The Year of Women In Neurology

Kathrin LaFaver, MD

April 29, 2021

After a year of living in a global pandemic, many physicians, much like their patients, are struggling.

Dr Kathrin LaFaver

We've witnessed the unpreparedness of our healthcare system, and the often grueling work on the frontlines. Facing uncertainty and loss in our private and professional lives, all while doing our best to keep our practice afloat, has been a lot to cope with. Neurologists had especially high rates of burnout even prior to the pandemic, and dealing with COVID-19 has certainly exacerbated the problem.

Neurology has been among the specialties with the highest gender pay gap, and women were disproportionally negatively affected by the lack of childcare, virtual schooling and caregiving demands, adopting telehealth to meet patient care needs, and trying to maintain research careers.

Following the cancellation of last year's American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting, the return of the congress this year in virtual format was met by many with apprehension. Would it be worthwhile watching yet another Zoom meeting online? And missing out on the usual in-person connections with colleagues and friends?

The answer was a resounding "Yes!" The AAN provided a highly customizable and enjoyable experience with shorter talk formats, a high diversity of topics and speakers, and ample opportunity to connect via a "networking hub" in public and private chat channels. Most notably, it reinvented itself as an organization that clearly represents women like never before.

Watching from the virtual sidelines, I declare 2021 as the year of women in neurology! With Orly Avitzur, MD, MBA, taking the reigns as 37th president of the AAN, only the second woman in this role, she is joined by Carlayne Jackson, MD, as president-elect and Janis Miyasaki, MD, MEd, as vice president; as well as five additional women on the board of directors. Under the leadership of Natalia Rost, MD, MPH, chair of the science committee, women represented 46% of invited plenary speakers at the meeting, and 43% of scientific award winners.

This is certainly encouraging for many. Along with a new and welcome spotlight on healthcare equity, anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion that made its way in plenary, scientific, educational, and experiential learning sessions, the face of neurology has become more than the "guy with a bow tie" stereotype.

On a personal note, during the meeting I was fortunate to recognize and connect with many members of the Women Neurologists Group (WNG), created in 2015 to connect and support women neurologists on social media.

Long before the pandemic, many women have dealt with social isolation and lack of traditional networking opportunities, especially when starting their careers, while often parenting young children. WNG has grown to over 3500 members, providing regular educational activities and currently preparing for their second in-person conference this fall, organized by Jill Farmer, DO, MPH.

Blurring the lines between virtual and "real life" provides many new and exciting opportunities, especially for women, to become and stay engaged in professional opportunities that will advance and enrich their careers. Working together with the AAN on advocacy issues affecting women neurologists will be of crucial importance to addressing the many ongoing challenges in our field. We are proud to call ourselves neurologists and define our roles in the field in new ways!

Kathrin LaFaver, MD, is associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. LaFaver has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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