Female physicians: Inequality still exists among men and women in the field


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EDISON – Close to 30 years ago, there were very few women in leadership roles at Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) JFK University Medical Center.

Just ask Dr. Lisa Casale, who specializes in pulmonary/critical care. She came to JFK in Edison in 1994.

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“When I started, the committees were full of men,” she said, recalling she was placed on a dinner dance committee when she asked to be part of a committee. “So I said you know what I’m going to take my job on the dinner dance committee, and I turned it into a great event for the hospital.”

Casale now serves as chair of JFK’s Critical Care Committee and vice president of the JFK medical staff.

She said when the leader of her critical care committee was retiring, it helped pave the way for her to take over the committee and participate in more committees.

Today, Casale is encouraged times are changing and there are more and more women taking on leadership roles, especially with Amie Thornton serving as president of JFK and chief hospital executive.

“JFK is doing its part in terms of helping women in leadership position roles,” she said.

Dr. Ghazia Pervaiz, who specializes in hospital medicine attending for team health, said to show times are changing she shared her first committee role was peer review. Pervaiz came to JFK in 2017.

“Those are perfect bookend examples,” Thornton said.

And although times are changing, women physicians said there is still more that can be done to equalize their role to their male counterparts.

The female physicians said they have no issues with their male counterparts at JFK; however, it’s when outside medical jurisdictions come in, that is when they have experienced an imbalance.

Dr. Pooja Shah, who specializes in infectious disease, said she’s noticed some people tend to call the women by their first names rather than their title.

Casale agreed and said she has experienced that at meetings.

Thornton said she does correct people a lot on the issue.

“That happens way more than it should in 2021 … it shouldn’t still be happening, but it does,” she said.

Dr. Vidya Ramachandraiah, associate medical director of the intensive care unit (ICU), who specializes in critical care medicine, said a bigger challenge she has faced is not only being a woman, but being a woman of color who was not born and raised in the United States.

“You need to work extra hard to prove your worth,” she said. “You need to do way more than a man would do to be noticed.”

Dr. Namrata Baxi, who specializes in nephrology, said on different occasions her diagnosis has not been taken seriously from collaborative care amongst other physicians. She said during those occasions, she had to call a senior staff team member to help her out.

“I think proving yourself is the biggest statement we can make,” she said, in terms of their first day on the job compared to their male counterparts. “It didn’t matter what my experience was as a nephrologist. When it’s collaborative care amongst other physicians and that point if you defer or have differences in opinion, I think if I were a man and said the same thing, it would be taken more seriously versus being a female and saying the same thing.”

Shah said when she started at her father’s medical practice, she made it a point to not say she was his daughter. Her father is Dr. Pradip Shah, president of the medical staff at JFK.

“I wanted the respect,” she said, agreeing “a challenge has been getting people to trust a judgment you made.”

“It takes a lot longer for all of is in this room to get to that level versus if a male physician walks in the room, brand new, just out of residency or fellowship. There’s a lot more respect given to them right away,” she said.

Casale said some personnel “go around you whether to a superior or colleague to verify what you are saying is actually accurate” even when “we are equally or better trained as the male physicians.”

“This is not a unique thing to JFK, this is universal problem we are all facing, but I think JFK really makes every effort not to maintain the status quo and really helps us move on,” she said.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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