The Sekhmet Writing Project. The Innovators: Part One of Twelve.
In the first of twelve installments, Dr. Megan Babb, a practicing family practitioner from Northern California, highlights five Women in Medicine who set themselves apart as "INNOVATORS."
Sitting atop a window sill in my bedroom, is an Egyptian statue which stands about 3 inches tall. Sitting below it is my unadorned leather chair which has been the absorber of many stressful days. My children refer to it as the sulking chair. To me it is simply a quiet place for pause and reflection when the day has been hard.
The statue in arm’s reach is a miniature version of Sekhmet, an Egyptian goddess. Her head is that of a lion with a sun disk resting atop it. To the common on-looker she is odd, but to me she is exquisite.
Sekhmet is one of the oldest of Egyptian deities. She is the goddess of women empowerment. She is the strength in all women, allowing even the most fearful to stand against injustice. She is the cornerstone of unbridled rage allowing even the most weak to fight against oppression. She is the source of our empathy, our courage, our capabilities. When we see ourselves in one another, it is her spirit we recognize. When we stand for one another, it is her presence we feel.
Historically the practice of medicine has been male dominated. Although the tides are beginning to shift, many women still find themselves amid the center of an Old Boys Club where survival for them can sometimes mean betraying their own. While I was on a clinical rotation in my third year of medical school, I found myself at the center of one of these clubs.
I was assigned to work with a male surgical subspecialist who was well-known by the student body as an attending to avoid. It didn’t take long for me to understand why. The way his eyes moved up and down my body while his top teeth bit into the corner of his bottom lip did nothing more than send a wave of disgust through me. Within a matter of days I developed a deep seated resentment towards him for distracting me in such a way that removed any meaningful opportunity to learn. Even worse, an opportunity my tuition dollars were paying for. Instead of learning, I would spend the majority of the time inching myself away from him as he inched towards me. Pulling my hand out from under his when he tried to teach me a surgical technique. Watching the piteous stares from others while their inner thoughts could be heard reverberating throughout the operating room walls, Thank God it's not me.
No one did or said a thing. Until one day, an unwanted hug was taking form as an unwanted advancement. I instantly pulled myself away and demanded that he fuck off. I was relieved to see two female surgeons witness the incident but when they approached me to say, “You are a medical student. You shouldn’t have spoken to him that way,” I broke. None of what he did hurt worse than those thirteen words. I would spend months gluing the broken pieces of what once was a strong and able soul. The day the glue had finally set was the day I had a thought. If I could find an avenue to inspire women to support women, perhaps none of those coming behind me would have to experience a similar event.
Enter, The Sekhmet Writing Project.
This is a longitudinal writing series consisting of twelve essays in twelve months designed as a collection of essays highlighting all the unique ways women are positively changing healthcare. Simply a means for women to empower women in healthcare.
One | Twelve: The Innovators
Describe the essential characteristics shared by the fierce and innovative women in medicine.
1) They Do Not Allow Functional Fixedness to Determine Their Path.
I want you to finish the following statement: when I think of a woman, I think of her as a <fill in the blank>. For the majority of you reading, you will likely insert the word mother or the word wife. Now this one: when I think of a man, I think of him as a <fill in the blank>. How many of you answered with either the word father or husband? Unlikely to be many. This is an example of functional fixedness, the propensity to identify an object, or in this case a sex, by its most common use. This is a concept studied widely that unfortunately is strongly present in the discipline of medicine.
Enter Dr. Sabine Hazan.
Dr. Hazan and I first crossed paths when I was beginning my work as a writer not so long ago. Her story is inspiring. What makes her story so unique is she was the first female Gastroenterology fellow at the University of Florida nearly twenty-five years ago during a time when men not only dominated graduating medical school classes but when becoming a specialist was rarely an opportunity available to women. Historically, the mere presence of a uterus was (and in some specialties still is) a perceived inconvenience.
Functional fixedness contributes largely to the implicit bias against women in medicine. Those with a uterus are often seen first as a mother and second as a physician colleague. This causes an inherent bias towards women as to avoid an increased workload if a fellow female resident is out on maternity leave. But that did not inhibit Dr. Hazan. She refused to accept that her uterus could be a source for others to define her capabilities. To date not only is she a fierce advocate for physician autonomy but also an integral part of the physician community.
Along with her clinical practice she also contributes immensely as a principal investigator in large clinical trials. Only 11% of lead principal investigators of pharmaceutical clinical trials are women; yet to date, she has contributed to more than 500 and has successfully led 150. She is founder and CEO of Ventura Clinical Trials, Malibu Specialty Clinic and ProgenaBiome. With patented Intellectual Property, she is the mind behind the hydroxychloroquine/azithromycin/Vitamin C/Vitamin D/Zinc protocol against COVID-19. She is also spearheading the microbiome movement to allow for a better understanding between the effects of disease on gut flora and conversely how healthy gut flora can treat if not cure disease.
Dr. Hazan is redefining roles in medicine that are often held by men. “From my perspective as a GI physician, on the inside we are no different from one another. A colon is a colon. Regardless to whom it belongs, they all look the same, therefore, why should gender determine anything?”
2) They Challenge Tradition.
Tradition is everything in medicine. It is where the right of passage of being a physician gets handed down from one generation to another. From my perspective it is the embodiment of nothing more than disguised hazing practices led by a body of physicians who long for the brotherhood of a fraternity. Physicians who used to spend their time in the physician’s lounge patting each other on the backs for being masters of their universes are now being challenged by a younger generation of physicians who are using cyber technology to bring our profession into the twenty-first century. Historically physicians rarely contributed to published internet dialogue nor to personal social media platforms. Perhaps deep down there loomed a fear of litigation for saying the wrong thing. Regardless, it was a resource many professions benefited from yet rarely benefited by physicians.
Enter Dr. Dana Lazarovici Corriel.
Dr. Corriel is the creator and founder of SoMeDocs, an organization meant to help physicians restore control of their brand. She is innovating change in a highly unique way. She is helping physicians take back control of their autonomy by teaching them what it means to have a presence in social media. Her innovation has allowed physicians to become comfortable with showing the public a more humanistic side. Physicians are no different than any other human. We laugh. We cry. We are not always right. We cuddle with our kids. We snuggle with our spouses. For the first time, she is showing physicians how to reveal this side of us often hidden from society.
Her hope is to restore control of the physician brand, to the physicians. For decades now, corporate healthcare has controlled society's image of who we are. They would like America to believe we are selfish, money seeking tyrants. Yet this projected image is nothing more than their own. The shambles of our healthcare system can be owned by them. Dr. Corriel is the conduit giving physicians the confidence they need to escape the impossible conditions they are forced to practice in, finally giving them an opportunity of hope to be seen as human again.
3) They Shatter Ceilings by Placing the Interests of Community Above the Interests of Self.
The first time I became a mother, I had recently graduated from medical school and was in my intern year of residency. I struggled with finding a balance between these two new roles. The two large communities in which I belonged, the physician community and the mother community, contradicted one other. My work as a physician dominated my time making it nearly impossible to converse with other moms. Yet, when I did have an opportunity to do so, I found it difficult for other non-physician mothers to understand my unique situation. I was working eighty hours a week barely finding time to sleep, let alone having the time to be a fraction of the mother they projected to be. I often felt judged, shamed, and guilty for so desperately wanting to be both mother and physician.
Enter Dr. Hala Sabry Elnaggar.
When I first met Dr. Sabry Elnaggar, she had just launched a Facebook group called Physicians Mom Group (PMG) consisting of a couple thousand members. Like me and so many other physician moms, she struggled with balancing both her roles as a physician and a mother. Fast forward to today, PMG has nearly 80,000 members and was one of the first cross-bred community groups on Facebook to succeed. It was a community she created that continues to provide a common place where physician mothers connect with one another.
Her ability to grow community is a reflection of her selflessness to put community above self. Medicine has historically been innovated by white men for their benefit. Every detail down to the way scrubs are designed are created with a man in mind. What she has done is take her knowledge of online community building and turned it into a business that ensures the physician profession moves forward in healthcare with a strong voice present in the conversations. This is a way our community is represented in all aspects of healthcare. She consults with corporations, their CEO’s, on how to include physicians in future innovations. She is breaking out of the box her profession originally put her in and is now making sure physicians are given a seat at the table where healthcare decisions are being made.
4) They Provide a Voice to Those Who Often Go Unheard.
The history of America’s healthcare system is a complex one. One that has removed physicians from positions of leadership, replaced by corporate executives causing their voices to be silenced. Through the course of this time, physicians have been forced to keep their heads down, do as they are told while these invaders disrupt the very intricate practice of medicine. This transition has been demoralizing, detrimental and discouraging to patients and physicians alike. Many are afraid to speak against the systems that employ them for fear of retaliation. This has shattered many physicians’ ability to advocate for themselves, patients and colleagues. And for those who still had the voice to advocate, it removed any bit of avenue they had to do so.
Enter Dr. Marlene Wust-Smith
Dr. Wust-Smith is the creator and innovator behind Physician Outlook, a magazine written by physicians, for physicians. As one herself who has been in practice for many years, she has found a way to spread supportive information to physicians of all generations, including those who struggle to find a presence in the social media community. Both online and in print, this magazine is exactly what physicians have needed in order to regroup and find ways of supporting one another, physicians to voice their struggles with the systems that censor them, so they can be seen and heard by society. The magazine has also become a source of centralized, vetted information about the healthcare system that has rarely been shared outside the system. No censorship. No silencing. Simply, the truth.
Her dream to create a magazine providing a voice for physicians, by physicians came to fruition when the first edition was released earlier this year. Dr. Smith is doing something very unique and innovative by bringing different generations of physicians together using words in both paper and online form. These words are those of inspiration, encouragement and honesty. Physicians finally have a space to be heard and to share what we all have wanted America to hear but have struggled with finding a way. We now have a place where physician-led solutions have a platform to be explored and discussed.
5) They Rage Relentlessly Against the Machine
When I close my eyes and envision the physical form of corporate healthcare all I see is a steel wall. A wall which spans miles both wide and tall. It is a wall that feels impossible to penetrate. Guarded behind it are all the forged connections between corporate America and healthcare administrators. Over the course of time, these alliances have slowly eroded away the joys that came with being a physician. Mostly because these joys are neither respected nor deemed economically important by those who are the decision makers. These individuals sit behind this wall knowing all too well, the physician community is yet to find the means to dismantle it.
Enter Dr. Leah Houston
Her startup company HPEC and the technology they are developing is the best opportunity physicians have to secure theTrojan horse needed to penetrate this wall. Using blockchain technology, it restores control of physician credentials and allows physicians and patients to be the sole owner of their health information. Tirelessly Dr. Houston studies the wall to understand it, in all its magnitude. This allows her to see its flaws, it’s weak spots making her HPEC’s secret weapon. I have had the privilege of interfacing with many wonderful and forward thinking physicians. There are very few however who have quite the tenacity and drive she does. She has taken everything she believes as the solution to restoring autonomy to the practice of medicine and has laid it at the feet of physicians. I have no doubt that HPEC and the name Dr. Leah Houston will be a name known by every American physician in the near future. She will be remembered as the one whose horse took down healthcare’s Trojan army.
At the center of each of these five women is Sekhmet and all she represents. While interviewing each of them, I couldn’t help but think about those two female physicians I encountered when I was still just a medical student. As a physician now and a mother to four children, I often wonder why on that particular day, they choose not to support me. For centuries men have been using men to further their own agendas and unknowingly or not, women have silently been allowing it to happen. It is my hope that this project will shine light on the immeasurable influence we hold if together. Especially when we as women, choose to support each other.
#The Sekhmet Writing Project
To learn more about the incredible works of these five innovating women, you can find their information below:
Dr. Sabine Hazan:
Dr. Dana Lazarovici Corriel:
Dr. Hala Sabry Elnaggar:
Dr. Marlene Smith:
Dr. Leah Houston:
Dr. Megan Babb is THE ORIGINAL SEKHMET of our time.
To read more of Dr. Megan Babb’s written works, you can find them by following her on Twitter and Instagram and by clicking on the following links:
Physician Outlook Magazine: https://www.physicianoutlook.com/home