two amazing daughters and have been practicing facial plastic surgery for the last twenty years. My practice on the Upper East Side of Manhattan offers my patients the option of having their procedures done in the privacy and comfort of an office without having to go to a hospital.

Most of my patients are women between the ages of 28 and 55. My dual plate certification gives me a unique understanding of the face and its underlying structures. I apply this experience to create optimal results with a combination of surgical and non-invasive treatments to help patients achieve desirable aesthetic results without completely changing their faces.

Berger: With so many women now filling positions in the healthcare profession, Why do you think there is less interest in studying plastic surgery or becoming a plastic surgeon than men? Why do you think that has to change?

Levin: Most women doctors feel more comfortable in areas like obstetrics and gynecology (Ob-Gyn) and pediatrics because women already have a strong presence in those fields. But when it comes to plastic surgery, it can still be considered an uphill battle for women to make a career in the area so unevenly dominated by men.

I think there is a bigger picture that both aspiring surgeons and patients are missing: who is setting the trends for what is considered beautiful? more than 90% of patients who undergo cosmetic surgery are women, but only 15% of surgeons perform them are women.

When a woman becomes a plastic surgeon, she is tipping the scales of statistics and helping to reclaim and shape beauty standards. For example, during my plastic surgery internship, I was the only woman in the group of 20. And while those numbers have leveled out more now, the number of women completing their residency in the specialty is still very low.

My patients especially appreciate the fact that I am a woman and that I can understand their aesthetic goals and, most importantly, their motivations beyond the physical. Male surgeons are great, but there needs to be more women in the operating room.

Berger: Part of her effort outside of her practice is teaching to impart her knowledge to aspiring professionals.. How does your desire to inspire more women into the profession influence your decision to be an active educator?

Levin: It is a significant influence. I speak at multiple conferences each month, sometimes internationally. Teaching allows me to lead by example and inspire more women to stay the course because so many aspiring plastic surgeons give up, especially in residency.

I am also an educator at heart. I have always been passionate about being a skilled facial plastic surgeon and equally vehement about research and teaching. Part of my motivation is to learn about new technologies and treatments. I like to share my knowledge through lectures, which often overloads my practice, but it’s worth it.

Berger: Has being a woman negatively affected your journey to secure your place at the professional table? If so, what do you think aspiring plastic surgeons can learn from their journey?

levine: I don’t like to think of it as a negative, but my example definitely presented and still presents unique challenges. When I was pregnant with my first child during my residency, I couldn’t apply for many facial plastic surgery fellowships because I couldn’t travel to interviews during the later stages of my pregnancy. It provided a moment for my vision and tenacity to intensify. I decided to help establish the fellowship at my institution and became the first fellow in the program.

Being a mother and maintaining such a demanding practice and career as an educator is not easy. However, my relationship with my daughters is still the most important thing to me, and watching them grow is my greatest joy. Balancing my career with being a mom is certainly a challenge, but it’s something I’m getting better at on a daily basis.

If aspiring female surgeons can learn anything, it’s that the journey is not easy but very rewarding, especially when considering the big picture of bringing back the standard of beauty. As my favorite Winston Churchill quote says: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

It only ends for you the moment you think it’s the end.

The White House recently unveiled a new STEM initiative that adds ‘M’ to the familiar acronym to include medical fields in proposed advancements. Announced on December 12, 2022, during the Summit on Equity and STEMM Excellence$1.2 billion in projects and investments from the federal government, industry leaders and nonprofit organizations will be used to bring more access and equity to STEMM.

Educational institutions will play an important role in STEMM advancements that seek to not only end systemic biases in the fields, but also better reflect social demographics by 2030. According to Education Weekpart of that reflection means doubling the number of women and African-Americans in jobs while tripling the opportunities for Hispanics.

Dr. Jennifer Levine represents another key aspect of STEMM’s principles of inclusion as a professional in the trenches. She is taking the time to educate and inform women about the importance of becoming leaders in a profession whose patients are predominantly women.

While efforts are underway to increase STEM areas to expand female participation, the inclusion of medical fields could help level the playing field in education. As a result, it can have a knock-on effect by attracting more women to the adjacent areas of math and science.

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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