Women in Healthcare: Sharona Ross

This is the last day of our Women in Healthcare series, which we began last month in honor of Women’s History Month. Healthcare Finance News asked some of the women leaders in the nation’s healthcare industry to talk about the role of women in healthcare.

Today, we hear from Sharona Ross, MD. Like Julie Freischlag, MD, with whom Ross chairs this year’s International Women in Surgery Career Symposium, Ross bucked the trend, joining the male-dominated field of surgery. She has become a national voice advocating for women to enter the field. At the University of South Florida, where she is the director of surgical endoscopy and an assistant professor in the surgery department, she founded and directs the Women in Surgery initiative.

Q: What role do women have as decision-makers/leaders in today's healthcare sector?
A: As both suppliers and consumers of healthcare, women serve as healthcare leaders and decision makers in several capacities: defining the scope of ‘women’s healthcare’ initiatives, advocating for reproductive rights, leading by example, and raising their agendas in a way that men simply have not done. More specifically, discussions of women’s health often revolve around primary care, however any illness or disease that affects women must be included in the healthcare of women.

Q: What do women bring to the table to shape the future of healthcare?
A: Women play an extremely vital role in the future of healthcare. As more women enter and graduate medical school, the impact of women physicians will increase. Women effectively lead by example and balance many roles. Being a surgeon, mother, sister, and wife, women serve as organizers, activists, supporters, advocates and friends. We have the experience in allowing everyone’s voice to be heard and then mediating the situation at hand. We make difficult decisions based on evidence and thorough evaluation. In healthcare, we can draw upon all of these skills to advance initiatives that benefit our communities.

Currently among U.S. medical schools, over 50 percent of medical students are women, however only a very small percentage of them ultimately choose a career in surgery. Over the years, surgery has developed a negative perception in the eyes of budding physicians. Coupled with rigid boundaries and obstacles in a heavily male-dominated profession, women steered away from the field.

However, in modern times, the face of surgery is undergoing a critical transition. Programs like Covidien’s Women in Surgery initiative has helped to galvanize the voice of the emerging group of women surgeons, and the International Career Symposium for women opens doors and inspires more women to enter the field of surgery by supporting continued education, women mentorship, and public advocacy. Now in its third year, the Women in Surgery Career Symposium is a professional and academic event dedicated to encouraging more women to pursue careers in surgery. The symposium serves to discuss the issues and challenges confronting women as they seek to advance in a changing but still male-dominated field, and to share successes and advice for breaking the glass ceiling in surgery. Furthermore, the intention is to highlight the importance of advancing women toward careers in surgery by providing meaningful avenues for surgical professionals and students to interact, exchange ideas, and formulate effective strategies in advancing this important endeavor.

Q: What do you personally believe should be the path forward to better care and lower costs?

A: To move forward in our current healthcare system, a concerted effort to reform the medical-legal system (tort reform) would attain the greatest changes in healthcare delivery. Throughout the nation, physicians often order extra and many times, unnecessary tests and procedures due to fear of legal recourse. Reducing the practice of defensive medicine and fear of litigation would greatly decrease the cost of healthcare in this country. In addition, increasing the number of women physicians in the medical workforce will further enhance the perspective and abilities of modern healthcare.

Follow HFN associate editor Stephanie Bouchard on Twitter @SBouchardHFN.